Mumbai and the roofers

Biker in Bandra

First impressions.  This city’s poverty level is like Guatemala City multiplied ten fold but there is a different kind of atmosphere surrounding the souls walking the streets here.  In Guatemala, there was a palpable sense of danger.  Perhaps it was the machine gun wielding police or the burned out automobiles.  It also could have been the Israeli body guard the production team put me with talking about kidnappings every five minutes but I think it was a deeper part of the culture within the city.  There was an edge.  Tensions between rich and poor or whatever you want to call it.  Everything seemed ready to explode in that city.

It’s hard to describe what is happening here but there is a gentleness on the streets of Mumbai that doesn’t exist in the western hemisphere.  Streets are literally alive with activity.  The traffic has a life of it’s own – I feel as though we are constantly in danger of a head-on collision but somehow it all works.  As a westerner the urban squalor is hard to take in at first.  Kids sleeping on sidewalks with nothing but the clothes on their backs. Oxen who look like they need to be put in a field pulling carts.  And plywood shanties covered with corrugated steel roofs as far as the eye can see.

As the sleep deprivation fades I’ve noticed that the shoeless people on the sidewalks, begging for food at our car windows or just trying to cross the roads in the madness of rush hour don’t look at us as luckier or better off or that much different but rather we just “are.” It’s their lot in life, nothing more, nothing less.  Not to say you can’t be robbed here or tricked out of your money but I don’t feel threatened the way I have in other places or even at times in Los Angeles.

The Rooftop

As an example of life on the streets I’ve taken to documenting the roofers working on the building across the street from our hotel.  When we first arrived it was 99º and humid as hell.  I looked outside my hotel window and there were a group of guys laying bricks on a rooftop.  Didn’t think anything of it but have always admired people who can work in such conditions.  The next morning I woke up and went to the window to check the weather and noticed the roofing crew and their dog were sound asleep on the roof.  Probably relieved to have a semi-quiet place to sleep.  As I looked closer at the work site I noticed that there are no cranes, no pully systems and that these guys are bringing the bricks and cement up by hand.  I thought I worked hard!  They prep the rooftop, then lay brick, then hand mix and pour the cement on top of the brickwork.  Looks like a roof that would take a lot of weather.

The sleeping crew

In one day they did about 1/5 of the area.  In the US this would all be done with machines and union employees complaining about their pension funds and of course I’d be right there with them filing those complaints but I get the sense these guys don’t complain much about anything.  The sun is just coming up here, I hear the dog barking now, must be time to go to work.

They say you can’t come to India and not be changed.  So far I’m really enjoying this experience.


tom lowe photo, llc

tacoma, wa 98406


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