Running in Mumbai and the roofers

My view of the roofers has provided an interesting study over the last two weeks.  I’m usually up just before dawn to go running and when I return to my room the sun is creeping over the eastern horizon chasing the night out of the shadows to reveal what the men have completed the day before.  Most mornings the workers could be found resting either on the yet to be roofed or the newly cemented side of their domain.  Part of the study was to find their black dog.  He seems to move around and recently he was sleeping on top of the dirt pile.  I guess it was softer than the new cement – smart dog!

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I’ve been dreaming about getting off the treadmill and out onto the streets.  Michael Connelly’s, Harry Bosch book is interesting and does help me to escape the feeling of being a caged hamster on a wheel but on Friday, the day after the shoot, I decided to run through some of the familiar streets of Mumbai – the route to the stage and back.  A short one, just two miles but I can now say I’ve run Mumbai.


I’ve wanted to do this for about a week but schedule and apprehension have forced me to subdue my adventurous side.  The drivers here are truly crazy and I’m sure the statistics are not in a road joggers favor when it comes to Rickshaw-vs-Human but I thought, pre-dawn, half the 2 mile route is along the beach.  How hard can it be?

I stretched in my room because green grass is scarce here then walked out of the hotel into the ‘cool’ 85º humid morning air  (If I run the Iowa Bix7 this was a good warm-up).  As I walked down the ramp to the entrance gate a few of the guards smiled then a big bus pulled up and let off the morning shift of the hotel.  The workers seemed very happy, flashing their ID cards to security and running to the back entrance to start their day.

As I began running the diesel fumes from the bus blasted my lungs with the pungent odor of burnt oil and I coughed as I plodded down the cobblestone to the road.  Because all the hotel treadmills are in Kilometers I’ve been converting them to miles and for some reason my lungs and legs say I’m keeping my 8.15-8.30 per mile pace but the calculations are saying I’m running more of 9-10 min pace.  I know how my body feels when I’ve got the burn in my lungs and gate in my stride and I’m convinced I’m running much faster than what the machines say I’m doing.  So I was kind of excited to be using my Garmin in India meaning no conversion when I got back and maybe an accurate mileage reading.

Grocery stand

I was very alert on this run, vigilant of Rickshaws, busses and bicycles but something else happened.  Throughout my two weeks here we’ve driven this route at least 20 times and I’ve liked it because it is ocean side and the people milling about don’t seem as destitute as other peoples in other parts of the city.  As I ran, all of those assumptions were soon proven to be wrong.  I became aware that in fact there were people sleeping on the side of the road, some with no blankets, some with nothing under them and some with little kids.  I went past a guy who was brushing his teeth and I realized I was jogging through his bathroom or living room, bedrooms or kitchen.  He seemed to not notice me but I certainly saw him.  The tide was out and the stench of Mumbai sewage drying on the beach of the Arabian Sea had me pining for the diesel fumes but I was committed now so  I continued down the road.

I was the only jogger and so far there had only been a handful of Rickshaws.  Suddenly a large truck rolled past and I thought he’d been a little close.  His wheels raised a cloud of dust and light trash that I tried not to inhale but I was only able to filter it through my nose for a few breaths in the end being forced to suck some of that dusty mix into my lungs with a cough.  I pressed on and arrived at the one-mile marker where I made a right and went a hill past a pharmacy, then the stage entrance on my left, then another right and up another hill that ends at a “Y” junction in the road.  As Deepak our driver had done all week I took the right side heading back toward the beach and came across another family in the road.  One of the older women was heating a pot of liquid over a small propane stove.  I’d just run through breakfast and was feeling really odd about it.   The heavy sweat from humidity cascaded down my back and I picked up the pace.

Typical Neighborhood

I arrived back at the hotel security gate but was three tenths of a mile short of 2 miles so I continued past the hotel to the peninsula hoping for better scenery.  There I found a pack of 6-8 emaciated dogs (they’re all tame on the streets) obviously more than a little worse for wear.  They slept near a large construction site with more dust.  I turned around ran to the gate  and felt the Garmin watch vibrate signaling 2 miles were completed.  The guard smiled at me again and allowed me back into the hotel grounds.  I’d run it in 17:13 – an 8.34 pace but it didn’t seem to matter much.  What I’d just run through was kind of heart wrenching and overwhelming.

Fresh produce sold roadside!

I feel like I invaded the privacy of the people I ran past.  I can’t get beyond them sleeping in squalor while I was working out and had a clean room to go back to with a shower.  After this run, I stopped shooting the roofers and stopped shooting the people on the streets.  At times, Mumbai has been a lot to take in and I think contemplating some of my experiences here will take a lot of time.


tom lowe photo, llc

tacoma, wa 98406


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