The Mobiustrip

The Mobiustrip

Saturday, 26 September 2015

Pets of the Poor

Of the many things that fascinate me about slum life, this one makes it to the top 3 - slum dwellers of Bombay keeping pet animals in their 10 by 10 rooms. In this case, in their makeshift houses by the highway.

The highway kids had always been especially interesting. We had heard of how some parents take the kids to the nearby public washrooms and get them ready for school. Today we learnt about the same, firsthand.

This lot has access to an AC washroom which charges Rs 15 for taking a bath and Rs 5 for using the toilet. This family of 7, like so many others who live alongside them, keeps their belongings in the 'houses' by the road, and sleepson the footpaths when it doesn't rain, or under the bridges when it does. When it is cold, they share 3 blankets between the 7 of them. Two nights back the 20-year old son got into a fit of rage and 'broke down' their house. The 14 year old in the house was collecting their belongings so that the sole earning member could come 'home' and rebuild it.
In the midst of all this, a family car pulled up and started to hand out clothes. Everyone ran and snatched whatever they could. "New clothes" for tomorrow's Ganpati Visarjan festivities.

And then one by one they introduced us to their pets. A 6-year-old ran into her 'house' and brought out a one month old puppy and the packet of milk it drinks. The little one here obliged us with a picture with their family dog. "He eats with us everyday. When we make daal and rice, we give it to him too."

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

The 'posh' brothel

The 'posh' Bombay brothel, Grant Road, Mumbai.

A 'gharwali' told us how her husband had left the house when she was pregnant with their third child, and never returned. She still wears the sindoor. After quitting a job as a housemaid because she couldn't earn enough to give her kids a good education, she started working as a bar dancer. But her hips gave away. So she turned to prostitution.
5 years in, a client told her to stop 'this business' and bought her a house where she could run her own brothel. "I was lucky to be able to get out of it after 5 years." she said.
"Do your kids know what you do?" we asked.
"I am sure they do. I have barely studied, yet I am earning so much in Bombay. What could I be doing here? But they don't want to hurt me, so they never ask."

"How old are the youngest people who come here?" we inquired.
"We don't take in very young guys. Then it feels like we are sleeping with our own sons. We are mothers after all." was the chilling response.

Another sex worker recounted the tale of how she was brought to Bombay at the age of 14 under the pretext of housework, and 'sold'.
"I fell in love with a client and married him. When I was pregnant with his child, he called me a 'randi' and said that it might be the child of one of my other clients. He would just take my money and go sleep with other prostitutes. Whn I found out, I aborted the 7-month old baby and left him. I don't trust men anymore.", she said.

Those of us who got such personal stories in less than an hour of conversation did so because of local language, which can be such a unifier.
"Where are you from?", I asked.
"Calcutta." she said.
"Bangali?" I smiled.
"Tumi o? (You too?). Will you have tea?" she asked.
You learn when you are not supposed to say no.