People outside India are often dumbstruck to learn that millions of poor souls sleep on the pavement in India’s commercial capital Bombay (now renamed Mumbai) night after night after night.
But things have been like that in Bombay for well over a 100 years.
As darkness shrouds the city and the haves gather into their cozy apartments and penthouses, the have-nots emerge like silent ghosts and take over the pavements and streets until daylight strikes.
Indians are so used to it that they hardly even mention it. But foreigners never cease to be amazed by this extraordinary spectacle and have written about it in their accounts of Mumbai, as early as the initial years of the 20th century.
An Irish woman Maud Power who visited India in 1905 and wrote about her travels in the book Wayside India had this to say about Bombay’s pavement residents:
Girls squatted in rows, and in every direction men were lying on the pavement sleeping, completely covered by a cotton wrap. P.61
Writers from other nations too have remarked on the endless numbers of pavement sleepers in Bombay.
For instance, American author Mark Twain, who visited India in the waning years of the 19th century, wrote the following in his travelogue Following the Equator after attending a Hindu betrothal ceremony in Bombay late in the night:
There was hardly a suggestion of life in those still and vacant streets. Even the crows were silent. But everywhere on the ground lay sleeping natives – hundreds and hundreds. They lay stretched at full length and tightly wrapped in blankets, heads and all. Their attitude and rigidity counterfeited death….When we had pierced deep into the native quarter and were threading its narrow dim lanes, we had to go carefully, for men were stretched asleep all about and there was hardly room to drive between them. P.362
Mark Twain referred to the vast numbers of silent, unmoving sleeping hordes on Bombay’s streets as ‘counterfeit corpses.’
It is one of the great tragedies of modern India that neither Independence and decades of self-rule nor the current 8% growth rate that Indians are so fond of boasting about has not lessened the numbers of homeless pavement residents in Mumbai.
Au contraire, in the 100 plus years since Maud Power and Mark Twain bore witness to the teeming numbers on the Mumbai pavement that number must have risen at least 1000-fold.
So numerous are these ‘counterfeit corpses’ in Mumbai that some have turned into real corpses when drunken brats roll their imported cars over their sleeping bodies and run away without any fear of the consequences. After all, as the title of an old James Hadley Chase novel put it, the dead stay dumb and the wounded survivors easily placated with a few crumbs.
As we’ve said ad nauseum, ad infinitum, Indians beneath their hypocritical rhetoric of pious platitudes care not one whit about their fellow human beings and are the most cold-blooded bastards in the universe.
Hey, what’s that noise? Just the Mumbai pavement dwellers chanting Mera Bharat Mahaan every night before they close their eyes.