2 posts tagged A Walk Across the Sun
A Guest post by Corban Addison, author of A Walk Across the Sun
India is a land of contrast and contradiction, and in no place is this more evident than Mumbai. Less a city than a thrill-ride, the sprawling metropolis long known as Bombay is at once brilliantly colorful, endlessly energetic, and a haven for one of the world’s worst human rights abuses—child sex trafficking. Atop the lookout on Malabar Hill, high above the blue expanse of Back Bay, it is nearly inconceivable that only a few miles away thousands of adolescent girls, some younger than twelve, are imprisoned in brothels, bars, and sex clubs dreading the approach of night and the customers who will abuse them. Yet the pristine verdancy of the Hanging Gardens and the fabled sweep of the Queen’s Necklace—South Mumbai’s seaside boulevard—tell only half of the story of the city. Not far beyond the glitz and glamor is a wholly different Mumbai, an undercity of filth, destitution, and the fleeting, yet persistent, hope of a better life.
Many international visitors to India’s financial capital are offered little more than glimpses of the city’s underside. They are whisked from the airport in the northern suburbs to grand hotels in the swanky neighborhoods of Bandra West and South Mumbai where they are pampered in royal style and shown the splendor of the island city before returning to the first-world comfort of the airport. The Mumbai they see is not an illusion—grandeur, sometimes grandiosity, is part of India’s rich history and tradition—but neither is it a complete rendering. The true face of the city is a pastiche of beauty and ugliness, life and death. One might argue that such contrasts are not unique among the capitals of the developing world. Yet Mumbai stands out in my mind. I have seen no other city on Earth where opposition is so accentuated. In the City of Gold—the home of gangsters and Bollywood stars—the contradictions are flare-bright.
A few streets over from the iconic Gateway of India and the magnificent Taj Mahal Hotel and Palace lies a warren of unmarked dirt lanes straddled by shambling chawls and plied by wandering cattle and bhel puri vendors—many of whom struggle to feed their children more than one meal a day. Slums with open sewers and without running water sit at the foot of the some of the toniest real estate in the subcontinent. In the afternoons, bedraggled beggars—the most pitiable of whom are children and the disabled—proposition upscale shoppers in the Fort in South Mumbai and in Bandra’s Linking Road district. And when darkness falls, men of all ages and social strata descent upon the city’s many red light areas to buy sex from girls of tender age. In India, the dizzying complexity of human society is visible in all its glory and depravity, beatitude and pain.
For the Western traveler, the starkly dichromatic tableau of Mumbai can be a gift or it can be a curse. One’s response depends entirely on how one receives it, whether one manages to accept—and where appropriate to embrace—the vibrant, rambunctious, sometimes heart-breaking spirit of the place. Gratefully, in my month in the subcontinent, I learned to adjust, and when I returned home to the United States I found myself missing India. I can’t wait to go back.