A different life

Barely thirty metres from the extremely modest entrance to the Western Hotel in Mumbai there is a pavement which is a permanent home to several hundred people. Not that you would know it in the middle of the day. Unless
you looked closely.

On top of the wall between the pavement and the slummish area which separates the two, there are knives and forks. A rusty ladel. A bicycle bell and a pile of plastic bowls, unwashed. The water truck comes infrequently but, mostly, later in the day.

The pavement is wet from the thunderstorm the night before. But it is also far cleaner than the rest of the street because it is the home of half a dozen families. They are required to clear it for the benefit of passers-by between dawn and late evening, but there is no mistaking that it is their home. Or, ‘home’.

The mothers stand on the edge of the street washing their children in water acquired from places we’d rather not consider (if the municipality water truck didn’t turn up) while us tourists have the audacity to walk through their lounge and bedroom on the pavement. Initially it becomes uncomfortable enough to consider walking on the street instead, but then you really are walking through them, literally.

A small girl, as beautiful as any painting or statue, shivered and cried as her mother poured a bowl of cold water over her back and washed away the lather created from reclaimed soap. I offered her many ‘spiritual’ brothers all the change I had. (Which was almost almost none because ‘change’ is one of India’s most valuable commodities for the tourist. Small notes and coins
are hard to find – and it mounts up if you have to give 200 kids R10 each.)

But the street vendors are understandable when you give them a 100-rupee note for a 1-rupee pack of bubble gum.
And meanwhile, Graeme Smith smashed an extraordinary 90 from 54 balls in an innings reminiscent of his assault on the Australians in the famous ‘438’ game at the Wanderers. And steady Jacques made 78 from 85 balls. If the team’s total of 303-8 and the victory by 76 runs made you think ‘so what?’, then consider the words of Jaydev Shah, the skipper of the vanquished
Saurashtra side: “We had a 15-day camp to prepare for this fixture which was great exposure for us.”

Although the local team accepted defeat when reduced to 60-4, their determination to bat through the 50 overs and reach 227-5 was yet another indictment of South Africa’s ability to take wickets once Makhaya is removed
from the attack.

Oh well. The team is staying in the Taj and, boy oh boy, is it good?! Goodness knows what five or six star actually means, but the Mumbai Taj is somewhere there. Courtesy of my skills acquired over many years pretending I was staying in the same hotels as the players, I can confirm that service is luxurious and no problem too great. Provided you are not rumbled.

Tomorrow morning I shall have breakfast (banana, papaya, toast and tea – oh sod it, and maybe an egg) and head out to practise. On the way I shall take fruit and bread from the dining room of my extremely modest hotel to the families living on the pavements outside. I was troubled with guilt at this plot. So I asked the night manager, Munaf, whether it would be OK.

“Of course, but not always,” he said. Understandable.

Staying in a less ‘formidable’ suburb of Mumbai for the first time in six tours has enhanced my my experiance endlessly, though I might not recommend it to first-timers. Unless you are blessed with substantial, emotional fortitude. Which I am not.
Nonetheless, I am happy to be where I am. Even if it means I care slightly less about the result of the ICC Champions’ Trophy than I ought to,

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