I am from the country; I’ve lived in (well ordered) cities where cars and people obey a very prescribed set of rules and expectations. There are, I’m sure, a clear set of rules here in Mumbai for pedestrian and vehicular traffic; however, to a newcomer, it seems like full on chaos. We walked most of the day through the city from our hotel to the bay (we are staying in the southern part of the city near the water). I’m not sure if I can fully describe the experience of walking through the city. First, there is the aural onslaught; beyond the noise of various sizes and vintages of internal combustion engines in whatever state of repair, there is a constant chorus of horns (constant—in that all the vehicles are constantly honking. When the light turns to green for instance, all vehicles following the front rank honk in case the leaders forget to link the concept of ‘green’ with going onward). Secondly, there is a hazy idea of what would ostensibly be termed ‘lanes’; as the road is shared by taxis, rickshaws, mopeds, busses, and cement trucks, each finds it’s own space no matter what kind of line would seem appropriate for forward travel. Third, when one crosses the street, there is none of this ‘wait for the green man to illuminate and then, when all traffic has ceased, cross the street in the marked pedestrian lane’ nonsense. Instead, one just goes into moving traffic and squeezes into the (narrow) spaces between the vehicles hurling toward you honking their horns (in case you’ve forgotten the concept of self preservation and the physics of the intersection of a human body and a steel box). And lastly there is the inevitable pollution from so many old vehicles running in the confined space of a city.
From the above, it would seem much more sensible to stay off the street altogether and simply walk on the sidewalk; however, the sidewalk is reserved for commerce (street stalls and hawkers) as well as living space. Everywhere there are people literally living by the side of the street; one walks by a family group cooking over a brazier and just going about their domestic business. So it’s often easier to gingerly make one’s way along right on the side of traffic in the street itself. It’s a wonderful mix of dynamic life all laid out in the open.
I’ve started an online gallery to post images from the trip; most of these will be general street shots as the images I’m making in the shelters we are visiting can’t be published openly as we need to be sensitive to identity protection. Click here for the gallery.