When the day started, we were in airplanes. One group was almost arriving at Mumbai; the other group had just departed from London. In Mumbai, the first step outside the airplane, I shook with the incredibly hot weather of Mumbai, the temperature being around 33oC or 91 oF. So hot that it felt like the Brazilian Amazon Rainforest; it felt like home. Yet we were still inside the airport! We got our luggage in a very long line, passed through security, and left the airport. When we crossed the airport’s door, the high temperature met its friend, humidity. Heading toward the bus that awaited us, I could not stop looking at the sky which had a beautiful, shiny sun. It felt just like Brazil. The breeze smoothed that sticky sensation, but it was not enough to make me feel acclimated. Around the airport, constructions, demolitions, and reconstructions made Mumbai feel like heat waves, going up and down, up and down.
Tired, wet, jetlagged, we got to our first destination, a yellow bus with cushioned seats and air conditioning, which started to move soon after we hopped on because, as we learned at that very first experience, the traffic in Mumbai goes fast. So, the bus departed from the airport, heading to the school where we would meet the group that arrived at Mumbai first. The bus turns to the left, almost hitting an autorickshaw, a yellow and black taxi with only three wheels very common in Mumbai. Then it went to the right making a 60-degree turn because the street was tiny and a bicycle would hit the bus. Finally the bus heads onto a bridge.
Clean and new, this bridge contained six different runways. Three would direct to the airport, and three doing the opposite. This bridge was constructed above a slum. As the bus moved up, the bridge revealed to me something. The bridge exhibited the different layers of poverty of Mumbai.
Below the bridge rested the bottom layer. Entangled shanties formed a confusing labyrinth of alleys; some shanties were covered with a bright blue lawn while other simply did not have a roof. This made me think that the people with the blue lawn were the wealthy ones in that layer. A few motorcycles crossed the larger alleys, which were probably three feet wide.
Right above, some buildings with the same height as the bridge made Mumbai’s second layer of poverty. The cement used to build them was visible, but in some places I could notice a yellowish old tint, probably stripped away by the humidity of Mumbai. They had few wood made windows, and few floors. They sliced the city in two: at the bottom, the disheveled blue lawns; in the middle the old yellow tint.
And in the top the beautiful myriad colors and shapes. Above everything, there stood the skyscrapers of Mumbai, some of which seemed to puncture the clouds. They looked like lines of brand-new glass, creating endless windows. For a moment, they reminded of the enormous buildings of big western cities. They were indeed the mark of the new globalized Mumbai. However, I did not have enough time to observe them because the bridge was reaching its end. As the bus went into the streets, the silence from that moment of observation made room for the honks of SUVs, motorcycles, autorickshaws, bicycles, and beggars, who, just like the buildings, showed how divided Mumbai is. We bridged across Mumbai’s layers of poverty.