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The sun is getting low in the sky over Calcutta, long shadows slice through the afternoons haze and rest across her wide boulevards and Maidens. Cities are like love affairs. Each has its own character and its own reason for you being there. At first they are exciting, everything is new, they are there to be explored. You experience wonder and trepidation as you wander through roads and lanes, shops and markets, people and sights – these are the things that cannot be experienced in any other city, her geography, her infrastructure, her mystery – this is the mistress to explore.


Over time you get to understand her. You develop a routine, the same coffee shop in the same street, the same barber, the same bar with the same barman. You seek solace in what you know – she then has you, your mistress she looks down on you from her rooftops and religious spires she reaches out to you and asks you the question, do you want to be my wife.


Calcutta is  a place I fell for many years ago, because of its name – a gateway to the East a place of wonder. She had a certain romanticism surrounding her. She was a woman that one sees from afar, on another platform or at a passing bus stop, always causing wonder, wondering just what she would be like. She is intellectual  and smart, tidy and has a certain class and is terribly British, she is easy to know. She is comfortable and welcoming – however she is just a little boring. I could spend a certain amount of time with her, but eventually I would leave her.


Bombay is not the kind of city you take home to meet your mother. She is a fling with great passion, she wears short skirts and high heels and often goes up escalators wearing no knickers – After a night with Bombay you question to yourself “How much do I leave on the bedside table,” Bombay’s streets, its slums, its poverty and riches, she will eat you up, suck you dry and spit you out. She’s an urban whore. To paraphrase Catch 22 “Bombay is the kind of girl you fall in love with, because she is the kind of girl you can sleep with without falling in love with.”


Delhi can not be trusted, she has two sides and she knows it. She comes across all smiley and nice, but is truly a bitch. She hangs around at photocopying machines and chooses her mate or really her prey. She is slightly schizophrenic and suffers from an addictive personality. She is a city that needs help she needs to be booked into therapy and a clinic for damaged cities’ souls.


I am on the train, a 31 hour trip, leaving the kind warmth of Calcutta’s bosom and heading back to face that mistress of mine Bombay. The kind of city that good boys should stay away from, the kind of city that terrorists try to kill. But she is too streetwise, those little boys with their guns. She took them in made them men, then spat them out without their trousers or their souls. Bombay that mistress of mine.








Most people will cringe at the idea of visiting a slum. However, when Yasuda, the cleaning lady, from my offices invited me over for tea, how could I resist the opportunity.
Her house is the size of most people’s living rooms and houses six family members. And the kids in the neighbourhood, well they just loved the opportunity to pose for the camera.

DSC_0437, originally uploaded by colin laidlaw.

Mumbai 17.07.09


At first sight Mumbai, or Bombay as most of my, Indian generation prefer to call it, is a city full of dirt and filth. Its air thick with pollution from the gridlocked roads, piles of stagnant rubbish, fish, and an overflowing sewage system. The humidity is suitably graded to open the pores and ensure as much of this filth enters the body as is possible. Breathing is not good enough to ensure you have a healthy dose of your fellow, 20 million, compatriots.


On a second look though, Bombay, Mumbai to the younger generation, truly is a city full of dirt and filth. Its air thick with pollution from the gridlocked roads, piles of stagnant rubbish, fish, and an overflowing sewage system. However, all this shit comes from somewhere and it is this 20 million people and there extremities of existence that gives Bombay its character.


Because of its massive population, Bombay’s accommodation is terribly overpriced and of a suitably low standard. Four story apartment blocks, be speckled from concrete fatigue and a mold that is indigenous to concrete buildings be speckled with concrete fatigue, adorn the middle class suburbs and resemble something from a film where all humanity has died and the wildlife is re gaining its ground. A film, probably starring Charlton Heston, if Charlton Heston could star in any more apocalyptic visions of humanity.


If you are not lucky enough to live here, then it is the slums for you. Shanty towns, or zopadpatti, made out of the flotsam and jetsam of modern human existence. A thousand rupees a month rents you a pile of rusting corrugation and frayed tarpaulin with no water, electricity or sanitation. And they are the lucky ones, for the rest it is the street. A piece of  cardboard is your home. This is not like London or any other Metropolitan city where homelessness is seen as something that happens to the unfortunate few. This is homelessness on a grand scale and is a way of life for many of the workers within the city. The chances are, are that the man that is serving you your plate of dhal, roti, thalis or Domino Pizza spent the night huddled in a doorway on that very same pizza box. It is life here, pure and simple.


I guess this is the point whereby I am supposed to say something like: I will never complain again about the aircon being too cold, or that there was a pubic hair in the shower, or there was a smidging too much salt in the soup. But I will, why lie to myself for my own brief sense  of altruistic empathy. My god that would make me feel at one with humanity for about 20 seconds, 20 seconds before I go into a hotel and complain about the soup being too cold, too much salt in the shower and a pubic hair in the aircon.


It doesn’t matter who we are or where we are at, we just can’t accept that things could possibly be ok.


How dare somebody else have the audacity to infiltrate my concept of a good social standing by shedding a hair from their nether regions, while rigorously washing with inferior soap and the management just turned a blind eye. God forbid!! 

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