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Somebody once compared the street kids of Bombay to me to its pariah dogs. They did not mean this in a derogatory way, in fact the exact opposite. If you take a pariah dog and a domestic dog down the road and a car comes along, the pariah dog knows to get out of the way and will do so at the last possible moment. The domestic dog however, will not have a clue, it is soft and only responds to orders and food, it doesn’t realise the danger. It becomes a piece of road kill – another statistic if statistics were kept for dogs killed on the road.

 

This highlights the problem that faces a child when they run away from home to live on the streets of Bombay. They have run away from poverty or abuse, or are forced to be leave – they are seeking a life of their own.

 

I found myself sitting with a bunch of street kids watching the pariah dogs. One of them pointed to the dogs and said “That’s the clown, the comedian amongst them, and that one is in charge, he rules this street and the one over there is weak, he will not live long,” I looked around my friends, and as if as a direct reflection there was the  clown, the one in charge and the one that could not move from the gutter because he was high on glue.

 

Mumbai though is cleaning up its act, it has reduced the number of pariah dogs down from 700,000 to 70,000 through a cull. However, an order has been passed that this is against animal rights. A bit of a debate rages. The dogs are calm during the day, but can be vicious and deadly packs at night. There is now a no smoking ban in public areas inside and out, posters have been put up stating fines for spitting, urinating and shitting in the streets, you can’t even wash your car without being busted.

 

The Marathon is on too, in which I am competing in the half marathon at the slowest possible pace, a 13 mile walk. My excuse being that my training did not really go as planned, to which I am sticking to. The reality, I am a lazy sort. They have cleared the streets of beggars and the Marathonplanners have ensured that the route does not go by any slums. They want the world to see Mumbai as this lovely metropolis and want no dirty washing out there.

 

I finished the half marathon in a record 4 hours, quite an achievement, but what I am most impressed about is that I am not last, infact far from it. I am surprised that there are thousands of people doing exactly the same as me – walking it. I don’t know if this is really in the spirit of marathons as we know it, but heh this is India and things do work a little differently. Things that really got me are the number of people that go out and run, not for a charity, but for their company. Corporate branding proliferates like an allergic rash. I bet there are bosses out there forcing their staff to do it with the threat of the sack or worse promotion and responsibility if they don’t. Also some of these groups only do a bit of it, the bit in front of the cameras, cross the road and head back again. That so isn’t cricket.

 

We have taken a group of 28 children to do the 7km run, which they completed with great fervor. It gave them something to look forward to, an ambition, a goal in life. What is more they were given a goodies bag of stuff by the marathon sponsors. Soaps, shampoo, that sort of thing. It did amuse me though that there was Nivea face whitening cream in the bag (Oh how our cultures differ), something I did not really need. So for a while the street kids of Mumbai will be smelling good and whiter than white.

 

After we had completed our respective runs/walks I did a photo shoot at VT station, home to bullet holes courtesy of our fundamentalist friends. At first the boys were a little suspicious of me, probably thinking this is another white guy taking photos of poor people, poverty porn at this time of recession. But, after they realised I had done the half marathon too I was welcomed into the pack, I was allowed in, I was the domestic dog gone wild with his street brethren.

 

Proof of my monumental walk can be found here:

 

 http://www5.marathon-photos.com/scripts/event_entry.py?event=Sports%2FCPUK%2F2009%2FMumbai+Marathon&match=laidlaw

 

Anybody need some skin whitening cream. 

 

 

The photos in this album were taken while out on a recruitment drive to get street children involved in the Mumbai marathon. Most of them look healthy and are having fun. But many are solvent abusers and will be dead in the next few years.

Getting involved with the marathon will give them something to aspire to and give them reason to leave the solvents behind them.

 

Click on the link to take you to the Flickr album (Select slideshow)

It interests me to hear that many of the street kids that beg at railway stations do not want to be helped. They have become so ingrained into the life on the street or platforms. They have freedom and independence away from adults – this has become their home, this is what they know. Why would they want anything more?

 

Unfortunately though, if every morning you were to be poked in the eye, the only time that you know that something is wrong is when the poking stops.

 

Many of these kids have been sexually abused, bullied, robbed, raped and sold as prostitutes or as human traffic. They beg or steal to put food in their mouths and survive. But more often than not they are feeding the greed of their parents or beggar masters. Their esteem has been reduced to such a low level that many change their names, sniff glue or any other easily available substance. They partake in anything so that they do not need to address where they are at. HIV and Aids runs rife, and remember this is children that we are talking about.

 

They get here, by running away from something, a father that beats or abuses them. Or they get here by running to something, the lure of Bollywood – bright lights big city. What is certain is that kids are designed to be kids. They are not mini adults. They need to grow up in an environment where they are protected and allowed to understand the emotions that make up the human psyche. If this doesn’t happen then the emotions become mis placed and and the easiest way of dealing with this is to go under the haze of a self induced high.

 

I am here for 3 months helping this charity: www.therailwaychildren.org.uk

 

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