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The Struggles of Mumbai

Family Cruise: Paul on Appreciation


MUMBAI, India – I'm crammed into the backseat of a sputtering Peugeot careening through Mumbai traffic. Despite witnessing several near-accidents, I will the driver to move faster.

The world outside is too much for me to handle.

"These are the slums," says our guide. "Very poor. Very poor."

The houses are built from scrap metal and bed sheets. A woman cooks lunch on the sidewalk. Nude children squat in gutters.

"Over there, we have the stalls where the horses stay. Horse racing. You know horse racing, right?"

Tall trees shade these stalls, which look larger and cleaner than most people's homes. Some of the horses are worth tens of thousands of dollars, our guide explains, and they're fed and watered daily. They live better lives than the people.

My father snaps pictures of the poverty. I want to ask him to put down his camera. This isn't a safari.

At the Laundry I grow even more sullen. When I do my laundry, I open a lid, press a few buttons, and close the lid. The modern washer was invented in 1922. How can a place like this still exist? I turn to my father, who's still snapping pictures and shooing off street beggars.

Why hasn't his generation—the people with the money and the power—done something about this? About 824 million people in the developing world still suffer from chronic hunger. About 72 million children don't have access to primary school. And nearly 30 percent of these Indians don't have safe drinking water.

How has his generation allowed such suffering to continue? I think back to the wealthy clientele on ship. Women wearing jewelry, the price of which could feed thousands. Men spending the equivalent of a laptop on the evening's wine. Guests taking one sip of bottled water and leaving it for the deckhands to remove.

But the wealthy are not solely to blame. My fellow college students (and some of my professors) believe globalization does more harm than good, stealing jobs from Americans. Well, looking out over the Laundry, I can't help thinking these people need our jobs more than we do. At the end of the day, we have a roof to sleep under. We have meals to eat. We won't be sold at the Cages. This isn't Myanmar, where the people seemed content with what little they had. The people of India fight a personal war every day—for food, for space, for money, for progress.

Appreciation does not just mean cherishing what you have, it means recognizing what others lack and then doing something about it. Of the times children have heard, "Finish your dinner, there are starving kids in Africa," I wonder how many times their parents have actually donated food or money to Africa. Of those who read the headlines and shake their heads at misfortune, I wonder how many who can afford to take action.

Riding home in a taxi later that night after visiting a few of Mumbai's bars with friends, I notice scores of people sleeping on the street. Some rest atop the hoods of cars, others by the roadside. The city has fallen quiet, eerie. Rats scratch across the pavement. Trash flutters along the sidewalks. But despite their lack of beds, the homeless sleep soundly, unmoving. Some of these people could be dead, I realize, and then suppress the thought. But another bubbles up:

Would anyone care?

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