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Where poverty and opulence collide

Children beg for food or money at traffic lights in Mumbai. www.ifpri.org

swissinfo’s correspondent, Andrea Tognina, has spent the past week in Mumbai covering the World Social Forum gathering.

This content was published on January 22, 2004 - 12:40

He sent a brief snapshot of life in a city where abject poverty and extreme wealth co-exist.

In Mumbai, everyone sees the disturbing images of a metropolis in which most live in misery, while a few enjoy exorbitant wealth, where the glitter of gold is juxtaposed with the smell of dust, kerosene and decomposition that hovers in the air.

One evening, while we were on the way back to the hotel, a girl approached our rickshaw – one of the motorized, three-wheeled taxis that fill the city streets – begging for alms.

This is something that happens often, at all the traffic lights. But this girl, with an unsteady gait and bloodshot eyes, was holding a motionless baby and a dirty bottle. Like a figure that had emerged from hell.

Bridegroom on horseback

Later, returning to the hotel after dinner, we came across a procession of wedding guests, marching to the sounds of trumpets and tambourines, with the bridegroom in front, on horseback, dressed in gold and wearing a garland of banknotes.

This is Mumbai, a city whose contrasts hit us like hammer blows and force us to confront our socially sensitive western consciences. A city that attracts and repulses, like the grey sea that washes the beach beneath our windows.

The World Social Forum gathering is an enormous event; confused, noisy, like a giant fair which one perceives first with one's senses – with the ears, nose, eyes – and only afterwards with the mind. An event which wipes out the journalist's critical distance in one fell swoop.

More time is needed to digest it all, to examine clearly the long-term effects of the event, to measure its impact on Indian society and on the anti-globalization movement. But we can at least begin to reflect.

swissinfo, Andrea Tognina

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