Let’s go on a walk down Chimbai Road in Bandra. Through the bylanes, passing some vintage-cute bungalows, walk till we hit a decrepit bungalow with suspected squatters, take that left and walk till we reach the water’s edge. This is the Chimbai koli village.
Just across the water to the left, across the water you won’t venture into, lies the glitzy, glamourous Bandra bandstand with all those tall buildings that speak opulence and Bollywood. You are a stone’s throw away, but more than a world away. It is not about the lack of tall buildings, it not about the tiny lanes where cars do not venture, it is about the basic standard of life that makes us humans, you cannot find it around you.
Dogs, pigs, garbage and humans sit and watch the sun set over the sea… and you watch them. The litter piles up across the beach, empty bottles, plastic covers, chips wrappers, more plastic, more waste, more piles… you find yourself asking if there is sand below or just rock? You might never know.
The people are friendly, and so are the frisky dogs. A girl walks across the garbage towards you, she has a friendly smile, but clutches a tiny kitten close to her heart, her ‘tiger’ she calls him repeatedly, stepping on the garbage with sure feet, without a glance downwards. You tip-toed your way in, and you will tip-toe your way out. That brown dog runs across to say hello. He is friendly and just wants to jump on your pants and be petted. But you step back, (is that disgust on your face?) and shoo him away. He is covered with dirt, you just saw him rolling in the garbage not two minutes ago.
An old man in shorts with his paunch bared to the evening breeze, sitting in an old plastic chair to your right, burps loudly. You look at him, at the garbage and the pigs, then further at the sea beating on the rocks, the setting sun peering through the beautiful cotton clouds heralding the onset of monsoon.
This is a village, one of the last few left of the original inhabitants of Mumbai, the kolis. It is in the heart of the most hip suburb in Mumbai. Uncared for, unkept and unwashed, it lies behind the clean, paved Chimbai road, hidden from your eyes. The stench of rotting garbage mingling with days of urine greets you as you enter the village from Chimbai road, and the litter all along the seashore stuns you to silence. There is a quaintness about the setting, which might bring you back, away from the tall buildings five minutes away, but you need to photoshop the imagine in your head to come back.
You wonder what next, for Chimbai village, for all these kolis, and what next for you?