Last day in Bombay before taking the nighttrain to Ajmer. In the Taj Bookshop, I buy ‘ How to teach yourself Hindi’. I hope it will be usefull at Barefoot College. I can try to set up a basic conversation with the women. At 7pm I take a taxi to Bandra Terminal. The distance is 20 km, and it’s a 1 to 1:30 hour ride, due to rush hour. My polution-portion for today is certainly not less than 5 packs of sigarettes.
The style of the Bombay taxidrivers is hilarious. They share cabs and they work in shifts, delivering as many passengers as possible during the hours the cab is theirs. They never leave more than 2 inches spare space between 2 cars, this at the 4 sides! The roads are completely packed with vehicles of all kind, nobody pays attention to lanes or any other kind of order. They all want to be first. At a certain moment, an older man in a Mercedes tries to pass us and points a revolver -I don’t know if it’s a fake one or not- to my driver!
There are millions of black/yellow cabs on their way, others are parked in long long lines at the side of the road. The day these cabs disappear, Bombay streets will be empty and a good deal of the polution problem will be solved. This crazy hectic ride takes me 1 year of my health. Suddenly, the imam starts to call for the evening prayers. Allahu Akhbar — in stereo, from two sides of the road. 20 metres further, a brassband finds his way through the trafficjam. Following them closely is the groom, sitting on his speckled white horse. This is Bombay too.
We pass through slums, truckdepots and construction sites. It’s dirty, dusty and noisy. Dinnertime, and everywhere people are preparing lunch on the street. Waiting in the traffic jam, I have the time to deconstruct the setting up of a shack.
It starts by putting a clothesline on the wall, and they add some belongings. Than 1 bamboe-pole is added, the start of demarcation of the territory. After a while, they add a second pole, and eventually a third and a forth one. The construction is covered with a cloth, and the space is appropriated. The cloth cover gradually changes for cardboard, plastic or metal, and the shack takes the forms of a semi-permanent structure. Refinements can always be done: extension of an upper storey, electricity. A brick wall in front of the cardboard or plastic, doors and windows to assure some privacy. This evolves from mobile architecture towards a new form of fast-city-architecture. But it’s not the end: some territory can be won on the street. Cots, mobile kitchen and washing place are put outside in front of the shack, and the street gets appropriated.
Later someone tells me that the government is trying to clean up the slums by development-projects consisting of huge buildings on slumsites. But the slum-population doesn’t like them. They’re not used to live on upper floors, their kids cannot play on the streets, they cannot have any extensions. So they accept the appartment and resell it, keep the money and start to build a new shack at the bottom of the building.