This is the sixth in a series of entries Alfred Romann will post from India in the coming weeks.
Few cities in the world do extremes like Mumbai.
Home to one of the oldest stock exchanges in the world, started by a group of 22 traders under a Banyan tree more than a 150 years ago, Mumbai is a city of high flying finance.
It is also home to the largest urban slum in Asia, the residence of poor migrants and urban dwellers who haven’t yet read the news that India is undergoing an economic boom.
This is not much of a secret. Politicians and businesspeople know the wealth gap is there and they know that closing it will not be easy. Just look at China, where they’ve been working at it for almost 30 years and, despite remarkable progress, it remains an uphill battle.
Mumbai is to Shanghai what Delhi is to Beijing and the similarities between the two pairs are striking.
Both Delhi and Beijing are imposing cities, dusty and generally unwelcoming to the pedestrian. There is green, but it is found in concentrated spots between huge chunks of city. People in both are obsessed with politics.
Mumbai and Shanghai are, on the surface, nicer. They boast trees (well, in parts) and streets that can be walked. Both have cosmopolitan communities, top notch restaurants of every cuisine imaginable and, at least in their architecture, an obvious blend of local and European. (While Shanghai is home to buildings of French, English and Japanese design, the foreign flavor of Mumbai is purely that left behind by the British colonialists.)
The people also come in many varieties. In a single day, it is possible – in fact likely – to meet a fund manager looking to place US$100 million in Asia, a driver hoping to earn 500 rupees for the day (a little more than US$10), a Bollywood star or producer, a Japanese tourist and a street merchant selling juice.
Walk around the semi-circular Bombay Stock Exchange building in downtown Mumbai and the contrasts are even more apparent. Inside, billions are traded every day. Outside, homeless people look for a spot to lie down and sleep covered by old onion sacks.
With some luck and a lot of work, the spread of the world’s second fastest growing economy will reach them soon.