The Digital Journalist



Lansdowne Road at night.

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In downtown Bombay the shops stay open late at night. Snack and cheap clothing stalls vie with international names like Benetton and Levis for the shoppers' trade, while provision stores supply both street people and local residents with their needs.

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Charas ("hashish") is a polio-afflicted brown sugar addict who begs for a living on Lansdowne Road. He has a tricycle which was bought for him by a local cafÈ owner, but it is heavy and unwieldy, and he often prefers to use his skateboard, especially when he is begging at the stop lights. He often begs at Regal Circle, the large roundabout at the end of Lansdowne Road.


Life on the street is boring and slow moving. Gambling is a favourite pass-time which often leads to fights. Many street people can make good money from a transaction with a tourist, but they generally gamble it away in a couple of days.


Johnny and Patak are two of the drinkers on Lansdowne Road. Like all good friends they often fight and make it up. They both have tuberculosis which isn't helped by drinking cheap ("country") liquor. They make a living by photographing tourists at Gateway with rented cameras. They were pretty drunk when I took this picture.

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Raju and his monkey Rajesh. All monkeys are called Rajesh, for no particular reason that I could discover. Monkeys are popular begging accessories, although the sort of monkey show that is common all over India, with the monkeys wearing clothes and makeup, is rare in Bombay. Mostly the monkey is just an excuse to approach a tourist. Raju and Rajesh share everything - even the insects in Raju's hair.


Abu is a young beggar who begs at Gateway on Sundays. His disability ensures him good earnings. I often asked him if he wanted help, for instance, opening a paan (chewing tobacco) packet or with other small tasks, but he always refused. He does everything with his nose, mouth and chin.


The child of a couple of young visitors to Gateway. His good health is in striking contrast to the condition of the street peoples' children.


Sunita Jadav is a beautiful young woman who works as an acrobat with her three daughters and husband. However the police are cracking down on unlicensed activities of all kinds and often chase street performers off before they can collect their earnings. As a result Sunita is being forced more and more to beg to support her family.


A bubble blower vendor plies a brisk trade at Gateway on Sunday evening. Gateway is a popular excursion for Bombay families, as well as an obligatory landmark for tourists from all over India.


Mini-gang. These boys were begging at the stop lights on Regal Circle when I met them. They struck me for their paramilitary organisation: at a word from the leader (the boy on the right) the others bent down and grabbed my ankles to tip me onto my back. Fortunately a friend of mine told them to stop, that I was part of the local scene. They then insisted that I take their picture.


Childen playing hopscotch on Lansdowne Road.


Mohammed is a young polio-afflicted boy who, like so many, ran away from home to escape domestic violence and ended up in Bombay. He was rescued from the street by an English NGO working in South Bombay who arranged for him to go to a special school for handicapped children at Pune, near to Bombay. I later heard that this school is on the third floor and the children have to crawl up the stairs to get to class! Nonetheless Mohammed is one of the lucky ones: most of the boys rescued by this organisation end up on the street again. Street life is far more attractive than school.


A little girl dances to a Hindi film song on the radio while her mother claps the beat.


Haresh earns a living selling soft drinks and postcards at Gateway. He has three "wives" who share him with occasional fights and arguments, but generally get on OK. Haresh:
"When I was six years old I already had polio. One day a train stopped at our village for the first time. It made my heart very happy to see it and I climbed up into it to look. Before I could get down it carried me off, and after two months on the train begging and cleaning the floor I came to Bombay. This year - after seventeen years - I went back to my village for the first time. At that time my father had two houses in the village and we always ate well. Now my mother, father and my sister are all dead; the only one left is my young brother. He was very happy to see me, he has so much love for me; he thought I had died so many years ago. Now I want to go back to the village and help my brother become a truck driver. But my wife likes Bombay; she likes the street life too much."


Hina in her best dress for Id al-Fitr, the festival at the end of Ramadan, the Muslim holy month.

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Suriya and Raju. LRO_025: Raju has breakfast (a bun and a cup of tea) before going to school nearby. Their mother, Taj, has a stall on Lansdowne Road selling trinkets to tourists, and during the warm season they sleep behind the stall with their cousin Altaf and grandmother Bibi Jaan (literally "Mother Heart"). Even at the age of ten, however, their level of literacy is rudimentary and they can only recognise written words they already know. This year they failed to get into school and are now full time street kids.

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Altaf with his cousins Suriya and Raju. Altaf's mother (Taj's sister) died of TB a few years ago and he now lives with his grandmother on the pavement of Lansdowne Road. LRO_021: The boys playing chellas, a form of ludo. The players throw four shells to determine how many steps they can take around the grid.


Taj, Suriya and Raju's mother, making lunch behind her stall. She was born right here on the pavement behind the Taj Mahal Hotel, which is how she got her name.


Ambedkar Nagar, a slum in South Bombay where Ramzan, Taj's brother, has a room. The boys often spend days here watching TV. Property in the slums is expensive and Ramzan's room (about 15 square metres) is worth about US$ 5,000. Naturally this is far beyond what most people can afford, and so many people end up sleeping in the street.

Pardhi children making and selling balloons.


A Pardhi mother and child drink chai (tea) in the rain during the monsoon. The tea stall in Lansdowne Road also offers snacks and lunches and most people eat there.

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Pardhi children playing in the rain.


A Pardhi girl leaning against a car. Cars are like street furniture - everyone just sits on them, the owners never seem to mind.


A Pardhi boy pops a candy into his sisters mouth.


The children have there heads shaved frequently to eliminate lice.

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Sanjay is a polio-afflicted boy who makes a living begging with his monkey Rajesh. In fact, the Pardhis even have a sub-caste, the Bandarwale Pardhi, who traditionally kept monkeys for street shows and court performances. However, like the Hijras, India's transsexuals, another group who once had a court function, the Pardhis are now completely marginalised and their traditions are disappearing.


A girl outside the Bademiya restaurant is lit up by the lights of a passing car.


Two sisters waiting for a group of tourists to come out of a shop.

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LRP_012: Bochha (a street name which means "cunt") after she fell off a train on the way to Matunga where she lives along the tracks with her two sisters. Her sister Lundi ("cripple") is so-called because like so many living on the railway tracks she lost an arm under a train when she was a child.


A group of Pardhi women buying tea from one of the itinerant tea-sellers at Gateway.


The women spend a part of every day picking lice from each other's hair.


A group of Pardhis waiting for Arab tourists to come out of the Hotel Diplomat.


Pardhi children begging in the rain outside the Hotel Diplomat. The girl in the front is holding a sugar cube which has been thrown down to her from one of the windows. This was a common sight when the Arabs were in town during the monsoon: the Arabs at their hotel windows throwing down candy and toys to the street kids outside.


Janna with a friend's child. On 6th July 1999 Janna's daughter, 19 years old and three months pregnant, was killed by jaddu (witchcraft) in Lansdowne Road. She just fell down dead in the street. Another woman, who had been included in the curse, had her foot crushed by a taxi the same day.

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The Regal Circle gang. These children beg at Regal Circle, the large traffic roundabout at the end of Lansdowne Road. 


Two Pardhi boys wrestling for the camera.


Jannabai making balloons to sell to tourists at Gateway.

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Pardhi kids at Gateway.

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Many Arabs come to Bombay in the monsoon to enjoy the rains. Many also come for medical attention (much cheaper than in their home countries) and cheap international brand shopping. The street people see them as open wallets and pester them mercilessly.

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