CommissionStories Mumbai 01 03 B


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CommissionStories Mumbai 01 03 B

  1. 1. COMMISSION STORIES Experience • Explore • Engage Mumbai: Seeking truth in the ‘City of Gold’ Erich Bridges International Mission Board READY FOR MY CLOSE-UP — Actors check their makeup and practice lines before the next scene on the set of a popular TV show filmed in Mumbai, India´s show business capital. “Bollywood” churns out hundreds of movies a year.The television side of the business stays just as busy feeding the appetite of hundreds of mil- lions of Indian viewers for soaps, dramas and comedies. (IMB PHOTO) T elevision writer Sankalp Tak steers his Tak misses the daily craziness — but not too much. late-model compact through the streets of Mumbai, India’s largest city, dodging “Politics is not a virtue in this business,” he says. waves of cars and motorized rickshaws to park “You have to be aggressive, even heartless some- behind a nondescript warehouse. times, to handle the chaos on the set or push someone who’s already worked to 10 or 11 to go Inside: barely controlled chaos — like Mumbai itself. until 2 a.m.” It’s the set of a TV comedy about upscale students Bollywood stays busy at a fictional Indian college. Production crew mem- “Bollywood,” a combination of Hollywood and bers rush to break down one scene and set up the Bombay (Mumbai’s former name), is the film side of next. The director huddles with the producer and the city’s media business. It churns out hundreds of cameramen while the actors practice their lines and movies a year. The television side stays just as busy check their makeup in hand mirrors. feeding the ravenous appetite of millions of Indian viewers for soaps, dramas and comedies. Everyone greets Tak, age 27. He’s one of the creative forces behind the production, which airs four nights “There’s no glamour behind the camera,” Tak confides a week on India’s Star One network. He auditioned with a weary grin. Still, he savors being young and about 1,000 actors to cast the show and used to successful in a nation where so many people struggle spend all day, every day, on the set as a creative just to live. director before he switched to scriptwriting.
  2. 2. COMMISSION STORIES Experience • Explore • Engage But has Tak, a Hindu, found his true purpose in life? “No, I’m still searching for the meaning,” he admits. “I mean, if you have to leave everything and go sit in the Himalayas to be spiritually satisfied, that doesn’t work. It’s not practical.” Mumbaikars, as the city’s inhabitants call themselves, are nothing if not practical. It’s a survival skill. The city’s frantic speed doesn’t allow a lot of time for thinking about meaning. Even some Hindu worship- pers zip through their pujas (worship or prayers) KEEP IT MOVING — Mumbai has its gaudy rich and its dirt poor at roadside temples without getting off their idling -- and its hard-charging upper middle class. John Mani (center), a personnel motorcycles. manager for a major shipping company, works long days keeping the port of Mumbai running smoothly. On the weekends, he goes to church and to the shopping mall with his wife. (IMB PHOTO) Tycoons and pavement dwellers Show business — despite its quasi-religious status among the countless fans who idolize Bollywood stars — is first and foremost a multibillion-dollar business. And Mumbai has been all about business since its early days. Opportunity: It’s why people from all over India keep coming to Mumbai, India’s money center and business capital. Hundreds arrive each day, most car- rying their belongings in tattered bags. ON THE SET — Mumbai writer Sankalp Tak, 27, watches the filming of a TV comedy show he writes for India´s Star One network. “There´s no glamour behind the camera,” he confides, but he savors being young and successful in a nation where so many people struggle just to live. (IMB PHOTO) Tak’s show resumed shooting only a day after the deadly terror attacks that struck the city last November. Much of the city’s relentless commerce went on uninterrupted as police shot it out with the terrorists. For many who weren’t at the places where hundreds of people actually bled and died, the attacks seemed “filmy.” That’s a word you hear a lot in Mumbai, where the line between Bollywood fantasy and daily reality sometimes blurs. CONTROLLED CHAOS — The population of Mumbai, India´s largest city, approaches 20 million. Somehow, the city keeps going -- like its trains, the arteries that move 7 million people through Mumbai every day. Like “I was at home watching it all on television,” Tak Mumbai´s renowned dhabba wallahs (seen in photo), mostly illiterate delivery- recalls. “Everybody thought, ‘Is this a film? Is this a men who carry some 200,000 hot lunches each work day by foot, bicycle and train from the suburban homes where they are made to the cross-town offices movie?’” where they are consumed. (IMB PHOTO)
  3. 3. COMMISSION STORIES Experience • Explore • Engage “People mistreat us,” angrily declares Shanta Bai, one of the women. “They say, ‘You people are dirty.You are poor.’ But what can we do? We have no land. We have no water. That’s why we came to Mumbai. If you want to put us in jail, go ahead!” Slum dwellers, who comprise at least half of the city’s entire population, have slightly better accom- modations. Harish and his family, immigrants from Nepal, live on “disputed land” — no one is quite sure who owns it. Until that question is settled, the trash-strewn clearing next to a construction site PAVEMENT DWELLERS — Thousands of new (and not so new) arrivals live on the streets of Mumbai, India.Ten families occupy a sidewalk at one busy belongs to the squatter families. The women clean intersection, dwelling under dingy tarps tied to a fence. Most of them beg. Some work at day labor or clean gutters. Sometimes police harass the ragtag group or ask for bribes. “People mistreat us,” angrily declares one of the women. “They say, ´You people are dirty.You are poor.´ But what can we do? We have no land. We have no water.That´s why we came to Mumbai.” (IMB PHOTO) Greater Mumbai already strains to the breaking point under the weight of more than 19 million human beings. But people keep pushing their way in. Some dream of fame and fortune. Many simply hope for a better life than they had in the parched farms and jobless villages they came from. A few will find it. The rest will do whatever it takes for their daily bread. The city is impossibly crowded — more than 70,000 people per square mile, on average, jammed togeth- er into a landfilled peninsula jutting into the Arabian Sea on India’s west coast. Living space, even a single room, costs far beyond what most migrants can afford. So thousands live on the streets. “Pavement dwellers,” they’re called. Ten families occupy a sidewalk at a busy intersection in West Andheri, one of Mumbai’s huge suburbs. They dwell under dingy tarps tied to a fence. Their children sleep among the bags containing their possessions SLUMDOG? — “Slumdog Millionaire,” the movie that swept the top and some pots and pans for cooking. Sometimes Oscars this year, tells the story of two slum orphans in Mumbai.They gamely battle hunger, child-exploiting gangsters, brutal police and other trials.The police harass the ragtag group or ask for bribes. younger brother ultimately finds his long-lost true love and wins a fortune on Municipal authorities periodically clear the area, but TV as millions cheer him on. If only every Mumbai story had a happy ending. the pavement dwellers eventually return. Few slum kids strike it rich, but if they hear the truth of the Gospel, they will find true wealth. (IMB PHOTO)
  4. 4. COMMISSION STORIES Experience • Explore • Engage the apartments of the affluent people who live in high-rises around them. Some of the men find work at the building site. Harish’s family of eight lives in two small, tidy rooms with concrete floors and corrugated tin walls. They sleep in one room, cook and eat in another. They share the area with a handful of other families, an unreliable water pump and a one-room schoolhouse. “Our doors are always open to each other,” Harish says. “Slum people are also human beings.” MAXIMUM DARKNESS — Harish is a follower of Christ, but his family still worships Hindu gods, such as the idol occupying the shrine behind him. It seems almost livable — until monsoon rains come Most of Mumbai´s millions “are so multi-generationally saturated in darkness and tradition that they don´t know how to look for light,” says a Christian worker. and flood the area with disease-laden sewer water. “It has such a grip on their lives that they can´t get out of it.” (IMB PHOTO) Then the families remember they are essentially refugees, even if they’ve been there for years. crime — with plenty of Calcutta’s poverty stirred in. Mumbai’s nickname among Indians is “Maximum City” — maximum people, maximum wealth, maximum poverty, maximum traffic, maximum crime, maximum entertainment. Followers of Christ in the city add another: maxi- mum darkness. Most of Mumbai’s millions “are so multi-generation- ally saturated in darkness and tradition that they don’t know how to look for light,” says a Christian worker. ALSO HUMAN BEINGS — Many squatters live on “disputed land” in Mumbai -- no one is quite sure who owns it. One family of eight lives in two Hindus are the vast majority. But the city also is small, tidy rooms with concrete floors and corrugated tin walls.They share home to 2 million Muslims, as well as Sikhs, Bud- the area with a handful of other families, an unreliable water pump and a one-room schoolhouse. “Our doors are always open to each other,” a family dhists, Jains, Parsees and members of every caste member says. “Slum people are also human beings.” (IMB PHOTO) and virtually every people group in India. Maximum darkness Professing Christians of all varieties, including the “People come to Mumbai with big dreams,” says city’s centuries-old Roman Catholic community, Arshad Kunnummal, a young executive in the city. comprise about 5 percent of the population. Evan- “Unfortunately, not all of them succeed. But the gelical believers, however, account for just 0.15 striving is always there.” percent. The city mixes New York’s money and manic energy, “You see the church expanding only in the slums to- Los Angeles’ glitz and guns, Shanghai’s entrepreneurs day, but not much among the well-educated people,” and restless masses, Mexico City’s size and organized says Christian leader Ivan Raskino. “The sad thing
  5. 5. COMMISSION STORIES Experience • Explore • Engage is that Mumbai is expanding much more than the are being sacrificed for gain. And it started in the church.” very foundations of Bombay.” Why? Rapid population growth among Hindus and How can the Gospel penetrate such a bastion of Muslims, for one thing. Mumbai’s go-go pace, for darkness? another. Christians also labor under the weight of the city’s history. “If we (Christians) get our hearts right with God, if we draw close to each other, really humble our- Mammon’s stronghold selves and cry out to Him for the city, God will Old Bombay was dominated over the ages by answer us,” says Raskino. Muslim Mogul conquerors, the Portuguese and the British, among others. Catholic missionaries during India’s national motto, which appears on every rupee the Portuguese era spread the faith but left a legacy coin and note, is “Truth alone triumphs.” It comes of forced conversions, intolerance of other religions from Hindu verses written some 4,000 years ago. and “rice Christians” bribed to adopt Christianity. May truth triumph in Mumbai, while there is still time. Bombay reached its zenith as a great world trading center under British rule, which also fostered reli- Act gious freedom. But the colonial legacy has been an • Read more on Mumbai at albatross around the neck of Protestant Christians news/details.asp?StoryID=7858&LanguageID since India gained independence in 1947. Many ur- =1709. ban Indians admire Christ, but not the Westernized, • Want to get involved in sharing Christ in Mumbai non-indigenous churches where He is worshipped. and other cities in South Asia? Visit http://www. But Mumbai’s Christians also bear some responsibil- ity for their own marginalization. The existing churches are a “big barrier” to growth, says a Christian worker. “They’ve been in survival mode as a minority for generations. If somebody happens to bring somebody, that’s a good thing, but it doesn’t happen very often.” The ancient spiritual strongholds of religious idola- try still exert influence in the city. But so does the stronghold of greed, which fully bloomed in the 19th-century colonial era as Bombay became the money-obsessed “City of Gold.” “Forget about (the Hindu god) Shiva” as an oppo- nent of truth, Raskino advises. “Mammon is still the big stronghold in Mumbai. In traditional, middle-class Indian families, daughters are prostituting themselves on the side. Why? Because they want money. Values