Mumbai– The Disadvantages of Over-Branding a City

It is the city that never sleeps, the city boasts of being one among the most expensive yet easy-going cities in the world; Mumbai, often described by the residents for its spirit of resilience and tolerance. They say that the no other city is good enough for you once you have lived in Bombay. It is also the city of dreams and it is estimated that on a daily basis almost 5000 new people enter the city. They come to study or to look for jobs, most of them just to see the tourist places. Mumbai is the one of the most densely populated cities of the country. It is the financial capital of the country. Its present population is almost 2 crore; while the population of the city in 1950 was just 30 lakhs. It is the second most populous metropolitan city in the country after Delhi. This number is more than the combined population of the most of the Scandinavian countries. In this article, we shall explore the disadvantages of branding a city too much in the minds of the young population living in the smaller constituencies.

In the outskirts of Mumbai, in a place called Murbad which lies in the Kalyan Municipality, there is an NGO known as the Samtol Foundation. I happened to visit the NGO while I was working in the city a few years back. This NGO is a rehabilitation center for boys from the age 5-14, primarily those who have run away from their homes and come to Mumbai. The NGO functions in a simple manner– they spot these children, take them into their camps, get them enrolled. Such camps take place thrice in a year. The duration of one camp is mostly of forty-five days. During this duration of forty-five days, the children or rather the boys are groomed, they go through counseling, the whereabouts of their families is found, their families are contacted and called. Finally, at the end of every camp, there is an event organized where all the children perform various acts such as music, dance, skit, sports and the parents are secretly called. It is on this day that the children and their families are united. The parents also go through a series of counseling sessions on how to deal with their boy after such an incident has taken place.

The statistics that was provided by this NGO reveals some gruesome facts. Mumbai takes the first rank when it comes to the most preferred destination for children to run away to from their homes. It is estimated that around 500 children run to the city by themselves every month. One of the most shocking revelations was the reasons why these children want to come to Mumbai– some due to proximity from their villages that is, Nanded, Kolhapur, etc.; some others come to experience the thrill of living in the hustle-bustle of the city; some come for other miscellaneous reasons, while the most common reason for a 10-year old to run to Mumbai is as trivial as wanting to see the Chowpatty, or see the Gateway of India or to meet Salman Khan or some film celebrity.

The children come not only from the rural pockets of Maharashtra or the nearby places, but most of them are from states like West Bengal, Bihar, Jharkhand and Uttar Pradesh. These children manage to catch a train with some money and enter the city. The minds of these children is attracted to very trivial reasons for eloping to Mumbai. However, after coming to the city, given its pace and vastness, the children more than often get stuck in the circle of poverty once they finish the petty amount of money that they had brought from home. These children get involved in stealing, join gangs, get into drugs and have to work in the unorganized sector most of the times as ragpickers at the station, construction sites, etc. They get involved into bad company.

By the time these children are picked up by the members of Samtol, they become very violent, addicted to drugs and out of control. Most of the times, they try to run away from the camp. There have been times where boys have tried to attack counselors. They do not easily give away their personal information, especially their addresses or contact numbers. It is the psychologist who finds out their possible home-towns and finally contacts their families.

Some children run away from their houses also because family problems, such as a financial crisis or an alcoholic father who abuses his wife and children. At such times, even after uniting the children with the parents, there is a tendency for the parents to be more violent with children and the child to run away again or take an extreme step. In such cases, even the parents need to be counseled properly on changing themselves and also how to behave with their children after the camp is over.

The point of this article is that the city of Bombay has been branded for its commercial and financial value, Bollywood and other attractions and this has had a very unhealthy impact on the minds of the young population, especially those living in the small-towns. It is important to rethink the way in which we build the notion around a city where a person starts to feel that unless you live in Mumbai, you cannot achieve an affluent or thrilling way of living.

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