6 November 2011


Before I left England, I was warned to expect alot of very poor people living in squalor, children begging on the streets, hunger and poverty everywhere.

I have a history of being unable to deal with things like this. I feel very uncomfortable, I am ashamed of being so well off. I have no right to feel good, to be so comfortable and well fed when others are not so fortunate.

I prepared myself for a shock and expected to feel terrible.

My hotel room overlooked a slum, makeshift shacks crowded together covered with corrugated iron and plastic sheets. I awoke to what I first thought was gunfire. It was just after 7 am, I used my football binoculars to see what was going on. A handful of barefooted children were setting off firecrackers. They lit them then ran away, hiding behind bushes. Unsuspecting adults were walking past and occasionally jumped in alarm as the crackers banged and spat around their feet. I could feel the huge gust of merriment from the kids even at distance.

The adults were emerging from the slums, not filthy and ashamed but upright and proud. Women, stunning in bright saris, men well groomed and clean shaven apart from the seeming obligatory hairy caterpillar on their upper lips.

My friend Prakash took me over to Navi Mumbai to visit his steel fabrication factory. As we left, the neighbouring factories were finishing for the day. Almost all the workers were walking as no public transport serves the industrial area. As we drove slowly through the throng, I saw smiles and laughter, people walking with grace.

Don't get me wrong, it's a terrible thing that people are living like that. What I find uplifting is the beautiful dignity and resilience of the human spirit that they display.

For my own part, I realise that my anticipated discomfort was born out of my need to control and fix everything I encounter. Now, I accept that even I can't expect myself to alleviate the poverty of half a billion people. Things are as they are.

Most of the people I meet here are poor, very poor. All of them have shown genuine kindness to me. I am humbled by their generosity of spirit.

And inspired.