A city where even gods struggle for space
Mumbai -- Over the past few months I have been documenting how Indians in the country’s financial capital eke out ways to worship deities.
Take Om Prakash Gupta for instance. Every morning he prays at a small alter of Hindu gods and goddesses that he has erected beside his roadside foodstall. Before opening his stall he makes an offering of flowers and incense sticks, putting his hands together, asking that the gods’ will see that his business is profitable and safe. As he spends most of his day at work, it makes sense for him to connect with his religion close to where he earns his livelihood, he says.
Mumbai is a teeming metropolis of 20 million people; a concrete jungle in many places, but it also boasts large numbers of wonderful old trees. Often, if you stop and look closely enough at one you will spot that it holds a small shrine. It may be that you see someone praying at the foot of the tree first. A shrine in a tree is an ingenious use of space and in a deeply religious country like India it also makes it unlikely that the tree will ever be chopped down!
There’s also Som, who comes from a remote village in Nepal. He works as a driver for one of my neighbours. Like so many migrant workers in Mumbai, Som doesn’t live in a house. He sleeps in his car at night and freshens up at the ground floor washroom of his employer’s building.
Som and a few others in similar situations have constructed a small shrine at the bottom of a banyan tree. Every day before starting work he bows down and prays for the well-being of his family back home in Nepal and also for his safety so that he can continue to provide for them.
Makeshift temples can also be found in walls, in electricity pylons and in illegal pavement shanties in the occupants’ hope that the idol will help save the dwelling from being pulled down by the authorities. Taxi drivers often stick idols on their dashboards to feel protected.
Mumbai is famous for its millions of migrants who come to the city from all over India seeking to make enough money to feed their families and have a roof over their heads. It’s manic and not everyone can find space for their own private worship. Instead they just stop by whichever shrine they stumble upon, grabbing the opportunity to worship their god.
Mutthuswamy Shankar is one. He came from his native village in Tamil Nadu. He lives in a small hut with five other people. After doing various odd jobs Shankar ended up as a delivery boy for a logistics company. The job takes him all over the city. Whenever he passes a shrine of his revered god he stops and has a quick pray because he has no space for his own personal alter in the hut.
Religion is a big part of people’s lives here with so many different faiths co-existing harmoniously in cramped quarters. It’s a theme I find fascinating.