The term megacity conjures up a vision of gleaming lights, luxury high
rises and wide roads with cars zipping through them in a frenetic, endless dance
that represents the urban dream at its most fancy. For the family of Mohammad
Manto the reality is as different as it could be.
Home for them is a Kolkata pavement, for all 12 adults and 17 children. I met them near the New Market bang opposite the Kolkata Municipal Corporation as I was taking a stroll one morning. It is hard to believe that no one from the KMC has noticed them or made a single effort to provide for them although they have been there 50 to 60 years. Perhaps they are just unable to see. Now even this roofless resting place is under threat as the Mantos may have to make room shortly for a new mall.
Manto’s mother-in-law, better known as Badi Aapa in the neighbourhood, says she is 117. That means she has seen three centuries and for half that time has live on a street corner in Kolkata. The youngest is all of four months old. Times have always been hard for the family but they have managed somehow, working as street hawkers, porters, maids and a host of other temporary jobs to earn enough for the day—two cups of tea and something to eat.
They wear hand-me-downs donated by kindly people, who also from time to time provide blankets. A large plastic sheet keeps the sun at bay in the day, but if it rains they feel every drop that falls. Winters are a bad time. How do they manage? “Chalaana padtahai, kya karein (have to manage, what to do).” As for education, they try to send a few of the children to a free school nearby, but they don’t expect too much from that.
This neglect of a family whose only sin is poverty speak volumes for the state government’s attitude towards the voiceless and faceless. To add insult to their miseymisery, the 2011 Census claims that Kolkata has some 70,000 homeless people. It is widely believed that the government has suppressed the numbers because it concerned about its image. The story of the Manto family is jot one among a million others, but it just shows how hollow slogans like “India Shining” really are.
A family of 12 adults and 17 children live in this roofless home by the street in Kolkata. The oldest member has been living here for 50 years.
The youngest member of the family is about 4 months old and awaits to get his name.
Mohammad Manto, the head of the family who has lived his entire life on this pavement from the time of his grandparents.
Badi Aapa or Khaala as she is called is said to be 17 years old and is Mohammad Manto’s mother-in-law. Witty and sharp, she quickly hides her money as I approach her. On being asked if she would treat me with a cup of tea, she responds “Hum kyun chai pilayein? Photo tum kheench rahi ho, chai toh tum piloagi!” (Why should I get you tea? You are taking my pictures, you should treat me with tea!)
Tea-time is family time. Even though they have a stove, but for a guest, tea is always procured from the nearest tea-stall vendor.
This pavement home is right opposite the Kolkata Municipal Corporation building.
Most pavement dwellers take up hawking, peddling, rickshaw pulling, and household chores to earn their bread. A friend of the family who lives nearby.