The Mumbai Difference

Last week, I flew to Mumbai for an IB DP Workshop.  I was there for about four days, and the entire time, I was trying to draw parallels and identify differences between my own city of Jakarta, and what I observed in Mumbai.

The traffic was better than in Jakarta, but not by much.  “Motor Rickshaws” were speeding around instead of Bajaj, and buses were still overloaded with people rushing from here to there.

The slums were very similar: if I would have been given no context for their location, I would have guessed that we were in Jakarta.  Brinks instead of concrete, a bit more dirty (is it because the rain washes away the dust here in Jakarta?) The constant juxtaposition between rich and poor is starkly evident in both Jakarta and Mumbai.
Both countries wear their pollution like a blanket, although Mumbai had notably better weather, which was both cooler and less humid. 


“Motor Rickshaw” traffic in Mumbai

The poverty, while similar in income, looked a lot different.  My co-worker and I were walking down a street near the Gateway to India and, as we wove between the density of the crowd a girl slipped between us.  She tapped him on the shoulder but he knew better than to turn around and instead kept walking.   The girl looked like she was maybe 15 or 16, and she was holding a child close to her as she trailed behind him.  She followed us for a minute or two, persistent in tapping him.

I didn’t witness much else of this kind of behavior, but the constant flow of well dressed people mingling with the obviously poor was very different than the constant separation between the rich and poor here in Jakarta.  The houses may have looked the same as in Jakarta, but the interactions between social classes was not.

That’s one of the reasons why this little comparative investigation of mine was inconclusive.
I would say that Indonesian culture is an easy culture to process, meaning that I find it to be easier to understand the cultural norms and expectations.  I understand my role here in Indonesia.  Yes, Indonesia is very different from a western country, and adjusting to the cultural norms was a challenge.  However, Jakarta’s mix of different subcultures (such as Javanese, Balinese, or Batak, and so on) have, from my observations, created this common shared “Indonesian” culture.  And I know exactly how I fit into it.

I am sure that this cultural mesh also occurs in Mumbai, but that seems to be only a minor facet of a culture that requires much more unpacking.  At the end of the day, culture in India still feels more complex than that of Indonesia. I don’t understand India (and that’s okay– I don’t live there!)


“Good” traffic and “blue” skies?



4 thoughts on “The Mumbai Difference

    • I was expecting it to be very different, so I think all of the similarities surprised me! Like I wrote, I think that India is a country that takes a lot more investigation and time to fully understand. Perhaps this is also because India’s memory stretches back much further, while Indonesia doesn’t seem to hold tight to its history. What do you think?

      • Think its a lot more complicated than historical memory alone. 🙂 The both have that chaotic quality yet somehow Jakarta seems to be a kinder gentler more considerate version whereas Mumbai is much more direct with the way its multiple realities co-exist.

  1. Hii, I have been born and brought up in Mumbai. I hope you enjoyed your time here. Indian culture is indeed very complex. We have so many different cultures here, all kinda blend together beautifully, yet maintain their own distinct Identity. You should really take out a month from your schedule to really see the country properly. I hope you come back.

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