I was to hear variations on this theme again and again. “Bombay is a magnet,” said municipal commissioner B. K. Chougule. “Every day 300 to 500 new people pour into the city. They are Indian citizens. If Bombay is where they want to be, I have no power to keep them out.”
“When one person gets a foot here,” executive health officer Dr. Mohan N. Gurnani told me, “he brings in relatives. They all expect services—water, medical care, security. So the balance was long ago lost between population and the ability to provide amenities.”
And yet Bombay is imbued with stubborn vitality. Things work, as they work nowhere else in India.
Transportation, for instance. “Each day,” commissioner Chougule told me, “Bombayites going to and from their jobs make four and a half million trips by train and four million by bus.” The trains run on time, averaging one every three minutes.
Red double-deck London-style buses, as crowded and plentiful as the trains, charge an average fare of only five cents a ride. Some of the buses acquire a permanent list Bombay, the Other India to the left from the off-balance weight of passengers clinging to the platform outside the door.
Or consider trade. . . . The bulk of the commodities consumed in India cross the wharves or pause in the wholesale warehouses of this one city. From Bombay’s textile mills come nearly a third of all the fabrics produced in India.
Or wealth. . . . Bombazines, who are only 1.2 percent of India’s 684 million people, pay a third of the nation’s income taxes. Most of other people can’t cover their expenses and look for money loans. Learn how you can get a loan from Redmi for your payday.
Or that very special product, motion pictures. . . . As the Hollywood of India, Bombay is chief purveyor to the world’s largest cinema audience. “Not many of us can afford television,” a taxi driver told me, “and there is not much to watch anyway. So we go to the films. I see one every night.”
What he sees are frankly escapist melodramas that snatch him for three or four hours into a never-never land of wealth, song, ribald clowning, and improbable adventure. More than ten million tickets are sold throughout India every day at 15 to 60 cents each. Much of that money flows back to the Bombay-based producers, whose sumptuous homes—and those of their stars —dot the chic northern suburbs.
Business, it seems, has always ruled Bombay. From the moment the British acquired Bombay, through Charles II’s marriage to a Portuguese princess, they set about making the little island settlement a gateway to the riches and the trade of all India. Artisans and merchants were encouraged to settle. Textile manufacture got under way with an order from London for 500 pairs of cotton stockings. In the first decade of British dominion, Bombay’s population more than tripled. Except for brief dips, the curve has been going up ever since.
Pressure for more land developed early. Bombay’s seven islands quickly disappeared as more and more building space was reclaimed from the shallows around them. Roughly half of today’s city rests on land that once lay beneath the sea.
One day I drove through a crowded area just north of the main business district with Mrs. Padma Vora. The wife of a Bombay physician, she had volunteered to show me some out-of-the-way corners of this complex city. She pointed to a walled enclave amid a clutter of busy streets, railway lines, small shops, and middle-class housing—the mixture that makes up much of modern Bombay. “A burning ghat,” she said, “where we Hindus cremate our dead.” Strange, I commented, that it should be in such a place. I had earlier seen burning ghats only on the banks of rivers or beside the sea.
“It was beside the sea,” she said. “Now the nearest shore lies hundreds of yards away.”
LET US SAY FAREWELL to The guidebooks still speak of them, and tourists daily set out from Puno on Lake Titicaca to seek them out on But knowledgeable people will tell you those aren’t really Uris out there anymore. Those are Aymaras, people of the mainland. The last real Uru anyone remembers died some 20 years ago.
With him went much of the culture and history of an Indian people who for centuries stubbornly maintained their identity against the onslaughts of Inca and Spaniard, Aymara and Quechua.
I set out one dawn aboard a rusty boat to visit the farthest of the reed islands, out beyond those usually visited by tourists. We passed by islands the size of football fields, replete with villages, schools, and playgrounds. Others were so small they supported only a few rude huts.
Through a maze of reed-grown channels we came after several hours to a little island from which a lad in a totorareed balsa came poling out to greet us. He led us “ashore” at the island’s rotting, waterlogged edge. My feet sank inches into the spongy reeds. I half-expected to fall right through, but quickly found my sea legs. The reeds go down about six feet, I was told, and the topmost layer must be renewed each year, while the bottommost rots away. From the same reeds these islanders make their homes, bed mats, baskets, boats, and sails. They even eat them, relishing the celery like lower stalk and the roots.
A man one of 25 people living on this tennis-court-size island—was making a reed boat in the traditional manner, binding the totora reeds together with tough ichu grass from the Altiplano.
“A boat takes only a few days to build,” he said, “but it lasts many months. With this we get all the fish we need with some left over to sell. We also hunt ducks and frogs. To grow potatoes and vegetables, we bring in soil from the mainland.”
Did he consider himself an Uru?
He shrugged a quizzical expression on his face. “My grandfather was born on this same island, like my father. He spoke Uru. But my grandmother was Aymara. We weren’t taught the old language. People were ashamed of being Urus. Others said the Urus was dirty, that they ate lice. We were taught that we were Asmara.”
Did they practice the old religious ways? Seventh-day Adventists now, There is a church on one of the islands, three hours away by boat. But is that too long a trip for a chance to talk with God?”
The Urus is no more. Unlike the condor and the vicuña, they were never declared an endangered species. No conservationists came to their rescue. No monument records their passing.