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Spadina Literary Review  —  edition 22 page 05


photo of Mumbai slum

The Water Drinkers Who Feast

by Shashi Kadapa

It is Saturday evening and a group of Mumbai slum dwellers stand listening to voices behind a rickety door of a shack. Their anger and jealousy is evident.

“Eat, eat the nice juicy kebabs,” a male voice shouts penetratingly from inside the small shack.

“Drink the hot spicy soup,” a female voice adds loudly.

“This kheer is so delicious,” purrs a small voice.

“I want some more rotis,” demands a voice shrilly.

“More, More,” shout several small voices.

“Sure, sure, my children,” says the male voice, “Eat and drink till your stomach is full.”

The eavesdroppers glare in envy at the ramshackle shack from where the feasting voices come. Their stomachs growl hungrily, evilly.

“How do this handcart puller Bapu and his family eat so well?” Kamala, a sweeper, mutters in hungry jealousy.

“Every Saturday, this family feasts while we starve!” quavers Mumtaz, the famished vegetable vendor.

“Maybe he steals the food,” says Jadhav, the wolf-bellied plumber.

“He works hard and earns, unlike you who sits in the arrack den the whole day and drink,” shouts Savitribai, Jadhav’s wife.

They all quickly disperse when the door opens and Bapu Kamble, the backsliding tenant of the tin shack, steps out belching loudly, rubbing his stomach.

“Hah,” he sighs, satiated. “I could not eat one more morsel.”

The motley group fades under the flickering street light. They are amazed, invidious, and befuddled at the way in which Bapu and his brood dine. Themselves, they drink tepid water to bloat their stomachs and then they go to sleep.


Babu Kamble is a typical slum dweller in a typical slum, if such things can be typified. Short, stocky with broad shoulders, he is a handcart puller for grocers in the market. Wearing a dirty and torn dhoti and a tattered shirt, he pulls his cart, over-laden with groceries, oil cans, food grains, kerosene tins, and anything else, over ruts and potholes from warehouses to shops. Every now and then he stops and wipes his brow on a piece of cloth. He is paid for each cartload and while he prefers to reduce the load per trip and increase the number of trips, the Sheths or shopkeepers make him load more parcels per trip so they can save on transportation costs. The marketplace is always crowded and getting trucks or vans to move is not possible. Even bullock carts cannot move. Only Bapu and his ilk can wriggle through.

Babu weaves in and out, cursing fluidly at the truck owners, and at the motorcycles parked on the road. He is adept at living on Mumbai streets.