This is part of a series of reports from Harvard students who have traveled to South Asia with support from a SAI grant.
By Mei Yin Wu, Harvard College ’17
This wintersession I interned with the Wildlife Conservation Trust as a fellow working in the economics division. Having had traveled a fair bit, I was surprised to find Mumbai a beast of its own. During the first couple of days in the city, I was overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of people and traffic. Mumbai is one of the ten most densely populated cities in the world (8 of which are in the Indian subcontinent). Due to the enormous size of the population, there is a large demand for motor vehicles, which inevitably contributes to higher levels of particulate matter in the air. Issues such as air pollution and water sanitation safety, however, are by no means unique to India. Most developing countries face these problems and in fact, most developed countries have experienced these issues in the past. But generally with consistently high growth rates, like the ones India has recently enjoyed, comes increased expectations of standards of life. I believe that India will face increasing pressure to combat the environmental issues that seem inherent to the process of economic development.
Despite the initial discomfort that came from adapting to new traffic patterns and air quality, I grew to appreciate the abundant diversity of Mumbai. Being a financial hub, Mumbai attracts people from all over India and as such, is home to many diverse cuisines and religious practices. I was able to sample Southern Indian street food at Matunga and “sizzlers,” Chinese Indian fusion dishes, in Nariman Point. According to my peer fellow, Pooja, people celebrate all religious holidays in Mumbai. In her circle of friends, her Muslim friends would invite her over for Eid, and she would return the favor when it came time for Diwali. Many people I spoke to seemed to disbelieve the claim of religious differences being the primary factor behind Indian-Pakistani conflict and instead viewed the conflict as a matter of politics. While the conversations I had were by no means necessarily indicative of popular opinion, it was interesting to hear local perspectives as a supplement to the views posited by Western professors.
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