RPT-One room is home to many in India's City of Dreams

Thu Oct 13, 2011 5:10pm IST

(Repeats with byline)

By Danish Siddiqui

MUMBAI Oct 13 (Reuters) - Salim stands between the sleeping bodies of two men on the floor of the room where they live as his father helps him get ready for school, straightening the dark tie of his school uniform.

A year ago, the eight-year-old made a 22-hour train journey from his village in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh to Mumbai, the country's financial capital, known to migrants like him as "the City of Dreams".

He joined his 12-year-old brother, who migrated four years ago, and taxi-driver father Zameel in the room they share with other migrants from the same village in northern India -- a typical home for many of the migrants who pour into the world's second most populous city every day.

"I came to Mumbai with lots of dreams -- to earn money, to have a house. The city has given me a lot," said the 44-year-old Zameel, who drives a rented taxi for 12 hours each day.

"My children would not have gotten a city education back in the village. I hope they don't have to drive a taxi like me, I hope they sit in the back of the taxi. If they are able to do that, I will owe that too to Mumbai."

According to the latest census data released by the government of India this year, the population of Mumbai is more than 12 million. Due to a lack of space, it is also one of the world's most densely populated cities, estimated to have 20,482 people per square kilometre.

Zameel and his two sons, who attend a government-run school, share a 4.5 metre by 3 metre (15 by 10 feet) room in a small slum opposite a five-star hotel with seven other migrants. Most of them drive taxis, but a few work as manual labourers.

The room they occupy is full of clothes, utensils, kerosene stoves and other belongings, including two recycled plastic drums for storing water. Even a small comb which is tied to a thin rope is shared by everyone.

All the residents contribute for daily meals and groceries. Naseem, a 43-year-old migrant cook, does the cooking and shopping for everyone, receiving 3,000 rupees ($61) a month and free rent in return.

"I have to cook two meals for so many people, but it's better to be a cook in a city like Mumbai rather than in a roadside eatery in my village," Naseem said, smiling as he took a break from kneading flour for roti inside the room.

"Here, all of them respect me so much because if I get angry they won't get food."

Morning in the room starts at 4:00 a.m. when the first occupant leaves for work, and by 8:00 a.m. it is empty.

"We all sleep so close to each other due to lack of space that sometimes if we have to scratch our back, we scratch someone sleeping next to us," said Parvez, 23, who works as an auto mechanic.

All of the residents start trickling back in from 6:00 p.m.

The room has strict rules for residents that include no television, no drinking and no smoking. Their only entertainment is conversations dominated by teasing, or watching Bollywood films on mobile phones.

"We can't watch movies in theatres because they are too expensive," said Tabrez, a 34-year-old welder, as he watched famous Indian actor Amitabh Bachchan sing on his mobile phone with another resident.

"But thanks to these phones, I can now watch pirated versions of the latest movies.

Everyone has come to the city with a dream to make it big, and Salim, the room's youngest resident, is no exception.

"When I grow up, I want to become a pilot and fly everywhere with my family," he said.

To see a slideshow about the migrants, click: here (Reporting by Danish Siddiqui, editing by Elaine Lies)

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