Letter from Mumbai: Opening Night (of Slumdog Millionaire): The scene from the airport slums

Katherine Boo, Letter from Mumbai: Opening Night: The scene from the airport slums. The New Yorker, 23 February 2009. “Gautam Nagar is one of thirty-odd slums, comprising ninety thousand families, on land owned by the Airports Authority of India, in Mumbai. It is ten minutes by foot to the international terminal and is ringed by five of the city’s smartest hotels. The hotels charge two hundred to a thousand dollars a night and are enclosed by high walls and barbed-wire fences, so their interactions with Gautam Nagar are primarily airborne. Music from weddings and poolside parties drifts over. Ash from cow-dung and wood fires drifts back. And every evening at precisely six-thirty a Hyatt sign lights up red and white, its glow not quite reaching the dirty screens of two video-game consoles in a tin-roof shed.

Anna, an elderly Tamil resident of Gautam Nagar who wears his loincloths very short, opened the game parlor last year [2008]. He quickly regretted the endeavor. Profits have slipped owing to the global recession, and, like businessmen the world over, he is now repositioning: converting the front of the game room into a stall for hot fried snacks. Food hygiene is more difficult at Anna’s than it is at the Hyatt, since the air of Gautam Nagar is clotted with grit from a nearby concrete plant. So he covers his skillet with a sign, retrieved from a trash pile, that reads “Hotel InterContinental the Grand.”

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