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Mumbai similar to scenes in 'Slumdog' movie

Hudsonite Jeff Zais stands near one of the buildings that surrounds the Taj Mahal in Agra, India. Photo submitted1 / 2
Jeff Zais hired an Indian man to provide a vehicle and be his driver in India. When Zais said he would like to go to the Taj Mahal, the driver asked if he could bring his wife and child along on the trip. Photo submitted2 / 2

Hudsonite Jeff Zais recently returned from India and said the scenes in Mumbai appear very similar to those in the Oscar-winning movie "Slumdog Millionaire."

"We would see the children begging in the streets, and the city is filled with slums," Zais said. "A survey in 2001 showed that 48.88 percent of the population in Mumbai lives in slums. Ironically, more than 72 percent of the people living in the slums are literate."

Zais traveled to Mumbai on behalf of his employer, IBM. He assisted with the installation of a government weather super computer. He also was involved in a not-yet-completed deal for another super-computer - this one to a private firm.

The six-day trip offered some down time, and Zais was able to, among other things, explore Mumbai, visit the Taj Mahal, a Ghandi museum and a local Rotary Club. India, with a population of 1.027 billion, has nearly 17 percent of the world's population.

Mumbai, the biggest city in India with nearly 16.5 million people, might be better known to many as Bombay. The name was changed from Bombay to Mumbai in 1995 to reflect a connection with some of the city's earliest inhabitants.

"In Mumbai the names are still somewhat interchangeable," Zais said. In fact, the Rotary Club he visited in Mumbai goes by the name of the Bombay Pier Rotary Club.

For many Americans, the closest look they have had of Mumbai came in the popular movie "Slumdog Millionaire." It portrayed a busy, crowded city with many slums and many street beggars, many of whom were children.

"I enjoyed the movie," Zais said. "In many ways the scenes are pretty accurate."

He wasn't sure if there is an organized boss overseeing the children begging for money.

"Most of them (beggars) looked like they were raising money for themselves or their family," Zais said. "But visitors are confronted with slums everywhere. Interestingly, the slums are often next to very nice places. There will be a group of cardboard shacks next to some pretty nice buildings."

He said the biggest challenge for visitors is transportation.

"There is not very good public transportation and you aren't likely to rent a car," Zais said. Most people rent a car and driver."

That's what Zais did to do some sightseeing.

"Traveling on the roads is an adventure. With a population of a billion-plus, I think I saw half of them on the road. They don't follow any rules or laws. There are vehicles going all speeds - up to 70 and 80 miles per hour. You see cars, trucks, tractors, horse and buggies, small vehicles with 12 or 14 people sitting, standing or hanging onto the side. You see camels, elephants and every once in a while you'll see a 'sacred cow' standing on the road and everyone works around it."


His driver took Zais on a 600-plus-mile journey from Mumbai to Agra to visit the Taj Mahal.

"He asked me if it was OK to bring his wife because she had never seen it - I said that was all right," Zais said. "Also along on the trip was the couple's 2-and-a-half-year-old son. But it was really fun having them along."

The Taj Mahal is often referred to as one of the eight wonders of the world. The beautiful monument, built entirely of white marble, was built by Muslim Emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his wife and queen, Mumtaz Mahal, at Agra.

Taj Mahal (meaning Crown Palace) is a mausoleum that houses the grave of Queen Mumtaz Mahal at the lower chamber. The grave of Shah Jahan was added to it later. Taj Mahal was constructed over a period of 22 years, employing 20,000 workers. It was completed in 1648 at a cost of 32 million rupees.

Its central dome is flanked by four subsidiary domed chambers. The mausoleum is a part of a vast complex comprising of a main gateway, an elaborate garden, a mosque, a guest house and several other palatial buildings. The Taj is at the farthest end of the complex, with the river Jamuna behind it. The large garden contains four reflecting pools dividing it at the center.

The Mahatma Gandhi Museum in Mumbai is the actual building where Gandhi stayed whenever he was in Mumbai between 1917 to 1934. In 1955 the building was dedicated as a memorial to Gandhi and to the activities of great significance he initiated from that location.

Zais said the building had nice displays, plus the restored room Ghandi stayed in when he visited.

Security in Mumbai, and most of India, is very prevalent. There is still a fair amount of tension in the country between Hindus and Muslims, but Zais is not sure if that's the reason for the security.

"Maybe it's just the way they do business. At our hotel, and most other major hotels, there was tight security," Zais said. "There was a guarded gate, all cars were inspected, bags were sent through checkpoints and everyone entering the hotel went through a metal detector. Security guards carried machine guns."