Photo: Jennifer Polland/Business Insider
The monsoon just started this year, which means that Mumbai (and the rest of India) will be pounded with incessant rain for the next few months–usually until September.But in the steamy months leading up to the monsoon, the city of Mumbai, India’s largest and wealthiest city, transforms into a hot, dusty sauna, with heat so extreme that it’s almost debilitating.
When I visited Mumbai (formerly known as Bombay) a few weeks ago–just before the start of the monsoon–I was struck by how industrious the city was, despite the mind-numbing heat.
During rush hour, a deluge of commuters streams in to Mumbai’s overcrowded train stations before filing into office buildings around the city. Thousands of tiffin wallah (which translates as men who carry lunch boxes) deliver home-cooked meals from the suburbs to offices around the city daily. Vendors sell their wares–mangoes, chai, handicrafts–to anyone who is interested. And cab drivers continue to weave in and out of traffic, which seems to persist at all hours.
And yet, in the peak heat of the day something strange happens.
The bustling, hectic city seems to quiet down–at least temporarily. Wealthy businessmen hide out in air-conditioned buildings or hotels while workers imbibe cold beverages in the shade. Homeless families sleep on shady patches of concrete. Even Chowpatty Beach is deserted.
But once the mid-day heat passes, the industrious city picks up again at an almost frighteningly rapid pace.
I shot most of these photos, but I also pulled a few from Flickr to capture scenes that I didn’t get myself. Here’s a glimpse of what life is like in Mumbai right before the monsoon.
In the cool early morning hours just before sunrise, the Gateway of India, a major tourist attraction, was calm and deserted.
Except for a group of school children, who were learning a Bollywood dance in the plaza while the temperature was still cool.
The early morning air was hazy yet the Arabian sea was calm as boats bobbed in the quiet harbor outside Colaba.
Weekday traffic proceeded as normal in front of Victoria Street Station. Bikes intermingled with taxis, trucks, and auto-rickshaws. Traffic in Mumbai is notoriously atrocious.
Spice vendors sold every kind of spice imaginable. I opted for Masala powder, cardamom, and cinammon bark--all grown locally.
The tiffin wallahs congregate at Churchgate railway station to sort out the tiffins and to determine where to deliver them. Each tiffin has its own code written on it indicating where it is to be delivered. The system is mind-bogglingly complex.
Delivery men load up their bikes with the metal tiffins and carry the hot lunches to office workers around the city. An estimated 5,000 tiffin wallahs deliver about 200,000 meals per day around the city.
From Kamala Nehru Park, you can see views of the Mumbai skyline and Chowpatty Beach. In the peak heat of the day--reaching over 100 degrees Fahrenheit--even Chowpatty Beach was empty.
Dhobis (washers) hand-wash each piece of laundry from Mumbai's hotels and hospitals in the open-air concrete wash pens. After washing, they beat the laundry against a flogging stone.
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