In 2023 at the end of three months in Bhutan, Pakistan, and India, I was powerfully drawn to the slums of Kolkata: their rich color, their fascinating characters, and especially their friendly and open people. Feeling both safe and spellbound, I roamed Kolkata's worst slums day and night, meeting hustlers, con artists, thieves, drug dealers, prostitutes, addicts and beggars..but mostly many honest, hard-working people. I saw very little lawlessness in Kolkata. It’s not tolerated. There are very few Big Box stores and most businesses are neighborhood mom and pop enterprises. If the police catch a shoplifter they will beat him half to death before hauling him off to jail–if they can get there before the neighbors tear him to pieces.
In Kolkata's slums, everyone is making something, selling something, growing something, raising something...even the children. There’s no patch of land next to a river, a canal, or a drainage ditch without a cow, a goat, or a garden. I saw kids in uniforms walking to school, and then later out playing in the streets. Kolkata's poor are busy parents and entrepreneurs eking out a living. They must. There are no social safety nets. In Kolkata people live with a purpose and that purpose is usually to support their families.