The Balika Vadhus of Bombay


The Balika Vadhus of Bombay

Illustration: Akshita Monga


ashmi’s house sits on the edge of a fetid nullah, filled with waste of unknown measure and molecule. A menacing moat stands between Sathe Nagar and the rest of the world. Sathe Nagar is one of the many shanty towns, which make up the Mankhurd-Govandi slums in eastern Mumbai. They all clump hodgepodge, one over another, at the base of the Deonar dumping grounds, the toxic sprawl where the metropolis deposits its wastes. The only way in and out of Sathe Nagar is a wooden plank placed precariously over it. Visitors have to walk in a single file over the plank and a misstep could mean getting dunked into the squelching, stinking sprawl beneath. Even if you survive the plank, the smell follows you into the cluster of homes, which sit on the other side.

The squalor around does not seem to have touched Rashmi. The dusky 14-year-old, with sharp features and a delicate gold nose ring, sits happily in her shanty, telling me excitedly about her wedding preparations that went down last month. Her small hands still decorated with the orange imprint of fading mehendi gesture animatedly, as she tells me about the beautiful red lehenga with heavy gota work that she had bought for her nikah ceremony.