The Merchants of Mumbai’s Cancer Economy


The Merchants of Mumbai’s Cancer Economy

Illustration: Shruti Yatam


rré woh bahar ka photo liya, andar ka nahin. Tu andar jaake apna duty dekh naa, bahar kyun aaya (He took photographs outside, not inside. Why don’t you go focus on your duty inside),” my new friend Ajit defended me, after an overzealous police commando demanded I show him pictures I’d been taking of patients living on the footpath outside Tata Memorial Hospital in Mumbai’s Parel neighbourhood.

The scene outside Mumbai’s biggest cancer hospital is heartrending on a regular day. The hospital draws patients from all across the country, who come armed with little more than hope and determination. With no resources to find accommodation anywhere in this expensive city, they wait for days outside the facility – setting up on the footpath in the summer, seeking shelter in concrete drain pipes in the monsoon – hoping for their turn at treatment and release from the disease’s deathly, painful grip. So when the commandos spot a busybody like me, they know it’ll all end up in tomorrow’s newspaper. This is where Ajit comes in.