Simply put, Mumbai is...fascinating.
It's built on a slender, impossibly crowded peninsula surrounded on three sides by water. It contains the heart of India's most powerful industries, and some of its poorest slums - it's an urban jungle, a vertical aerie for the superrich, and a fragile marine ecosystem. Billion-dollar houses in the form of skyscrapers exist next to vast slums covered in blue tarps against the monsoon rains.
Informal recyclers in Dharavi exist within sight of the National Stock Exchange, traditional fishermen moor their boats in the shadows of skyscrapers in Worli, and leopards prowl the Sanjay Gandhi National Park on the city's northern flank. In short, it's a city of contradictions.
Even the new airport is stunted, India's second busiest, with the east section unfinished and a second runway impossible to build because of the slums which encircle the airport from all sides. A modern subway system is being dug below ground, while above the streets heave with every form of conveyance in a vast cacophony of horns blaring.
Love it or hate it, Mumbai is a model of the city in the 21st century - A Global South alternative to Manhattan, an awakening elephant in the fields of culture, science, industry, and architecture, and also a thoroughly in-progress, semi-planned experiment of extreme growth.
Indian slums are a complex place - at once a strange mixture of industry and grinding banality. We tend to think we have a pretty good idea of what they're like - films like "Slumdog Millionaire" have created a sort of Asian "slum chic" archetype - that is supported by the various slum tourism outfits in Dharavi.
These depictions are both accurate and inaccurate at the same time - the panoply of human existence is vast. The yearning, the romance, and the pain of everyday life is irreducible to a singular narrative arc. Moreover, even the term "slum" is problematic (although it seems Indian themselves rarely question the lexicon). How does one rectify the fact that industry in Indian slums is estimated at over $1 billion yearly? That the land itself is worth billions of rupees? That Dharavi is a crucial voting bloc in municipal elections?