We are sitting under a concrete overpass, or “flyover”, used by trains. I am with a North American folklorist and eight Indian men, some tribal, of various ages. They greet me warmly and we all laugh easily. Three of the men are fluent in English and I wonder whether they are college educated.
Near us, crows pick through piles of refuse. They are the relatives of the people who live and work here, and are welcome to eat what they find. A stream runs past on its way to the nearby ocean. Across the way chickens and a turkey strut and call. The houses are a mix of well constructed older homes, and improvised structures made of thatch.
The men are on their afternoon work breaks and meet here to talk and smoke. They ask whether I would mind them smoking some weed. It turns out they combine marijuana and tobacco, as the local pot burns on the harsh side. I explain that while i no longer smoke, I do not mind their indulging. Soon the air is think with fragrant smoke.
Talk turns to the ancestors and spirits, and tobacco,which we all agree they like. Apparently the local spirits prefer large stogies. Sage is used in the temples but not in everyday life. I promise to bring some if we return. Although I am not smoking, and I am told the weed is mild in effect, I am feeling slightly high from the fumes.
Some of the men are rag pickers. Rag pickers, are of low caste, and walk the streets and pick up all sorts of recyclable materials which they bring to various collection points, for minimal payment. Others work in the nearby collection center. Still others have just stopped in to chat.
The tribal fishing people and the rag pickers have lived locally for a very long time. Now, the beaches, which are magnificent and amongst the longest in the world, are very much in demand for tourism development. This puts increasing pressure on the poor and the indigenous, and there is real possibility both groups will be displaced.
I am told the ruling state government is publicly friendly to low caste and Native peoples, and there is some hope villages and low income communities can be saved from the bulldozer. At the same time, there are tensions between the locals and the police, and police violence against community leaders is not uncommon.
Its time to leave. I turn to wave goodbye, then pick my way through the piles of debris, including broken glass. The crows, now having been joined by goats, some of which the crows ride, do not mind me passing.