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21. Of Men and Mullahs
Sakina's husband left her during the riots. This brought to a head many feelings about men and where and how they fit in on the street. Mahila Milan does not consider itself feminist: several men were amongst its founding members. But the emphasis on women is practical: women are the ones who are on the street when things go wrong, who the time to run a bank or attend a meeting at the mayor's office. Almost half the women are also Muslim, and the riots destroyed any remaining obedience or respect they had previously felt for Muslim clerics telling Muslim women what to do and what not to do. Their behavior is different from most stereotypes of subservient Muslim women.
Breakfast With Laxmi
Laxmi Naidu is neat, always beautifully turned out, and a fount of common sense. She came from neighboring Andra Pradesh at the age of thirteen, worked as a servant in upper-class Mumbai and raised two children on Sophia Zuber Road. She is one of the original founders, has traveled all over the world preaching the gospel of Mahila Milan, and has a refreshingly down-to-earth take on rich and poor, not only in India but in Europe and the United States.
23. Losing Face
In the course of any relationship there are moments and jokes that all share together. Sometimes, someone forgets to turn off the
microphones. What began as a shave with the street barber, quickly degenerated into humiliating defeat at caroom, at the hands of some of the street kids, and then application of a bright orange indelible nurani oil to Julian's scalp by Shenaz and some of the other women of Mahila Milan.
A Place to Go
When the riots had died down, the women got back to building a public toilet on P D'Melo road near the docks. Financed by the city, built and designed by the pavement dwellers for a quarter of the price anyone else could build it for, the success of the P D'Melo road toilets inspired an outbreak of public toilet building.
The British Overseas Development Institute asked the ladies to help build and design five hundred in the north Indian city of Kanpur: the World Bank poured $200 million into Mumbai to put every slum on proper sewage, and retained Mahila Milan as one of its consultants.