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Juhu Koliwada is a mere 20-sec-ond ride through the gutter but in the three years since she came to Govind Nagar as a new bride, Shaikh has yet to muster the nerve to do what her five-year-old niece simply calls going to school. She would rather pay Rs 20 to an autor-ickshaw to take the circuitous land route to Juhu. “It shakes too much,” says Shaikh. Just an hour ago a goat had stomped and yanked in protest as its owner tried pulling it towards a shaky thermocol ferry.

Reaching the gutter cruise re-quires an athletic disregard for grace. You have to cross a knee-high boundary wall, brave rats and de-scend a set of crooked sandbag stairs. On board, you have to bal-ance yourself by planting your legs slightly apart. Of course, daily pa-trons, especially schoolchildren, don’t think twice before leaping on to the floating patchwork of dis-carded doors. “A rickshaw ride to college would cost me Rs 45 from home,” says Sahil Nishad, a bespec-tacled student of Rizvi college. “But it costs only Rs 18 from this side (of the gutter).”

Every day, this simple economics lures junk jewellery hawkers, scrap dealers, scavengers, under-nour-ished gym patrons, purposeless boys and purposeful women in search of cheaper vegetables to the gutter. In fact, a third ferry runs for just three hours every morning only to trans-port labourers holding plastic water cans across the gutter. This allows them to escape the toilet queues and possible fist-fights. “I can’t over-sleep,” says 45-year-old Bhaskar Bhagya Patil, a lean mason who has been rowing this part-time ferry for 14 years now. “If I do, they come home and wake me up at 6 am.”

The ferries began quite by acci-dent. Stuffing plastic sacks with discarded thermocol bits and watch-ing them float across the gutter — then only only half its current width of 15 feet — used to be a pastime for urchins like Waghela. One vacation, at age 13, he nailed a four-foot-long piece of scrap plywood onto the plas-tic float. This helped Waghela sail across the sewage. “When someone first paid me 50 paise to use the ferry, I thought why not do this full-time,” says Waghela, now 26. He has been rowing since 2003 and now, as a fa-ther of two, earns Rs 300 to Rs 400 a day from the business.

Coutesy: Times of India

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