The men pull heavily laden handcarts through Bombay's teeming streets or sit under trees selling fruits or vegetables. If they are lucky, they earn $1.50 a day, but often they end up with nothing.
Their homes are tattered pieces of burlap sacking stretched over bamboo poles on the pavements of India's richest city.
"This is where we can make a living and feed ourselves. There is nothing for us in our village," said Kamal Baskar, 21, as she stood in front of her burlap hovel. Her neighbor, Asha Gaewad nodded in agreement. Their husbands were off selling mangos and garlic on a steamy hot premonsoon afternoon.
They are part of a massive migration from rural areas, flooding into Bombay at a rate of 300 families a day and threatening to turn one of India's most beautiful cities and certainly its most cosmopolitan one into a festering slum.
As many as 1 million people, 2 1/2 times as many as 10 years ago, live on the city pavements, leading former mayor Murli S. Deora to say, "The specter of Bombay going the Calcutta way -- the living example of a dying city -- is much before us."
He said Bombay's 9 million residents already overcrowd the city "like a giant sack stuffed with garbage."
"In the past decade," said The Times of India, whose headquarters is here, "Bombay has become noisy, dirty, highly polluted and full of filth, squalor, disease and ugliness."
The decay of the once-grand city of Bombay provides the most vivid example of the increasing urbanization of India, a vast country of 700 million people that until recently had escaped the problems caused by mass movements of its people from the land to cities that are ill-prepared to handle them.
Fifty years ago, only 10 percent of all Indians lived in urban areas. By the 1971 census, that figure had increased to 20 percent of the population. In the past 10 years the proportion of Indians living in cities has jumped to almost one-fourth of the population.
The Indian Express called these new urbanites "the dispossessed, marginalized, disadvantaged and technically displaced from the countryside."
Urbanization problems are familiar throughout the world, but somehow Bombay managed until now to be different from the rest of India, a worldly gem on the Arabian Sea.
It was the jewel of the Raj, the "gateway to India" for the British colonialists, and became the throbbing heart of independent India's industrial and financial life.
Bombay is India's tinsel town, home of the massive Hindi film industry, and the only metropolis in the country with a glittering skyline of high-rise apartments. They are set along a series of Arabian Sea bays.
Bombay still offers amenities not found in other Indian cities: an overcrowded but speedy and generally efficient commuter rail line to its suburbs, where many of the poor live; and a telephone system and power grid that usually work.
Bombay's share of India's wealth is completely out of proportion to its size. It generates, for instance, one-third of all the income tax collected by the Indian government and is reputed to be the center of a thriving underground "black money" economy that is estimated to amount to 30 percent of the country's $160 billion gross national product.
Bombay is a city of conspicuous consumption, with its wealth showing on the streets, where people import foreign autos despite the high duty. It is the most expensive city in the country to live in.
But Bombay has begun to break down under the new population pressures. The massive power failures that are a regular part of life in Delhi and Calcutta hit Bombay for the first time this June, and parts of the city remained in darkness for as long as 10 hours.
Bombay has the most polluted air of any city in the country. Its water supply and sewage systems are decrepit. An antiquated main burst seven months ago, leaving 1.5 million residents without water for four days and spurring antigovernment riots in the city.
Even without breaking mains, about 20 percent of water moving through the city's pipes is lost through leaks and seepage.
Only one-fifth of the city's sewage is treated, and the beaches that used to be a major attraction of the city are polluted.
Author Kushwant Singh, editor of the Hindustan Times, who has been an unabashed fan of Bombay, described returning there after a six-month absence and finding "my love for Bombay turned to sour hate.
"The stench . . . that pervades this queen of Indian cities brought vomit to my throat," he said.
There are 570 officially designated slums scattered throughout the city, including the one believed to be the largest in Asia, Dharavi, where a half million people live.
In all, about half of Bombay's residents live either on the pavements, in cramped 10-square-foot rooms in officially declared slums, or in ancient tenements called chawls that collapse on an average of one per day during the torrential rains of the monsoon.
Drainage in the city is so bad that the city's traffic control branch published a list of 17 points expected to flood during the monsoon.
Deora, the former mayor, estimated that the city can take care of about 3 million people -- a third of the present population drawn by the magnet of the money that can be made here.
Bombay is built on seven islands that in the past three centuries have merged into a narrow neck stretching into the Arabian Sea. But most of the jobs in the city are concentrated on its southern tip, while the workers live in suburbs that spread as far as 20 miles inland.
While Bombay's industries like the cheap labor coming in from the country, politicians proposed last year to limit migration to the city through a sort of internal passport--a notion that later was declared both illegal and impractical.
So Indians keep flocking to Bombay, willing to put up with slum or pavement living for the job opportunities and the chance for advancement that Bombay offers.
One slum-dweller's son, for instance, 14-year-old Arshad Hussain, finished 11th among all students in the city in merit exams. Called "a nugget in the dirt" by the Hindustan Times because of his poor living conditions, Arshad is the first slum-dweller to do that well in the tests, which can ensure him an education and give him a fighting chance to get out of the cycle of poverty.
There are tens of thousands, however, who don't seem able to get on that road. Sita Parwar, 20, was born on Bombay's pavements, was married on the pavement and most likely her children will be born on the pavement.
Her slice of pavement was providing space for people more than 20 years ago -- when only a few Bombay residents lived on the streets -- and over time the shacks have taken on a degree of substance.
Their sides are wood or corrugated tin, not the burlap sacking of the more recent hovels put up only a mile down the street, and sheets of plastic cover the roofs. There are rope beds and a few meager possessions in tin suitcases inside.
There were even two water taps, so the pavement-dwellers can draw water and bathe near where they live, even if it is on a public street. But the nearest bathroom facility, a public latrine, is about a 15-minute walk away.
Parwar, whose husband is a garbage collector, wants to leave. "How long can I live here?" she asked. "After all, this is a road."
Last year, during one of the worst downpours of the monsoon, city officials tried to clear out blocks of pavement-dwellers, knocking out their hovels and loading them on trucks and buses to return them to their home villages.
But the brutal manner in which the demolitions were carried out caused a violent backlash. Civil liberties groups went to the courts, which ruled that the pavement-dwellers can stay as long as they do not block walkways and roads.
Predictably, the pavement-dwellers returned. A woman named Sunanda, living in a burlap lean-to, said she and her husband came back to Bombay after 10 days because they could find no work in their village.