The street dweller didn't understand . . .

The question about his hopes for the future puzzled Govind More, one of an estimated 100,000 to 1 million Bombay pavement dwellers.

Far from Bombay's glittering skyline, along the Arabian Sea coast, he ekes out a living pulling a handcart for 55 cents to $1.60 a day during the 10 to 15 days a month he can find work. Home for himself, his wife, and their six-year-old son in India's richest city is a flimsy burlap-and-bamboo shack on the sidewalk.

An interpreter pressed the question in Marathi, Mr. More's native tongue. Dreams? Ambitions? The words made no sense to a man with no alternatives.

''Things will just go on like this,'' he said with a shrug.

On the same sidewalk live Kamal Bhaskar and her husband, a mango vendor. Expelled from their burlap shanty during a crackdown on pavement dwellers last year, they soon returned because they could not find work in their home village.

''This is where we can make a living and feed ourselves,'' Mrs. Bhaskar said. ''This is all that matters.''

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