Friday, 26 April 2013


Did you notice my new and improved blog layout ? The lady in her yoga stance is passe.
And plus its Hot in Mumbai and its going to get worse !!  and this blog is feeling it too.. The temperatures in Bombay are dwindling in the mid 30 degrees celcuis.Now a days, the car AC is on full blast, the bedroom airconditioning is on full blast, the office AC's are exhausted with blowing out cooler air on to us. Our power bills for the coming months will have  an extra zero at the end of the figure and that wouldn't be shocked . Mukesh Ambani's Reliance Energy (our power supplier giant) could build another two floors on his billion dollar worth , 27 storeys swanky home. Out of which a brick wall could be my contribution. Psst: a lil birdie , close to the family told me that the Ambani's have  mother of pearl encrusted on the floor.. Even if it snows in Mumbai, Ambani will bill us high. Well , the fifth richest man in the world has got to not polish those precious stones encrusted on his flooring.

Hoping the cool dew droplets on this blog , cool me down too *places an ice-pack on the head*

Monday, 22 April 2013

A tourist in my own city

Its 2.40 pm, Two women waiting at a busy Mahim station. There is no sign of anyone from the company yet. They were told to be there by the ticket counter at sharp 2.30 pm.  Suddenly, I feel a tap on my shoulder, "Did you know that the people of Dharavi generate income worth $1 billion per year?” I am startled.   "Hi, myself Bipin Kumar, i will be your tour guide. Are you ready for a life-changing experience ? ." His dyed brown hair & big Indian smile didn't give us much of what was to come.
 A dear friend and I were wanting to visit Dharavi Slums for a long time. We'd make plans, we'd cancel plans, then we'd discuss , and we'd reschedule.  It was her insistence that I made this visit today, and believe it or not i am grateful to her.  So we signed up for a short Dharavi Tour.

What does one know about Dharavi ? That it is the Asia's largest slum.  What is the first thing that comes to your mind when someone mentions Dharavi ? Open sewers, diseases, poverty ridden slum dog millionaire, filth, dirt ? Well, I thought no different , until this day.

I came back from this tour with mixed emotions. 

When you climb railway crossing bridge in Mahim to enter the area, there is fear of what you will see.  I see foreigners entering Dharavi premises feeling petrified. Honestly, its a feeling of not knowing what to expect. Its only minutes later that Bipin helps you to walk freely and bid goodbye to your fear. There are cinemas that play B grade . C grade movies. Bipin jokes."movie with acupuncture massage, since rats are free residents of the theater."

The question that constantly arises is how ? how do they live in such conditions ? Why do they put themselves through this ? Like they have a choice !  Every time , i read newspapers writing about the spirit of Mumbai. There is a bomb blast and the next day the local trains are running full capacity as though nothing major happened and the newspapers salute the Spirit of Mumbai. That is nothing but a load of crap. The Spirit is nothing but a dying compulsion of showing up at work, the necessity of bringing food on the table for hungry mouths at home.. there is no Spirit of Mumbaikar in it. Mumbai teaches everybody the harsh reality and struggles of surviving. Survival is the ultimate goal of each villager who migrates with hopes.

Dharavi is divided into two parts, Industrial & Residential. The ones who work here , do not stay here. They are the ill fated,  even Dharavi doesn't not wish to accommodate in her belly. These workers head to footpaths of Mumbai city to rest, if lucky their owners would allow them to sleep in the workshops. Children as young as 5 are seen working in plastic workshops, bakeries , leather tanneries. Its saddening to see that there is no safety gear used. The workshops seem like melting caves with temperatures reaching boiling point. How ? How do they survive ?  We enter a soap factory, the only place where I noticed laborers (some as little as 12 years old) are wearing gloves. I ask why ? I am being told that , the materials used in these soaps are so highly toxic that it burns human skin upon contact for more than 30 minutes. God alone knows how many young laborers put themselves through this torment for the owners to provide them, with protective gear.

An Indian Express article states  that the leather artisan industry in Dharavi is estimated to generate a revenue of Rs 2,000 crore annually for Mumbai in 2012. The leather industry is huge, ranking
You think you have problems ? Take a walk down the narrow alleys of the slum. There is a dark alley in Dharavi where not even a ray of light  passes through. its long alley , pitch dark, the two walls almost rubbing on your both shoulder sides. Bipin guides us, the taller ones are asked to slouch and walk since the residents illegally take power supply of the others and that results into many live wires left unattended. As we are escorted through the industrial area to the residential, you begin to see more and more women in colourful clothes. Its a normal day for them, some making papads, some of them cooking food in their 120 sq ft by 100 sq feet homes. In each of these homes there are 6 -7 people living on an average.

The sanitation facilities are heart wrenching. There are public toilets for all. However, for every 1500 people , there is one toilet. "In the morning,even before the break of dawn around 250 - 300 people stand in queues to visit the toilet. What to do ? People have to rush to work.. Everybody is in a hurry"
The wealthy residents opt for Pay in toilets. However, not everyone can afford that luxury each day.

Throughout the experience, you are left with a  striking impression of the kids. As you walk by the alleys, kids from narrow outlets pour out with huge smiles , "Hie" "hi didi"  "hi" "hello aunty" ... countless greetings pour in. While greeting back , we are alarmed about Bipin's instructions about not offering sweets or candies to the kids. They get excited and start following the group. There is no way one can carry enough candy for all of the kids of Dharavi ! 

Dharavi is home to nearly one million people, many of whom recycle waste that comes from all over the world. “The people here, though poor, don’t beg and work with dignity. They earn their living. The government does not recognize this work as it will have to start giving subsidies,” says Rohit Chandra , one of the English teachers of the Slum development project.  “It’s not a slum, it’s Asia’s largest small scale industry,” he says.
Bipin points out that there are four sections to Dharavi as per religion, There are Muslims, Tamilians, Gujartis & the Marashtrians. Believe me, as you cross from one area to the other, one cannot help but notice the change in the women's attire, the sounds, the Hindi slangs , the way women drape sarees, the jewelery , the billboards of various politicians targeting that sector of population , the smells of foods peculiar  to that specific religion. 

Dharavi is a city in itself. Its a different world out there. A world that will bring out many entrepreneurs and stalwarts. I will be all ears to hear their stories of success.