DHARAVI, WHAT EES?
We wish they would not exist, but
we cannot wish them away. Sixty
per cent of our city is a slum and it
all started here, in Dharavi.
CHAPTER 1: A BLOODY, BIG FAT PROBLEM
"What's the big deal anyway?"
It was six men of Indostan
To learning much inclined,
Who went to see the Elephant
(Though all of them were blind),
That each by observation
Might satisfy his mind.....
And so these men of Indostan
Disputed loud and long,
Each in his own opinion
Exceeding stiff and strong,
Though each was partly in the right,
And all were in the wrong!
- John Godfrey Saxe
Dharavi is an elephant of an issue with blind men scrambling all over it.
Each sees a small part of the picture and considers it to be the 'whole.'
To the residents of Dharavi, it is a way of life. They live here, work here,
marry here and even die here. What's the big deal anyway?
'Bombay mein sab log aisaich rehte hain, idhar family hai, biradari hai....
yehi hamara ghar hai.'
The resident of Dharavi is blind to the inconvenience of living in a place where one toilet is shared by 1,440 residents. Because he knows no other world.
To the residents of high-rise buildings in Mumbai - a small but important slice of people - Dharavi is 'Asia's largest slum.' A filthy place you see through a car, with windows rolled up tight.
Silently admiring the leather bags in the boutiques on Sion-Dharavi Link Road. Mentally noting, 'I must stop here sometime!'
The high-rise resident is blind to the community and kinship of Dharavi. To the little girl who may live in a 100sq. foot house with eight other siblings, but still has a smile in her eyes.
To the businessmen who operate in Dharavi, it is a convenience. Cheap labour and cheap rent make it a mega-hub of micro-enterprise. $650 million is the sum total of Dharavi's annual turnover.
'Idhar sab tarah ka kaam hota hai!'
The businessman is blind to the toll on human life. The living conditions, the working conditions, leave much to be desired. But as long as dhandha chal raha hai, who cares?
To the builder who proposes to redevelop Dharavi, it is a goldmine. 1.7 sq km in the heart of the city, right next to the upmarket Bandra Kurla Complex.
'You see, Dharavi is value waiting to be unlocked.'
The builder is blind to the human beings who 'occupy' this prime property. All he can see are the 'zeroes' people will pay for fancy new apartments. If only those pesky residents could somehow be persuaded to move, into a 225 sq.foot 'free house.'
To the government, who 'owns' Dharavi, it is a time-bomb. Redevelopment will bring in much-needed money into state coffers. But how much of it will come into our pockets, is what they really want to know.
'We promise to make Mumbai into Shanghai,' they say.
The government is blind to its responsibility. It is their duty to create a safe, clean and well-functioning environment. Not an 'option', a measure in hindsight.
To the outsiders who come to Dharavi, it is a project. Filmmakers, artists, poets and PhD students are all flocking there to 'study' the slum experience.
'We get to learn so many new things here, understand a different way of life!'
The outsider is blind to the drudgery of Dharavi. He chooses to see a colourful, chaotic, creatively inspirational mess. We watch these blind men as they scramble over the elephant of Dharavi. It is an amusing sight, and, at the same time, a tragic one.
- Debolina Raja Gupta