We visited the Dharavi area of Mumbai this week, accompanied by a college student who grew up and still lives there. Google Dharavi and you’ll find endless analysis and many pictures, but nothing can capture the actual experience of being there.
Parts of it reminded us of turn-of-the-century New York – industrious and active but also messy and dangerous (no OSHA standards here). Other parts resemble poor rural villages from another era. It’s easy to see why residents resent the designation “slum,” as it is clear there’s rhythm and community and striving here just as anywhere else.
It’s perhaps best described in this piece Annika (age 9) wrote:
A Day in Dharavi
I wake up. I have rolled off my uncomfortable potato sack. I put on my sari and let my great-grandmother do my hair, pulling and tugging. I gingerly step over my 3 aunts, 7 uncles, mother, father, 4 brothers, 3 sisters, and great-grandfather.
As I walk into the pottery shop where I work, I say a quick prayer to Shiva. I make 3 pots in 10 minutes. In the 7 hours I work before lunch, I make 126 pots.
At lunch I quickly stuff a samosa into my mouth and run off to pray. I pray to Brahma, Shiva, Vishnu, and Ganesh. I pray for my family and my life. I lose track of time.
As I run back I see a petite white girl with a bow in her blond hair. I reach out to touch her face and she jumps back in disgust. I wonder what I did wrong.
I get back to the shop and go behind it. I lift my garments. I crouch over the hole and do my business. I splash water on my hands and go back to work.
I make 347 pots in the day and collect my salary of 694 rupees. I sneak one pot into my pocket and bring it home. I fill it with clean water. My mother collects a lamb from the butcher and we cook it over the gas stove. We eat in silence, savoring our food. We say one last prayer and strip for bed. I think about my day. I have a good life.