As a brit, hearing the word slum you think of haphazard houses, abject poverty, garbage littering every street and rabies infested dogs. Visiting the Dharavi slum was something many of us were looking forward too, yet we felt a certain anticipation for the sights we would see.
The journey started with meeting one of our tour guides, who informs us we only have 14 seconds to get on the train, a scary concept for even the fastest of us in the group. However we made it on safely. Whilst on the train or guide tells us to forget everything we know about the slum, he described the slum as Mumbai’s beating heart, which seems bizarre until you arrive.
On arrival we are taken immediately between haphazardly handcrafted houses which wind their way to the commercial area of dharavi. The first industrial area we visited was the plastic recycling area, this plastic comes from all over the world to be recycled in Dharavi. A group of men sit crowded round a line of buckets sorting through plastics into different categories. This is highly skilled operation as they work quickly sorting through the thousands of different pieces of plastic so that they can be processed. The end result of the plastic processing is small plastic pellets which are then shipped to different companies and will be used for laptop casings, phone covers, plastic toys, light switches, and so much more.
We moved quickly through the crooked streets to the leather making industry where the hides of goats and buffalo are dyed and prepared to be made into, handbags, belts, jackets and wallets. These were available in a shop next door where a few of the team members tried (and failed) to barter for a bargain. At this point our guide briefly hints that some of these bags are bought by a designer brands that many of us are quite familiar with (rhymes with cycle mores).
After the tour of commercial area we moved towards the residential area, here we are led down meandering pathways until we were met with bright colourful houses teetering on top of one another. As our guide informed us about the area young children would stand nearby smiling waving and asking how we were. It was extremely obvious to view the communities friendliness as we walked people would smile and wave, occasionally a little hello was uttered as we made our way through the slum.
It was when we were making our way to the hotel that the slum really came alive, as people finished work the streets are filled with vehicles. It was an assault on the senses as celebrations for Maha Ganesha started early with people setting off fireworks and playing music. Drummers marched down the street beating their drums rapidly as we watched them bypass us and trucks beeped and bloated music. We made our way to the train station smelling faintly of gunpowder as we rushed to get on we almost lost a lecturer but we squeezed onto the train and made our way back to the hotel.
Visiting the slum really made me question my perception on the word slum. It has such negative connotations but the slum had such a sense of community spirit, and everyone has a role and a purpose, everything is recycled and refused. Our guide told us that a rich person doesn’t have lots of money, a rich man has a good soul, and from I think from what we saw from Dharavi I would say everyone in the slum is rich.