Sunday, July 1, 2012
Poor Little Rich Slum
Title: Poor Little Rich Slum: What we saw in Dharavi and why it matters
Authors: Rashmi Bansal and Deepak Gandhi. Photographs by Dee Gandhi
Available on: FlipKart and other stores including a Kindle version
Rashmi Bansal is one of my favourite Indian authors and Poor Little Rich Slum is another inspiring book written by her jointly with Deepak Gandhi.
When overseas visitors land in Mumbai, they appear shocked at the slums which they spot along the highway en-route from the airport. Why, even visitors from other parts of India tend to stare open-mouthed and ask: How do these people live within the four walls of plastic sheets or rusty tin sheets? And most of us 'pucca' Mumbaikars (i.e. - long-time residents of Mumbai) are just immune to the squalor and prefer to ignore it.
At the same time, within all of us, there is a grudging admiration for the grit which the slum dwellers display, their ingenuity and deep rooted desire to thrive in this big bad world of Mumbai.
There are many who come to Mumbai, with stars in their eyes, hoping to make it big in Bollywood, others escape beatings at home and catch the first train to the only mega city they have heard of, i.e. Mumbai. Poverty, drought, floods or other natural calamities and/or unemployment drive others to Mumbai. At any given time of the day or night, you can see them, arriving from outstation trains (at times ticket-less), either in groups or alone, looking scared yet determined, often carrying a bundle of clothes or just the shirt on their backs, all looking for a new future in this big city.
Countless debates are held on whether these immigrants should be sent back, on how Mumbai is bursting at the seams and cannot afford to 'tolerate' more immigrants, absorb more slumns, or how the slums result in various illegal activities be it brewing liquor or gambling dens. Yet, perhaps this city is what it is, because of the masses of people who dare to call it their home.
This book is a tribute to the spirit of can do, of entrepreneurship, of the willingness to march ahead despite all odds. The book takes you into the lives of many people, living in Asia's largest slum - Dharavi.
The entire book has been divided into four sections, viz: (1)Dharavi, What Ees?; (2) The Incubator; (3)The Cauldron Of Change; (4)The Future. Each of the sections contain stories about people surviving or at times successfully thriving in Dharavi.
While the authors have done wonders capturing each and every story in detail, the photographs make it all come alive.
To begin with the authors narrate the story of The blind men and an elephant. Each person was right and then again, not quite right.
Similarly, "The outsider is blind to the drudgery of Dharavi -- he chooses to see a colourful, chaotic, creatively inspirational mess." Beneath the seething mass of humanity, of un-imagined challenges, there is a silent unsung revolution -- a
revolution of energy and enterprise and the book captures it vividly.
The authors conducted a survey among 210 students from two prestigious Mumbai based colleges, viz: Wilson College and Jamnalal Bajaj Institute of Management Studies and posed three questions on where the students would prefer to use donate Rs. 100. Three choices were given for such a donation and 65% of the students said it would go towards helping the starving in Darfur, only 6% were in favour of using it for slum development and the balance opted for children's education. Not many realise the need for slum development, there is a total apathy towards the non-availability of toilets or clean water, including drinking water, just because some slum-dwellers have T.V. in their homes doesn't mean that they are having a comfortable existence.
Jameel Shah's story - Factory of Dreams, seems to have captured many hearts, with an extract available on IBNLive.com
Today, Jameel is an entrepreneur making dancing shoes for the Bollywood stars of the likes of Bipasha Basu. It took all of ten years, a lot of grit, hard work and determination to become a successful entrepreneur who now employs people. Of course there was an element of luck thrown in, by way of an introduction to Salsa, that sowed the seeds of his enterprise. This is how Dharavi grows, on the concept of paying it forward. Those who make it, generate jobs for others and Dharavi continues to hum.
Within the complex maze are also outsiders. Those who had the option of not being here, but are here for a reason. Take Srini for example. His story is aptly captured in the chapter - Less is More. Srini volunteers for Teach for India. A lot of love and patience has helped him ensure that his students take an interest in learning, especially in learning English. Of course, his innovative concepts of putting coins in a box, when pleased with the students performance (to be used for a treat later) or prize rewards of marbles -- which no young lad can resist, played a huge motivational role. Or then, there is Soaib Grewal, a graduate from the Rhode Island School of Design, who has set up a social enterprise that aims to introduce clean water techniques in Dharavi. A water purification tablet sells for as little as Rs 1 and then there are the high end filters which sell for more than a thousand bucks. Creating awareness about the need to drink clean water is taking time, but this enterprise is determined to do its bit.
Sprinkled in the book are so many amazing stories, of Rani who got a loan from SBI via a self help group and who with some tailors sews women's blouses, or Panju now the owner of an Udipi restaurant (one which sells South Indian fast food like idli and dosa) who continues to live in Dharavi but in a redevelopment flat and not under a tin roof, or that of Jocking Sir, who has decided to take matters in his own hand and work towards redevelopment of slums by carving out an area of the proposed buildings under the redevelopment scheme for commercial use. By selling the commercial space funds will be available for redevelopment. Then there are Faheem and Tauseef who have set up their tour agency -- Be the Local which provides the tour of Dharavi, who better than them to show us what Dharavi is truly about.
Each person here, holds his head high and like Jameel who is dreaming of a sea-facing apartment, dreams and works towards a better tomorrow.
This book is a MUST READ and no review can fully capture all that it has to offer. In addition contacts of most people whose stories have been covered in this book have been provided. I only wish that the book contained an index. Further, while a few snatches of conversation/thoughts in Hindi (India's national language) of those who stories are contained in the book are transliterated in English, the book could have provided a translation of the same as a footnote, to help an international audience.
Photograph in this blog post has been used as per the terms of the Creative Commons License. It has been downloaded from Wylio.com
You may also like to check out the interview with Rashmi Bansal on BlogAdda.
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