Sunday, 16 September 2012

A Land of Paradoxes - Part 1

It's a commonly known fact now that Bombay is home to one of the biggest slums in the world. With a total estimated population of over 9 million (over 60% of the city's people) the slums of Bombay are a mini-metropolis of their own, leading through the winding narrow lanes of Dharavi and along the local railway lines that span the length of the city. Easily identifiable as being an endless cluster of makeshift shanties and huts, Dharavi is a city in a city. Director Danny Boyle even went so far as to romanticize the slum's poverty in his Academy Award winning film Slumdog Millionaire. The movie was monumental in bringing the slums of Bombay under the global spotlight, and sparking interest from all corners of the world. However, it also brought forth a deluge of misconceptions about the city.

Dharavi : A city within a city

A pottery establishment

A man removes staples from cardboard boxes to sell as scrap metal

While the fact remains that the majority of the city is still shackled by the chains of economic distress, a largely undocumented feature is the amount of resilience shown by the people. While you may read about how an extended family of eight are crammed into a tiny 8x8 room where they have to manage all their cooking, cleaning and washing up, you won't read about how the population of the slum have developed into a controlled ecosystem, capable of sustaining themselves, albeit barely.

You may read about the lack of toilets, drinking water and electricity, but you won't read about how people manage to get along fine without needing them. You won't read about how hundreds of people know each other by name and manage to live together in perfect harmony, while barely managing to avoid stepping on each other's toes. You will not read about how despite all odds, the fires of industry still burn throughout the night in Dharavi, giving life to small businesses and allowing people to scrape a living. You will not read about how when the day comes to a close and the oil lanterns begin to fade, the laughter of children still rings out clear through the seemingly empty streets.

Even though money may be scarce, the smiles aren't.
The slums are also an excellent option for cheap accommodation, for those who aren't squeamish about the lack of facilities. It also poses as a safe haven for people to slip under the radar and disappear, if they so desire. However, while these facts may surprise and intrigue you, they will probably not come to you as that much of a shock as what I am about to reveal in my next post. Stay tuned.. :)
Part 2 is here.


  1. Brilliant!

    Have you read Behind the Beautiful Forevers, by Katherine Boo? It's about the slums of Mumbai. Great read.

  2. Thanks for your comment. Haven't read it yet, although if it's anything like Shantaram, I'm sure I'd love it! =)