First we stopped at the open air laundry the Dhobi Ghats. Usually the people that work here are farmers who come into the city for a period of time earning money before returning home. Each concrete wash cubicle costs R300 to rent for a month; there are 730 cubicles, 10,000 workers and the laundry covers 4 acres. I have been here before and find the scene absolutely fascinating. The washing is all hung out according to type and colour. Although it was rather disconcerting to be told that the green items we could see were hospital scrubs.
Next we got caught in a typical Indian motoring standoff: 4 cars nose to nose and no one prepared to give way. I shot this pic through the front window from the back seat just to prove it happened. Hilarious.
The main trip of the day was to visit Dharavi, the famous Mumbai slum city, and it was an eye opener. The last photos we could take were from the railway footbridge and beyond that point cameras were not allowed. We had been warned about this – it was the same in the temples so fair enough. The company running the tours does so in an ethical manner and puts 85% of the profit back into Dharavi projects (like the schooling and self-esteem programmes for youth). If you provide the tour company with your email they’ll send you some photos.
Our guide for Dharavi was Jitu who used to work in one of the factories in a different slum, he had heard what they were doing at Dharavi & decided to better himself & become a guide. He learned to speak English by watching Hollywood movies and was frankly a bit of an inspiration with a wonderfully dry sense of humour. The main thing he wanted us to take away is that the slum is a place of hope rather than the reverse.
Initially the streets looked like the back streets in the poorer part of Mumbai but then we went deeper and things got grimmer. It’s rather hard to put into meaningful words; the experience was better than I had expected, much more positive, did not smell as bad as I had expected, there was a very surprising amount of industry but frankly the conditions are appalling. There are many slums within Mumbai but Dharavi is a 5 star slum according to Jitu.
Here are some facts and figures: There are 570,000 people per square kilometre; 1 million overall. There is only 1 toilet seat per 1400 people. There are schools within Dharavi and 85% of children go to school. The main industries are leather processing (the most profitable); aluminium recycling, plastic recycling, clay pottery, garment making, several bakeries, and the women typically might do some sewing within the home or make poppadum’s.
Jitu told us that when younger his Mum wanted to work but his grandparents forbade it on the basis that it would shame on the family. Apparently women working is a red flag that the family are in financial crisis. Jitu’s family have lived within the slum for 40 years. He said the sense of community is huge & enveloping and I was reminded of the description of life in District 9 in Cape Town (before it was razed).
We were shown the factories and a few of the accommodation areas. Often the workers slept in the factories as they couldn’t afford the rent for a “house”. This is free as it benefits the employer in terms of security on the premises and no lateness travelling to work.
Jitu also took us up onto the roof to see from above; it was simply amazing and vast! We also went into the narrow alleys which were only wide enough for 1 person and often even I had to duck my head. It would be hellishly easy to get lost. You’d see a pair of sandals and beside them a ladder – that was the entrance to living quarters above. The family accommodation was 1 room with a platform for sleeping and a gas element for cooking and a tv… that was it. And yet there were satellite dishes everywhere. As Jitu said young children only need food & shelter but youth want food, shelter, tv and cell phones. And they have them.
In retrospect every privileged kid in NZ should visit if not Dharavi certainly India to see just how good they have it.
The tour took 3 hours and we were melting in the 30+ heat by the time we had finished.
We had a quick lunch and then walked down to the fishing village close to the hotel.
I have really enjoyed this marvellous bunch of people and look forward to catching up with them sometime in the future. As nothing had been arranged to celebrate the end of the tour, four of us had a farewell dinner at a Chinese restaurant that I went to when I was here with Sarah in 2008. The food is still plentiful and good.
I am ready to go home now although I'm dreading the long flight home. Allan kept reminding me that "NZ is such a long way from anywhere" and he is right.