Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Dharavi

Dharavi is the name of a "slum" in Mumbai, well-known to Mumbaikars (it is infamous to most people), and also famous for having appeared in Slumdog Millionaire.

While in India this past July, we took a tour of Dharavi thanks to the little agency Reality Tours and Travel. They do not permit photographs so I have none, but the experience was eye-opening. We wandered all throughout industrial, commercial and residential sectors of the large area, and what we saw was amazing.

When I say industrial, I mean that there are countless informal and unofficial factories, in which people work in all sorts of conditions (mostly poor), making, deconstructing, converting... One of the biggest industries seems to be recycling. Trash is collected throughout the metropolis and brought to Dharavi where products are transformed and leave converted, ready to sell to major companies throughout the city, probably the country. We saw them converting old plastic goods into new plastic beads, ready to use to make into new goods.


Another thing that struck me was that in the so-called slum there are all sorts of stores and shops, services and more. It is a legitimate community. On the day we visited a religious festival was taking place. One man had set up a miniature ferris wheel for children to ride (he pushed it and really seemed to be enjoying himself).

I found this incredible site about Dharavi and the intense controversy surrounding it: Dharavi.org. People in Mumbai - particularly more well-off, middle class people and of course the rich - tend to think of Dharavi as a stain, something that needs to be removed. They don't generally imagine it is a real, functioning community. Not only that, it is much, much less dangerous than they imagine. While we were there I felt zero danger. Granted, we were on a tour. But we walked all over (there were three of us plus our young Indian guide) and to me it felt no more or less dangerous than any other part of Mumbai (though some people claim it is safer than the Mumbai outside).

Because of its strategic location, developers lust for the land. And so redevelopment plans have been in the works for years.

Visit this well-presented site to learn more: dharavi.org

Here is a good opinion piece that appeared in the NY Times this February, written by people associated with the site [here].

And finally, the reason I found this website. I was researching the Hindi film composer Bappi Lahiri, when I came upon a photo of him with Paul Devro, who I knew to be a Mad Decent DJ. I thought that was interesting, then realized it was on this site. The picture and entry are on this page, about halfway down dated in Feb. 2009.

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