The Other Side of Dharavi
August 28, 2009, 9:19 am
Filed under: poignant strokes | Tags: , ,

Dha-ra-vi. The very utterance of these three syllables draws a putrid picture in the minds of foreigners who are not very familiar with these polluted miles that stretch on and on. The image that perfunctorily paints itself in our minds, in black charcoal and cheap chalk, is that of ramshackle tin-roofed huts; of mutated flies flittering over human faeces; of butchers mercilessly hacking bleating stray goats; of the acrid stench of diabetic urine and of thick swirls of black smoke arising from the blacksmith’s chimney. This is Dharavi – a rabbit’s warren of poverty in the undiscerning eyes of our minds. However, in the eyes of the dwellers of Dharavi, it is a different story altogether.

In the wee hours of the morning, a young woman offers sweet-smelling flowers to a frayed poster of the Destructor, Lord Shiva. She saves one dewy white bud for her little sister, Nisha, to wear to school. After the morning prayers, the young woman, clad in a dirty-white saree with torn edges, rushes off to help her elderly neighbour repair his hut. Nisha wears the bud in her well-oiled plaited hair and sets off to school, dressed in a patchwork skirt of various rainbow hues. At school, her classmates talk animatedly with Nisha but they fall silent when the unqualified but learned Miss Francesca begins to teach them a new English greeting- “Thank you”.

After spending four hours in the single-roomed building with crumbling walls, Nisha feeds bits of her lunch, stale bread and a swipe of rancid butter, to the stray dogs, whilst commuting back home to her cancerous father. On reaching her mud hut, Nisha takes the homemade medicine to her ailing father whose face lightens up when the apple of his eye enters the sordid sick-room. After sweeping the hut, Nisha keeps her promise to her late mother and memorizes multiplication tables under candlelight. Before curling up under a thin sheet, Nisha prays for happiness all around her, and with a content smile on her sleeping face, she dreams of her angelic mother who lives among the stars.

To you and me, Dharavi may be Asia’s largest slum but to him, and her, and them, Dharavi is Asia’s largest home. It is the only place in the world which has opened arms for them…

children playing happily amidst filth

children playing happily amidst filth