Today Monica Bhide tells us about her own experience in the slums of Mumbai.
I went to Dharavi once, it is said to be the largest slum in Asia and it is located in Mumbai. I went there because I was told I could buy a leather jacket for a good price. I stepped out of my car and saw kids playing in absolute filth. I was holding my young baby in my arms. I could not stop staring. They stared back, smiled and waved at the baby and kept on playing. I stood there, unable to move, unable to react, I just stared. Such horrid poverty, I had never seen anything so bad in all my life. And yet the kids played, oblivious to me and my thoughts. I went to the closest vendor and bought a jacket. I paid full price, although bargaining is the name of the game here. I couldn’t bring myself to ask them to reduce the price.
My family and I walked back to the car. The kids were still there, still laughing and my brother in law remarked – they are poor but laughter is free, right? Before I got in the car, I cried so hard, I threw up several times. It was gut-wrenching as a mother, to see these little ones in this filth. I wanted to give money but was told not to – “A hundred others will come and we cant help them all.” So we left, as I quietly dropped a few hundred rupees on the ground before sitting in the car.
Regarding Slum tours, I am not sure what value they provide. People want to go and see other people’s misery? If people want to help the slums, find an organization that does good work and work with them. But if you just want to go and visit, on your own, guess what … poverty isn’t contagious. You can visit it, if you have the stomach to see how hard life can be for some people. I was on the periphery of the slums for my visit and I still cry when I think of some of the things I saw that day. But trust me, that will never, ever stop me from visiting Mumbai.
You see, the city compels me return, to learn from it, to write about it. It has stolen my heart.
Photograph by Monica Bhide
Thanks, Monica for sharing your love of Mumbai. And how about you, readers? Do you see Mumbai differently now?