Eye on Dharavi

Apr 27, 2013, 08:57 IST | Kanika Sharma

A new book on Dharavi recently hit the stores countrywide. With real-life stories by Jerry Pinto, S Hussain Zaidi, Dilip D'Souza and many others making this a 'must-read', Kanika Sharma investigates the X factor behind this surfeited topic

Dharavi. An alarm button for media worldwide to ring in whenever the ‘rising’ Indian economy’s underbelly needs to be exposed. Dharavi. A success story of a swamp that now claims to be the heart of the city. Dharavi. India’s ticket to Hollywood. And lastly, Dharavi, the eyesore.

A migrant labourer in Dharavi uses the space between municipal water pipes to pound old paint chips into fine powder which will be reconstituted into paint

So after many tales, facts, claims and attention, we wondered what drew the city’s ace journalists to dedicate their precious time to excavation of the truth from the labyrinth of hope and desolation. Ironically the occupants of a prime real estate location of the city happen to live in ramshackle structures much to the double-sided dismay of many. In response to the Dharavi Redevelopment Scheme, ACORN Foundation urged for a book, the proceeds of which will go into the welfare of Dharavi.

An aerial view of Dharavi at sundown. Pics/ AFP

Joseph Campana, the editor and driving force behind the book, says, “The prospect of people having to move, or, if not that, moving into high-rise buildings in Dharavi angered many of the residents who did not trust the information they were getting and did not feel as if they had a say in things. It’s one thing to talk about redevelopment in abstract terms, but we also wanted readers to get to know some people who would be affected by it.”

Joseph Campana

The stories from Annie Zaidi, Dilip D’Souza, S Hussain Zaidi and Sameera Khan recapitulate the ‘shadow city’s’ many facets including small-scale industries, housing aspirations, bedrock of crime, and educational facilities. The stories, much like a video, flit between characters and various perspectives and focus on hard-hitting numbers and statistics in the background.

Talking on the exhaustive structure of the book, Campana shares, “The arrival section is an introduction and provides important history about Dharavi: how and when it was settled and also information about the riots in 1992-93. That section also demonstrates how Dharavi is linked to the rest of Mumbai and to the national and global economies.

The middle two sections cover daily life, both work and family. The last section is an argument against the redevelopment plan.” Campana on a parting note shares how Priyanka Pathak-Narain’s chapter about an illegal money-sharing scheme is unknown to the masses. “I didn’t know anything about that before she told that story,” he conveys.

Dharavi: The City Within edited by Joseph Campana; HarperCollins India, `399. Available at leading bookstores

Author speak >

S Hussain Zaidi
As the area gets prominent, crime has also expanded with the redevelopment scheme in mind. With Chhota Rajan aide ganglord DK Rao making Dharavi his base, the nexus of builders and criminals will strengthen. The government has an uphill task not only in decimation of the nexus but to also develop it from slum to a housing scheme.

Sameera Khan
My piece reports on the aspirations and realities with regard to education in Dharavi. Despite inadequate facilities they use every little thing available. For example, Mr Santi, the principal of Ambedkar School does not believe in shutting down the school building and enables every student to come in and study till late into the night.

Annie Zaidi
What’s great about Dharavi is that people live near their workplace. New people are welcome. New skills can be picked up. These people observe, learn skills and connect, take risks and go on to employ other people, who fill a perceived gap in the trading worlds around them and step in to fill that gap with goods or services.

Dilip D’Souza
When people had to shift from slums into the high rises, they didn’t realise that they would have to pay for the lift, gate, cleaning of their corridor and other facilities. They need the land to be entitled to them, which would be an implicit recognition that they are an integral part of the city. Dharavi is not a problem but integral to the economy.

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