Saturday morning we were picked up by the auto from Malavli for the weekend Mumbai Tour. The scenery while driving was a beauty! Mountains wrapped around our road with a large dry ravine off to the side, which promises to turn lush green in the monsoon season. We arrived at the Hotel Neelkanth on Linking Street, the main shopping district of the area. We spent our lunch at an interesting place called The Unrestaurant with quirky design and world cuisine: our orders included thai curry, sizzling steak with mashed potatoes, pizza and more.
The highlight of the day was the tour of Mumbai largest slum area, Dharavi. We took photographs upon entering from the bridge, and selectively throughout the area with permission, but otherwise shooting was restricted due to understandable reasons of home privacy. It was striking to learn that Dharavi houses 1 million people in the 1.7 square kilometer area, and that 40% of it is industrial with over a billion-dollar profit. There are assumptions and preconceptions surrounding Dharavi slums, which I, too, had, that stem from not knowing its story. The expectations did not match the reality. This community was hardworking, self-sufficient, close-knit, good-spirited and vibrant. They had their own food market, school, hospital, and businesses. We came across the DJ blasting the tunes and couldn’t afford not to bust a move- just ask Sarah! I left feeling impressed and uplifted. Interestingly, Dharavi is positioned in a prime area of Mumbai, neighbouring very expensive residential properties. We didn’t get to see the inside of the houses, but our tour guide Fahim explained that if the exterior may look rugged and unsightly, the interior space is equipped with showers and toilets (for some), and kept very clean. On the flip side, the industrial facilities had an intense working environment. Evidently dense and hot, the working conditions were also unsafe in terms of proper safe surroundings, safety equipment and procedures as well as exposure to toxic substances, like when melting the aluminum in order to recycle it. It’s unfortunate that the millionaire industry owners don’t invest into improving the workers’ conditions. As well, not many people who are born and raised in Mumbai visit the slums, repelled by its exterior veil of unsanitary environment. Our other tour guide was one of them; and this was the first time she visited slums at twenty-four years of age. “It was different than I thought”, she shared. Still, with all its controversy, Dharavi has a lot of potential. . This tour was eye opening into another way of life I’ve never seen.