When we think of a slum, a few issues immediately come to mind: poverty, high population densities, poor sanitation and infrastructure, etc. It does not occur to us that a slum can be an incredibly self-sufficient environment where community and industry thrives. Families living in slums are multi-generational, having a legacy that reaches back over 150 years; they call it home.
During our 2nd day in Mumbai, we were treated to an eye opening tour of the Dharavi slum, literally a city within a city, with Reality Tours (thank you, Nano!). With a population of about 1 million spread out over 2 square kilometers, Dharavi is considered one of the most densely populated slums in the world. It is also the most industrious. Dharavi is unlike the cold, dark slum depicted in the film Slumdog Millionaire. This area is in fact colorful and bustling with life.
The recycling industry, which receives recycled wasted from all over the state of Maharashtra and the city of Mumbai, is the most fascinating aspect of Dharavi. Used plastic cutlery, children’s toys, detergent containers and other plastic products are sorted and made into smaller pieces. They are then melted, dyed and reformed into long rods which are cut into small plastic pellets. This raw material is resold to plastic manufacturers. Plastic is just one of the numerous raw materials recycled in the area, along with aluminum and cardboard. It was interesting to see that no factory workers used safety gear even in the most dangerous environments. Our guides explained that though they are provided equipment free of charge, it is considered inefficient and promotes a certain weakness in the wearer.
Following our visit to the slum, we went back to Bandra West for lunch and shopping. The group decided to go to Elco, a vegetarian restaurant that specializes in Indian street food. This was a treat since most street food could be potentially unsafe for our Western stomachs! Every dish that the group ordered was a treat for both the eyes and our taste buds. We indulged in Chole Bhature (a massive inflated fried dough served with chickpeas and yogourt), Uttapa (the Indian alternative to pizza served with dipping sauces and broth) and Sev Puri and Dahi Puri, both derivatives of Pani Puri which we first tried during our Bollywood film night. Whereas Pani Puri is a stuffed hard shell, Sev Puri is flat and layered. Dahi Puri was covered in a refreshing and tangy yogurt.
A visit to Fabindia, as well as its home wares outpost, was what we needed to get our shopping fix for the weekend. The girls bought harem pants and caftans and the guys bought kurtas (collarless shirts) in an array of lush textiles. On our way back to Malavli, we made a pit stop at a roadside McDonalds. This was a necessary visit in order to experience the cultural institution in an Indian environment, complete with paneer burgers and curry powder to shake with their famous fries.