Book Review: Poor Little Rich Slum
Part of South Asian Challenge 2012
The book cover with blue colored low roofed, sandwiched shacks sprawled all over its front and back, against a background of white with a blue airplane taking off over the slums, says it all. That airplane represents the spirit of the book and its protagonist – Dharavi in Mumbai, the Taj Mahal of slums, as quoted in the book.
Rashmi Bansal, the narrator behind some of the most remarkable and unheard entrepreneurial stories we have been exposed to in the recent past, returns this time accompanied by Deepak Gandhi with an inspiring and heart touching anthology of tales from the slum whose misery and malice is sold as entertainment, who both the government and construction conglomerate want to ‘redevelop’ and who just by deciding not to survive can stall the financial capital of the country and by extension the country itself. Bansal paints the survivor spirit of Dharavi in the most poignant colors, with the most promising stories while also, in an undertone, communicating the issues these fighters face everyday.
The book follows the format that a well researched essay would and should, starting with initiating the reader to the elephant called Dharavi, leading to the survivor, fighter spirit of the largest slum of Asia followed by the present changes and the future plans, not of the government but the people – the real change makers. Among a host of shining stories spanning the whole of 187 pages are stories of a boy from Bihar who once slept in autos but now makes dancing shoes for Hrithik Roshan and the likes, a Rhode Island School of Design graduate setting up ‘Waterwalla’ to introduce clean water to a place that can only provide a 150 sq ft room to a family of 5, a boy who slept on a footpath behind Kamatipura now employs 400 people, all from in and around Dharavi and a group of rag picker boys at Mahim creek who are all set to create a music album in collaboration with the world famous musicians who perform at Mumbai’s most happening Club – BlueFROG. Amongst all these success stories we are also served the unfairness the residents face for have a address called Dharavi – employment forms are rejected, exposure is nullified even EMI schemes are denied.
A special feature of the book is, it is nearly a movie! When we read it, we also see Dharavi come alive right before our eyes, even the ones with least imaginative power amongst us, thanks to some wonderful, slice-of-life photography by Dee Gandhi. The pages sans photographs are a rarity in the book and not even filth is filthy seen from the lenses of Gandhi.
It is the spirit, the oneness, the humane-ness and the one chance at life that Dharavi provides that the book brings to the reader vis-à-vis the popular image of a dirty, outcast slum. As the authors quote in the initial chapters of the book, ‘You come to Mumbai from anywhere in India and quickly find some work. You come to Dharavi from anywhere is India and quickly find some work and a roof over your head.’
The book is not just an eye but a mind opener to everyone of us, who in our existence in Mumbai must have passed through pulling up the tinted car windows, hands racing to the nose instinctively or eyes averted to the mobile screens as soon as we enter this filthy, stinking, over crowded human groove right in the centre of the city. Thanks to the book now every time I see BEST’s Dharavi Aagaar bus no. 52, I have a question to ask myself and everyone around me – crammed sleeping space, polluted drinking water, substandard hygiene conditions, hard pressed to study, drugs, alcohol, domestic violence right in your home and yet an indomitable spirit to rise above all these, look life right in the eye and say I love you Dah’ling – “What’s your excuse?”
I would say, a must read, for sheer lack of better words.