India 2014: Christmas Cheer Dharavi

It is Christmas morning and I am full of cheer. The irritation has passed.

I don’t know whether it was people asking really silly attention seeking questions on some Facebook pages (where they could Google the answer in the time it took them to write their drivel), the seemingly higher percentage of beggars in South Africa compared to Mumbai or Apartheid still being blamed for everything presently wrong in South Africa and up until doomsday, that has irritated me the most in the past two weeks. On the other hand it could just be that I’m becoming a really grumpy old man.

Was it the “converted” beggar at my neighbourhood traffic lights (now selling goods instead of begging) or the joy of the people I passed in Dharavi (large slum in Mumbai) a few weeks back that countered this irritation and strengthened my hope?

I’m not sure but I am very sure that not one person asked us for money when we casually glided around Dharavi. I never saw any beggars but saw loads of smiles, joy and many people getting about their daily business (work and study) with much vigour. On at least three occasions I was invited to take persons’ photos.

Wikipedia advises “Dharavi has an active informal economy in which numerous household enterprises employ many of the slum residents. It exports goods around the world. Leather, textiles and pottery products are among the goods made inside Dharavi by the slum residents. The total annual turnover has been estimated at over US$500 million. Dharavi has a high population density, and as with other worldwide slums, overcrowded. It is mostly low rise structures surrounded by Mumbai city. There is a disagreement if Dharavi is the largest slum in Mumbai. Some sources claim other slums in Mumbai have grown to become larger than Dharavi. Other sources disagree, and rank Dharavi as the largest slum in India.

Dharavi has experienced a long history of epidemics and natural disasters, sometimes with significant loss of lives. The first plague to devastate Dharavi, along with other settlements of Mumbai happened in 1896, when nearly half of the population perished. A series of plagues and other epidemics continued to affect Dharavi, and Mumbai in general, for the next 25 years, with high rates of mortality. Dysentery epidemics have been common throughout the years and explained with the low population density of Dharavi. Other epidemics reported include typhoid, cholera, leprosy, amoebiasis and polio, through recent years. For example, in 1986, a children cholera epidemic was reported, where most patients were residents of Dharavi. Typical patients to arrive in hospitals were in late and critical care condition, and the mortality rates were abnormally high. In recent years, cases of drug resistant tuberculosis have been reported in Dharavi.

Fires and other disasters are common. For example, in January 2013, a fire destroyed many slum properties and caused injuries. In 2005, massive floods caused deaths and extensive property damage.

Given my knowledge of South Africa and particularly Durban some of the facts above do not make sense.

Should Dharavi’s residents rather not be sitting back and only playing the blame game instead of going balls to the wall to do what they can with what they’ve got right where they are?

Or maybe the people are mostly doing what the one resident stated in the National Geographic article link below “You see. The Ganesh is undamaged. This is our talent. We deal with what is.”

Perhaps dealing with “what is” instead of “what should have been” makes the difference.

To end off I read another article by The Guardian which stated “Dharavi, at the centre of Mumbai, is a world in itself, a treasure of skilled labourers that the outside world is largely unaware of. Among the clusters of beehive hutments are about 20,000 small-scale manufacturing units.”

The inserted photo was taken at the foot of the railway bridge leading over the lines into Dharavi where they deal with what is and not what should have been! This is a huge part of my Christmas cheer this morning.

Wishing all of you a very merry Christmas.

#inspiredbydharavi #workhard #dealwithwhatis

Christmas Cheer Dharavi


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