My Dharavi tour


I love to travel. I like to experience new places and cultures, especially in India. And there was one place I longed to visit ever since I heard about it and that is Dharavi, considered to be one of the largest slums in the world.

I had heard that many small scale industries are located in this slum and other stories about it stimulated my curiosity. I even talked to my friends about it but not many of them were keen to visit the place. I also had some apprehensions and did not have the courage to visit it all alone. I wanted to go but didn’t know how. I felt bad that I had not visited Dharavi despite Mumbai being my home for more than three decades. Then, one day, my daughter, Sushmita, showed me a website that offered Dharavi tours. She also showed me a video on the website that showed the making of the website and the people behind it.

Now, there was nothing that could stop me. I went ahead and contacted one of the founders of the website and finally, my tour to Dharavi was on. The website was founded by two young boys from Dharavi, Fahim and Tauseef, who were born and brought up in the Dharavi slums. They stay there with their family. This website was one way to earn some money to support their education. But soon they were a success and today there are 15 or more students who work with them as guides. All the students are from Dharavi. Most of them are pursuing higher education in IT, engineering or other fields.

I met Fahim who took me around for a guided tour of Dharavi. There were 5 groups in all, and there were some foreigners as well in the group. I should say, the visit opened my eyes and removed my prejudices about slums. Dharavi slums are different from other slums. In fact, to just call it a slum will be an insult to the hundreds and thousands of small entrepreneurs working here. 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. It currently covers an area of 217 hectares (535 acres). Dharavi is situated between Mumbai’s two main suburban railway lines, the Western and Central Railways. To its west are Mahim and Bandra, and to the north lies the Mithi River.

Dharavi should be called as a mini industrial area or rather, it should be renamed so. There are hundreds of small scale industries here, from plastic recycling, to pottery units, to embroidery workshops, to leather industry. It is a small economic zone which has a turnover in crores. These people work in small spaces with hardly any facilities, but their hard work is surely paying off since many of the units here even export things to other countries.

I was also amazed to see how beautifully and contentedly these people live in small houses, rather small rooms. While we complain about our flats not having a balcony or an additional room to store our clothes, here at Dharavi, they live in tiny rooms. Even these tiny spaces are equipped with TV, washing machines and other modern amenities.

When I returned, I carried back a slice of Dharavi with me – their industriousness, their will to survive and the resolve to make the best out of whatever little one has. I was also impressed with these young men who are proud of who and what they are.

It is sad that the government, which is forever making promises to generate employment and increase the GDP, does not make any effort to learn a thing or two from Dharavi. When Dharavi can set up such a successful industry in its backyard, why can’t the government think of similar initiatives? Dharavi rocks and so do Fahim and his group!

H.V. Shiv Shankar is Designer, One India One People.