25.03.2013 - 25.03.2013 35 °C
So I was wondering if a trip to the slums was a bit invasive and if it would feel a bit weird peeping in at those who live in Dharevi, but the tour we decided on is led by guides who live in the slums and 80% of all post tax profit goes back to the slums, funding a kindergarten and soft skills classes for youths (English, interview skills, computers etc). So we felt good about our choice of tour.
We met our first contact dude, Akbash, at the station and he led us on to the sub way and to the meeting point. Akbash, as a kid, got lost in the slums during the 1992 slum riots between Hindus and Muslims. 900 people were killed in the riots and his parents must have been killed. So he was adopted by a Hindu family from Dharevi and grew up in the slums.
Side note (Everyone in India seems to have a very bad cough - as I write this, a family are hacking away beside me)
Anywho, so Akbash lives in the slums and is super famous here as a B Boy and break dancer etc. He teaches dance classes to the local lads and apparently he's been in loads of filums aswell.
Side note: (I have been interrupted by a young Mumbai lad who thinks I should hang out here with him in Mombai for a few extra days as ''Life is being like a box of Chocolates and you never know what you are going to get.'' I chatted away but politely declined his offer of the ''best two days of your life''.. I didn't want to tell him that usually, in boxes of chocolates, you get a list of what chocolates are in the box and what they contain..
Anywho back to the slums. We met our guide Nano who was very lovely. He started every sentence with ''friends, please be....''. He lived in the slums himself and he explained to me that the people in Dharevi are fine with visitors that are on the Reality Gives tour, as they know some money comes back to the slums. Reality Tours also have a 'no photos' policy and the slum dwellers like this . Previously, some journalists had visited the slums, taken some photos and reported negatively on them, which the Dharevi people didn't like at all at all. So now, no pictures are allowed in Dharevi.
Dharevi is the richest slum in India. It's like its own city within Mumbai. It has its own electricity, water (3 hours per day only), and rules. The houses are made of stone and steel and most have nice tiled floors, fridges, tvs, cookers etc. The space inside the houses is small and the alleyways between the houses are so narrow that only 1 person at a time can walk through them. You have to mind your head and your feet at the same time, to avoid walking into bits of steel roof sticking out at head level, and open drains at feet level. It sounds bad but to be honest, apart from the big garbage heap (which they leave there purposely so no one will build on the land underneath it), the slums seemed a lot cleaner and less smelly than other parts of India!
Now for some details - skip this if you're easily bored.
Nano first brought us to the commercial bit where they recycle plastic and aluminium paint cans, and make soap and leather jacks and bags. This is honestly the second place in India where I've actually seen any men do any work. Seriously the lads in India seem to just hang sround all day drinking chai. The first load of lads i saw working was at the Tea Plantation. Here too the lads were hard at it, separating bits of plastic into colours where it gets chopped, washed, dried and melted into long strands of plastic again. Then it's chopped into tiny pellets and sold to manufacturers. Nano was a fantastic guide. He really knew a lot about all the slums businesses. He said the turnover of Dharevi was 1 MILLION DOLLARS (USD) per year, but they pretend it's only 665,000 a year to the government for tax purposes! A lot of rich Indians live in the slums so they won't be suspected of being rich and can avoid paying ginormous taxes. So hence the few big cars and A\C gafs we saw in Dharevi.
On we went and saw the lads recycling the oil / paint cans. They're cleaned, set on fire to burn off any excess paint or fuel, banged back into shape, painted brown and sent to the manufacturers to be refilled and branded. None of the lads here were wearing any safety equipment! Nano said it was provided for them but it makes their work a lot slower. Seeing as how they have a quota to fill everyday, they'd rather not use the equipment and finish work earlier. Bonza! However, the average age of a worker here is only 55 due to the dangers involved and toxic fumes.
On we went again and saw the lads and ladies making the leather handbags. They only use buffalo, sheep and goat skin. (oh that's alright then). Then once the skin is cleaned and flattened, fake crocodile/snake textures are added to it.
Onto the residential bit, which was much cooler (temperature wise) as all the houses are extremely close together and all the alleys were shaded. Over 1million people live here in 1.75square kilometres of land. 20 times more people than in your average sq km of India!! Good Jaysus!
We saw the auld dears making poppadoms to sell at the local market. I saw a dead rat on the side of the path on the way, but I think that was the worst thing I saw really. It wasn't as bad as we expected and I think this tour does go a long way towards dispelling the negative press slums get. However, Dharevi slum is pretty well off and there are worse slums that have no electricity/supplied water/stone walls etc.
Nano showed us the kindergarten which was full of chanting kids and was very cute. Then brought us to the Reality Gives Centre where there were some English lessons going on. Then we crossed the river (slash sewer that runs into the ARabian sea. If you are ever in Mumbai - do not swim at Chowpatty Beach. Actually if ye want my advice, avoid the ARabian sea altogether. It sounds exotic, but it is toxic! Ye can't spell exotic without toxic!! ) (Ten rupees please for that advice).
Across the water, (ahem) we saw the potters area - where pots are made funnily enough. Pots and Pots of Pots.
After this awesome tour which I highly recommend (Reality Tours and Travels - google it), we hit Leopolds Cafe in Colaba - the cafe featured in much of the book Shantaram. Which I am reading at the moment - it is fierce good and is pretty fun to see some of the places that feature in it. The language in it is a bit fanciful however for my liking. Describing eyes like pools of azure water and what not.. GHEY! Leopolds was packed full of tourists and Indians so I thought it would be ok to have a chicken dish. Pffft - my tummy disagreed the next day. Back to the veggie options for me! Later we stayed in again with donuts. The UK ladies are very budget conscious and a bit tooooo sensible for me. They not interested in beer (at 19??? WTF??) or going for a nice dinner in Mumbai. I wandered about the town for a bit but wouldn't really pop into a bar on my tood so donuts and coffee it was. TBH After the boozefest that was Goa, it's probably the best for a while!