As an Indian, what did I know about Dharavi – only the fact that it is Asia’s largest slum. Thanks to the movie Slumdog Millionaire, I had seen a few visuals. But having read and heard about Dharavi, we were sure there’s more to it. Shyam was very keen on exploring Dharavi and that’s how the Dharavi Tour happened.
The first view of Dharavi:
We were waiting at the Mahim Station for our tour guide, Mohammed – A happy, young man. From Mahim we climbed the foot-over bridge to get the first glimpse of Dharavi. As we stood there, Mohammed gave us instructions and tips on how to best explore Dharavi. We heard him as we waited for a train to pass to take the above shot.
Mohammed was very keen on getting that picture clicked, as he says “Ye ekdum movie wala shot hai” ? That done, we began our tour and little did we know that we were going to witness something new, unimaginable and full of life.
So you thought Dharavi was a slum? Just a dirty slum? We thought so too. Till we experienced it.
As were entered Dharavi, the sight of so many houses, people and so much happening around gave us a bit of a surprise. We felt like everyone was looking at us. But soon we realized that the people of Dharavi are used to seeing tourists all the time.
Industries of Dharavi:
Plastic Recycling Industry:
First off, we started with the Plastic Recycling Industry. From the plastic parts of Air Conditioners, Televisions, Refrigerators to small plastic caps, bottles, pens, bags – you name it, it is recycled here. The plastics are first segregated, following which the plastic is cut into pellets and is further recycled. As we were walking through the narrow lanes watching the plastic being cut and washed; we came across a place with a strong stench. Guess what it was? It was a huge unit where the used, left-over ice cream cups were cleaned, segregated and recycled manually. No machines here.
We realized how much of a constraint real estate is here when we climbed the steps of a house to get the aerial view of Dharavi. Every step of the wooden staircase was steep and narrow, giving us a feeling we may trip anytime even though the staircase had a rope to hold on to.
Once we reached the roof-top, the view was breathtaking. It was an ocean of plastics. The view was not the best one to look at, but it showed the truth. It was the reality of our lives right in front of us. It was here I realized the amount of plastic we consume in our daily lives. The tin roofs of the huts and buildings were covered with all kinds of plastic one could think of. It was disappointing to see what we have done to our lives. It was heartbreaking to realize that we’re also a part of it. We stood there for long, soaking in the reality. It is one of the views I’d never forget.
Leather, Textile Industries and more:
Moving on, we passed through various industries which we never thought could be housed in such narrow lanes. The leather industry is huge. We saw a few trucks carrying animals waiting to be slaughtered and godown’s filled with animal skin ready to be chemically treated and processed. Not an easy sight.
Inside the garment industry, we saw dupattas and kurtas being dyed to make them colorful. The tie and dye industry is huge in Dharavi and so is the tailoring industry. Good ready-made shirts and trousers are products of the tailoring industry in Dharavi.
There are many small scale industries in Dharavi including bakeries which bake fresh paos, coconut cookies and much more all through the day. The other industries that contribute to the growing economy of Dharavi are the Pottery industry (run by Gujarati’s) and Drums & Barrels industry.
So much to Dharavi! It is here you encounter and witness the timelessness of such professions. Do you still think of Dharavi as a slum? I’d say Dharavi is a set of thriving small-scale industries in the heart of Mumbai. Roughly there are 5000 businesses, 15,000 single-room factories, and countless families working hard to improve their lives and create a better future in Dharavi. The people in Dharavi are industrious, hard working and inspiring.
Dharavi exports goods around the world. Markets for Dharavi’s goods include stores in the United States, Europe, and the Middle East. The total turnover is estimated to be over US $1 billion per year. [Source: Wikipedia]
Homes in Dharavi:
Another intriguing part of Dharavi is its HOMES. It houses numerous settlements of varied religions and ethnicity. The small houses here have happy, satisfied people. The single room doubles up as a kitchen, bed room, dining room and everything else in between. Most houses in Dharavi do not have bathrooms. They use the common bathrooms which are also referred to as community bathrooms.
The narrow lanes of Dharavi form a maze, and, you are sure to get lost in its vastness.
In spite of the narrow, cramped lanes; every house in Dharavi has electricity and other basic facilities. Letters and mails in this maze get delivered accurately. The homes have air-conditioning and televisions – Just like ours. Their children study, have ambitions – Just like our children do. Interestingly, there is an ‘Anna Nagar’ in Dharavi with a huge Tamil Nadu settlement. There is a Tamil Nadu style temple as well and I am assuming this is where ‘Nayakan’ (Mani Ratnam’s movie) was shot.
A few hours later, just as evening set in, we stopped by for some tea. Snacking on some vada pao and whilst walking through the lanes of Dharavi, we soaked in as much as we could of this maze – young boys playing cricket, little girls frolicking, women bargaining with the vegetable vendors and few men smoking beedis at the corner of the street. The life in Dharavi is intriguing, happy, sad and chaotic.
As we waited at the Mahim station to catch our return train, the thoughts and sights of Dharavi kept lingering in my mind. I realized how beautiful and real Dharavi was. The lanes of Dharavi had dreams, ambitions, richness, poverty, dirt, chaos, happiness and above all – life. In Dharavi, you will find a life that is beyond imagination.
About the Dharavi Tour:
There are many travel agents and companies who organize the Dharavi tour. I would highly recommend Mohammed of Inside Mumbai Tours. Mohammed is a resident of Dharavi himself and he is a great man. His rates are nominal and the whole experience is worth the money. Being a local himself, he has a great knowledge about the various industries and the life in Dharavi.
You can reach out to Mohammed here – Contact Inside Mumbai Tours
P.S. Some of the images in this post have been taken from http://insidemumbaitours.com/