The Spirit of Hope – Lessons from Dharavi Slums

There were times when tourists avoided traveling to cities in India due to the tackiness, stench, and insecurity (post 2008 terrorist attacks). However, the tourism industry boosted after Slumdog Millionaire snatched eight Oscars, and we were among the many Americans foreigners who arrived on this cultural land to witness and compare the slumdogs in the movie and reality.

life in dharavi slumsFamously known as Reality Tours, Elisa and I decided to witness the paucity and griminess in the streets of Dharavi, Asia’s largest slum vicinity in Mumbai, India. We hired an Indian guide, Satish, who dwelled in the same filthiness, to get a closer and perfect tour around the area. Prior to entering the poverty border, Satish informed us that over 55% of Mumbai’s population dwelled in these slums, which was staggering figure of 1 million people.

We were taken to the nearby Leopold Café for tea and breakfast. This was more out of chance than choice because we leopold cafehad flat tires just after starting from our hotel. 30 minutes later we were back on our seats and zoom we went.

Though the traffic signals revealed much about the poverty in the country, the sight of broken-sheltered house under one of the railway crossovers was quite commiserating. Looking at the diminutive shirtless boy treading around the shed, Satish told us that, children in poverty-struck India aren’t sent to school for studying. Instead, they were sent to nearby construction sites to work. Elisa couldn’t swallow the fact while I managed to persist a smile, but neither of us knew it was just the beginning of a sympathizing and grief-stricken tour. This hut under the overpass also served as a signal for most of the other boys to find their way home because they are not basically from Mumbai.

Dhobi GhatPassing through the red light area of Mumbai, we didn’t see many females there as it was morning hours. We halted at Dhobi Ghat, a huge, 136-year old washing area in Mumbai, where thousands of men washed clothes by beating the damp clothes on systematically arranged stones. It was quite a weird way of washing but we enjoyed it. People were joyous and seemed to enjoy their job. We received few smiles while passing through them.

After a minute of dodging, we finally managed to cross the busy street and enter the never-ending slums of Dharavi. From the first one to the last, every house can be defined as – a semi-dark, small hut with knobless doors and varying crannies. Looking at the garbage-strewn tapered pathways, we exchanged glances more than a couple of times. But I found Elisa as astonished as I was. How could someone possibly spend their lives in such mess, stench, poverty, dirtiness, and with happiness? Yes, people there, though not filled with ecstasy, were quite content and happy.

At every door we got a welcoming smile. Following us throughout the tour was a small troop of half-naked, skinny children asking for few rupees and food. Somewhere while sauntering through the slums we halted at a fruit-seller and bought some oranges to distribute among children. Before I could give the first one away, they snatched it and fought to get a diminutive piece.

They were hungry, yet laughing. They were combating, yet with kindliness. We aren’t content with many luxuries weDharavi kids own. But these toddlers, unknown about basic amenities are contented, cheerful, and with unvarying spark in their eyes. My heart was filled with pity, affection, and love for people dwelling here with vigor and liveliness. I couldn’t talk to Elisa, but I saw her wiping her damp eyes. Maybe her heart too was teeming with compassion and empathy.

On our way back to hotel we were quiet, not yet ready to talk about the contradicting blend of Dharavi. A young child, with numerous fresh, colorful roses in his hand, knocked the window of my car and cheerfully persuaded us to buy few flowers. Hope is what’s keeping them alive and going. I bought all of them and he gaily walked away with a smile.

Though it wasn’t a pleasing one, this excursion taught me few important lessons of life. With so many things and achievements to enjoy, we are always grumbling and complaining. With so many amenities and wealth, our cheerfulness is short-lived and very brief. In search of major successes and accomplishments, we often overlook minute pleasures of life. They celebrate Christmas, Diwali, and Eid with equal vigor and cheerfulness, while we, as individuals and countries, keep fighting over minor issues. We have completely forgotten the concept of unity, cooperativeness, and happiness. Hope is what we need, significantly.

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  1. Fiona says:

    Oh thats really mind blowing! 55% of the people live in slums in mumbai! oh my god!

  2. Glenn says:

    I must say that after slumdog millionaire people come to India specially to see the slums! That is so wiered.

  3. Hauritz says:

    I had visited this place Dharavi and till date I haven’t seen such a huge genuine leather market! Its all real leather and you also get it damn cheap!

  4. Ian says:

    People live in slums more than they live in buildings and if you want to visdit mumbai mind it that you need to visit these slums!

  5. James says:

    I am a writer and I have visited these slums. For the 1st time I was thinking that how did God created such humans. These people don’t have food to eat, water to drink, clother to wear yewt they are the happiest person on the earth!

  6. Kolou says:

    Mumbai, this is the place half the size of New York yet almost triple the population! 10 million people in such a small city!

  7. Linda says:

    If you want to see, feel and live life then you need to visit India and Mumbai once in your life!

  8. Marcel says:

    India is the country of great culture, multi religion and truly democratic! :)

  9. Nathan says:

    My best trip ever in this world is India! This country will never ever be forgotten in my life and I can assure once a person visit this country he will never ever forget!

  10. milinda says:

    never knew that dharavi is the biggest slum in mumbai with a population of 1 million people living

  11. sera says:

    the dharavi slum definatly teaches us some great lessons of life…which we never ever cared …india rocks

  12. percy says:

    it teaches us that in any condition we be its hope that will keep us alive and going..

  13. patty says:

    i hav visited the place…u get the best leather stuffs and very affordable prices

  14. nicole says:

    its really great to know that even after staying in such bad conditions people live here happily…great satsfictions

  15. senorita says:

    after goin through this aticle i come to a conclution that with what ever we have got we need to be happy ..thats the way of living

  16. stefy says:

    kids are the worlds best teachers…. they teach us great things unintensionally

  17. steve says:

    india has so many cultures , riligions , languages but unit they stand….thats the best part of india..coz they live for each other

  18. jack says:

    india being a poor country but is rich in culture, social life and of all it has people with big heart always ready to welcome all…luv indians

  19. julie says:

    hey dhobi ghat … even after having modern washing machine still people prefer giving cloths to dhobi ghat .. great !!!

  20. angelina says:

    dharavi truly a spirit of hope….it teaches great lesson of lifes

  21. angelina says:

    in dharavi people live in really bad conditions yet happy…great !!
    and we even after having more always complain…
    indian are great !!! what ever happens they really have spirit of hope which keeps them going….
    indians rock !!!

  22. richel says:

    dharavi brings us back to the concept of unity,happiness & cooperation

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