A somewhat week in Mumbai and now I have to pick just one experience…crazy, but I’ll do it.
The slums. This won’t be a post on how the slums make me feel so thankful; it’s not that at all. In reality, the slums didn’t make me thankful, they made me rethink the way we do things in other parts of the world and how we perceive things. The slums are better known here as the recycling bin, in my opinion. Going in I assumed I’d be holding my nose, my breath, my things close to me, my spirits high and my eyes averted because from what I’ve heard, it’s dirty, smelly, dangerous and depressing. But in reality, it wasn’t. Yes, it smelled and yes, it was dirty and unorganized by American standards, and maybe to some, smiling faces are depressing but it was also none of those things. These types of understandings of experiences come from our perceptions of what we’ve lived through and seen through personal experiences. The same can be said for the people here and especially those in the slums. I’m not saying that I could see myself living in the slums, given my upbringing, that’s a definite no. But that doesn’t mean I can’t respect the way they live and what they do to survive.
Walking through the streets of Dharavi was like a museum of entrepreneurs and honest middle-class workers who did their day-to-day in the open as opposed to behind walls of large skyscrapers and uncomfortable suits. I thought that was honest and that was what would motivate me, to see people working hard to get to where they want to be, instead of just talking about it and visiting universities and holding lectures to talk about what they’ve done to end up where they are. I think people need this motivation to feel as though you can come from nothing, or what others perceive as nothing, and make a something out of yourself. But in reality, or at least my reality, coming from nothing means something different to different regions of this world. My nothing, is someone else’s ideal life and a local Indian farmer’s nothing could be the dream of an overworked cubical dweller.
It’s all perception, and my perception of the Dharavi slums was nothing short of inspired. The slums are built to produce recycled goods and to manufacture a certain amount of branded goods for sale. People might say, “They’re producing goods that they can’t afford themselves”. Ok, but what then are people in American car factories doing when they build some of the most expensive domestically manufactured and sold vehicles that they themselves can’t afford? A few times during this trip we’ve been told not to think so lowly of Indian practices because there’s a similar practice done in the US too. These things are happening in the US and they’re not wrong or bad necessarily, they just are. The slums have barbers, meat and produce merchants, tailors and clothing shops, an entire pottery maker village. The slums have men and women working hard in the rain and in smoldering heat whose beauty are visible even through the smoke and grime.
I don’t want to be told anymore what I’ll expect from a location. I want to hear the truth and nothing but the truth. What does it smell like, look like, feel like to more than just one person, but many. I no longer want to base my perception on what I’ve seen but by the reality of multiple cultural perspectives.
The slums can be beautiful and there are more ways than one that others could take a hint from the way they run things.