Book: Dharavi The City Within
Editor: Joseph Campana
Publisher: Harper Collins
For some, Dharavi is just another word. For a few others, it is a world that exists beyond the imagination. For yet others, it is an eyesore in the backyard and a smudge on the financial capital’s emerging skyline. For the rest of the world, Dharavi is ‘Asia’s biggest slum,’ that drew worldwide attention in Danny Boyle’s 2008 Oscar-winner Slumdog Millionaire.
For its residents, Dharavi is home, a land of gold, a place of possibilities; it nourishes dreams, embodies enterprise, and is just as determined to triumph as gritty television reality show contestants are.
What happens then when an outsider decides to give the place a ‘makeover’?
Dharavi The City Within is an attempt at answering that question. It questions the very basis of the Dharavi Redevelopment Plan (DRP).
It concedes that there is merit in improving the general living conditions in Dharavi, but maintains that no good can come out of a plan/policy intervention that doesn’t directly involve the biggest stakeholder — Dharavi’s residents and their enterprises.
The narratives, by an eclectic mix of journalists, are segmented into four parts. They trace the evolution of Dharavi from a swamp on the city’s outskirts, originally inhabited by fisherfolk, to its metamorphosis into a refuge for immigrants (from Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu) and becoming a flourishing hub of diverse businesses (pottery, tanneries, textiles, brass works, recycling, food), including bisi — a kitty for which contributors make bids — which is perhaps a financial scheme unique to Dharavi.
The accounts are varied. seventy-nine-year-old Francis Kini reminisces about his childhood in Koliwada; medical student Santosh Narayankar agonises about his love-hate relationship with Dharavi but is determined not to disassociate with his roots ('If I forget about Dharavi, I will never succeed in life'); a pregnant Daulat Bi worries about trudging back and forth to fill water in her tins and dabbas; Jameel Shah narrates how his passion for dance led him to build a business in crafting special dance shoes that celebrities swear by; Vadivel Thambi is a busy milkman who ‘publishes’ his Tamil poetry every day in text messages sent to hundreds of people ('When a poem comes to me, I park my bike and I note it down on the mobile.’); 65-year-old Hariram ponders over a catch-22 that the redevelopment plan will bring — he will gain a pucca house, but will lose the mezzanine floor from where he now conducts his recycling business ('The trouble starts after all your dreams have come true'). Behind every resident that Dharavi houses, lies a story, a poignant tale filled with angst and hope. And every one of these residents has a view on the redevelopment plan.
The book, then, is a skillfully compiled anthology on Dharavi, a tall order to begin with considering the many worlds that inhabit the 214 hectares of Mumbai’s prized real estate. Editor Joseph Campana makes Dharavi accessible to a reader — be it a visiting sociologist, a tourist, a frequent flier, a student or a policy maker — and through its many stories explains the original swamp beyond its defamed squalor and inhumane living conditions.