Authors: Rashmi Bansal, Deepak Gandhi.
Dharavi: Asia’s largest slum, a dark shadowed world bustling with a sea of mankind, has captured many a writer’simagination. Thus, it is indeed a challenge to tell a tale about Dharavi that has never been told before. Authors Rashmi Bansal and Deepak Gandhi accept this challenge with the book, Poor Little Rich Slum. Dee Gandhi helps illustrates the story by his selection of vivid, telling, beautiful photographs.
The book is a collection of stories of the sons of this soil who are born here and choose not to leave this place. The authors describe this place as, ‘A space from where you cannot see the skies.’ I guess this lone statement describes what Dharavi is to people who live here .A middle class outsider’s viewpoint (which is indeed the reader’s perspective) drives the narrative throughout the book. The authors take the reader on a guided tour into the lives of people living here and trying to make a living, until you get lost in the by lanes, the puzzle that is Dharavi. There are amazing, perplexing and inspired stories about Dharavi, a place often dismissed by us as a dirty, clustered, chaotic, ugly, black hole of a city.
This book opens up a new world, a world where survival is the only virtue, hardships the only opportunities. It is natural to initially dismiss this book as an attempt to do what Slumdog Millionaire did ie: Cash on the utter poverty and misery of the people living in Dharavi a place not fit for human habitation, a place where civilized humans would fear to tread. Poor Little Rich Slum does the opposite for it focuses on the sheer will of these inhabitants of Dharavi not just trying to make a living but to inspire a change. It portrays Dharavi as a dynamic institution where your caste or creed does not matter,you are known by the work you do. Be it a humble idli wala at his job at 5 AM, 7 days a week, or the seamstress marvellously dealing with the uncertainties of business and the education of her growing updaughters I It is interesting to read how these people start absolutely from the scratch, toil away and build castles of their dreams. The fact that a poorest man on this planet has aspirations too and does not get bogged down should be an inspiration in itself for us fortunate ones who get, ‘depressed’ on smallest of matters.
The so called uneducated poor of Dharavi are hungry and enterprising .For example, Mustaqueem Bhai is an entrepreneur from Dharavi with the annual turnover of 12 crore. His only wish as a young child trying to make a living in this jungle was, ‘to get so much work so that I stay awake 24 hours a day’, If each one of us thinks this way then there would be no poverty left!
This book is also about Ivy League students who prefer to start formthe, ‘bottom of the pyramid’ and create enterprises by the names like, ‘Waterwallas’ making available safe drinking water at affordable prices. This book is indeed a must read for us, the so called, ‘haves’as it tells you that it is not necessary to ‘have it all’ to make it
big in your life and that adversity is the biggest taskmaster of all.
Having said the above, the book does not glorify their troubles or trivialize their situation in any way. The book reinforces the spirit of humanity that pervades in small village like communities that defines Dharavi, That of caring and taking responsibility of other people and the world around you. The bigger questions which thus come through this book which need to be pondered on are; ‘Are slums a part and parcel of urban life? Do slums like Dharavi satisfy vital economic needs? Can we just ignore them, or wish them away?’