Mumbai is a place for the most affluent people but also a place for some of the most poverty stricken people. It is the home of Ambani and his 28-story house, but it is also the home of a place called Dharavi. Dharavi is one of the biggest slums, holding a gargantuan 1 million people. This year we went to Mumbai with my moms’ friend, Mari, and her family, PJ, Maya, and Lobo. Every year their family partners with a nonprofit organization. Most of the organizations they partner with help children and women in areas with less opportunity. This year they partnered with an organization called SNEHA. SNEHA is a nonprofit organization based in Mumbai, India They work with women and children in Dharavi and teach them about many things, most of which categorized into 3 major groups, health, safety and a successful future.
One field visit that really struck me was when we went to Kandivali. We went to Kandivali by train, and it was our first time on the Mumbai train. The train was quiet at first but then the number of passengers started to snowball. We could barely get out of our seats by the time we got to our stop. People were coming in before the train even stopped. The other passengers told us to move to the side to avoid being trampled on. But there was no space to move to the side so we stayed put. Right when we stopped, the utmost craziness began. A huge swarm of people shoved their way through the door. They seemed so desperate that it looked like if they didn’t make it into this train, they would lose everything. But we had to get out because this was our stop. Normally in other countries like Japan, Switzerland, USA, etc. they let people get off the train first before people get on the train.
But not in India. We had to squeeze our way through the little cracks and crevices of people. One big problem was that there were so many people packed in the train that led to very little cracks and crevices to squeeze out of the train. This made it a million times harder to push out of the train. As people pushed in through the door we pushed to get out through the same doors. We pushed and pushed with all our strength and finally, we were all out of the train. Or so we thought…I saw Maya, PJ, Lobo, and Rohan by my side but where was Mari and mommy. I darted my head around looking for them. Then I saw them. Mari was stuck in the train holding my mom’s hand with a rigid grip. My mom was standing outside the train hoping that her pulling will help Mari get out of the train. There was a guy who was pushing against Mari trying to get into the train. But Mari was determined to get out, so with one big leap, she pushed the guy out and she was successfully off the train.
The next day we went with the SNEHA volunteer on a walk through Dharavi. The walk started with us learning how to ask if we could take a picture of someone in Hindi. The first person we asked was a chaiwala (tea maker). He was pouring chai from cup to cup cooling it off. We asked him “ photo lay suktha hay “ (can we take a picture) and he responded with an “of course” but in Hindi. We said “Shukriya” (thank you). An old man was sitting next to the chai wala. He was bony and thin, wearing a white tank top smeared with dirt. He had seen us taking a picture and he asked to see the picture. He looked at it with a disappointed look on his face. He said “one more”. I thought, “Okay? why would he want another picture, it wasn’t a picture of him so it shouldn’t matter”. But without any hesitation, I took another picture of the chaiwala. But this picture was different. The old man who asked us to take another picture was now posing in the picture. “Ohhh,” I said with the realization in my tone that he wanted to be in the picture too. I guessed that he wanted to be in the picture so badly since normally they don’t get too much attention. That was just the first few minutes of the walk but it made me more excited for the walk because it made me realize that the people were happy, friendly and eager to talk to new people.
As we walked more into the central part of Dharavi, everything started to get darker, not because of the time of day but because of the architectural design. The houses created a tall wall across the “sidewalk”, blocking out almost all the light. Tarps draped from one house to another. Electric wires sagged low causing me to duck my head every few steps. The front steps of the houses obstructed my path. My scalp was moist from the constant water droplets that fell from the wires and tarps. As we walked through the thin alleyways we met more people. One shop that caught our eye was a tailor shop. There were bright colors of clothes stacked inside the small shop. The tailor was standing at a counter that was bordering the sidewalk. When we asked him if we could take a picture “photo lay suktha hay,” he nodded. He had an ecstatic smile on his face. There was so much joy in his smile.
Further along the walk, we met 3 boys. These boys were about the same age as me. They all lived in the neighborhood and they were members of SNEHA. Just like the earlier folks, these kids were so excited when we asked if we could interview them and record them. One of the kids jumped on a random person’s red motorbike, smiled and made a peace sign with his fingers showing that he was all ready for pictures. One of the questions we asked them was “ what are some important things you learned from SNEHA? “
They replied, “We learnt about how to keep our bodies clean and about proper nutrition”.
We followed up with “What did you learn about proper nutrition?”. They responded “ You have to eat lots of fruits and vegetables. You should also NOT eat Chinese food because it has a chemical called Ajinomoto (MSG-Monosodium glutamate) and it is really bad for you.” By Chinese food, they meant Maggie noodles and Cup o’ noodles.
How did they know about the chemicals in Maggie noodles? I knew that Maggie noodles were bad for you but I didn’t know that they had a chemical called MSG in them. That really surprised me, but in a good way. The schools in Dharavi probably were not teaching the kids anything about growing up and nutrition because they were probably more focused on what they thought were the essentials like math, language arts, history, and science. But teaching kids about growing up, safety, health, proper nutrition and how to have a successful future are all essentials things in a kids life. That’s why SNEHA’s work in Dharavi is so important and crucial to making Dharavi into a more educated and clean place.