Last year I had a trip to Dharavi, also known as the biggest slum in Asia. That time I was on my own, and I maybe didn’t really manage to understand that much about what Dharavi is all about. There were none to explain things to me, and all I could observe was the things that I could actually see.
This Sunday I went back to Dharavi. But not alone. I had a Norwegian colleague and also my Norwegian neighbors with me. And we also had with us Akshay, who is a guide from a travel agent called Reality Tours and Travel. Akshay studies to be an
IT-engineer during the week and works as a guide in the weekends. Having a
person with us who could explain things made a huge difference!
We met Akshay at Mahim railway station. Dharavi is basically located in a triangle between the railway stations of Mahim, Sion and Matunga. The whole area is about 1,7
square kilometers, and there is more than a million people living here! And what more, it is both a residential area and a business area.
First he took us to the business area. Akshay said that there are many different
industries in Dharavi. To some extend I agree with him, but I also think that
there are in some way many small factories which operates in different parts of
the value chain in the same industry. One of the businesses we looked at was
recycling of plastic. First the plastic is picked from the garbage areas by rag
pickers. It is then sold to people in Dharavi. In one building they will hack
the plastic into small pieces. In other buildings they will melt the plastic,
and even other places they will add color to it. There are even places where
the recycled plastic will be put together and new things will be made from
them! So the whole value chain is covered in this small area. The same thing
happen with aluminum, glass bottles and a lot of other things that other people
might consider to be just waste. All of this is being recycled in Dharavi and
new goods are being made.
Akshay also took us to the roof top of one of the houses. From there you could easily spot Bandra-Kurla Complex, one of the new business areas in Mumbai. You could also
see the buildings all around Dharavi from the same location. When you stand at the top of the roof of such a building, you really realize why Dharavi is so important for Mumbai. Like Akshay said. It’s all about location, location and location. You have the business area close by, you have Dadar, the busiest railway station in Mumbai close by, and it is even close to the airport. Not strange that a lot of people would prefer to stay in Dharavi, even if it might not look that nice there.
We also went to some of the residential areas in Dharavi. Everywhere there were kids saying “hello”, “what’s your name?” and other phrases. And all of them wanted to shake our hands. It was easy to see that they were quite well used to see foreigners roaming around there. I did feel safe all the time while in Dharavi. The area looked quite ok maintained, and there was no urine or things like that floating around at all places. However, we went to see a small river, which seemed to be quite polluted. And how it would be in Dharavi when it is really raining, I don’t really like to think about. The water would probably float around without much hinder and I would assume that the whole area can get flooded quite easily.
What does the future hold for a place like Dharavi? Surely it has already been around
from more than some 100 years, so it has evolved with the rest of the city. But as land is a very valuable asset in Mumbai, it will surely be more and more difficult to keep it as it is.
Talk to you soon!