Slumming it in Mumbai Shantaram mention

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Slumming it in Mumbai Shantaram mention

Unread postby Gilbert's Girl » Tue Jul 25, 2006 3:58 am

UK Independent July 25
Alternative tourist trail: Slumming it in Mumbai
It sounds like the latest travel fad for cosseted Westerners. But tours of India's poorest districts are not only putting money in the pockets of slum dwellers, but also highlighting their plight. Justin Huggler reports
Published: 25 July 2006
The sign was just around the corner from Leopold's, Mumbai's most famous bar, where the Western backpackers rub shoulders with well-off young locals in designer T-shirts. "Reality Tours and Travel," it said. "See the biggest slum in Asia".

It seemed an unlikely offer, guided tours of slums so notorious that the average Mumbai citizen is too terrified to set foot in them. Slums where, it is said, you can hire someone to kill your enemy and get rid of the body for as little as 60p. Places of legendary squalor, where armies of rats can suddenly fill the narrow lanes, and if you don't look where you're going, you can easily slip into an open sewer.

But that is what a young Briton, Chris Way, is offering. From a tiny office perched above a photocopying shop in Colaba, Mumbai's answer to Soho, the 31-year-old from Stourport, in Worcestershire, sends small groups of tourists on walking tours of the slums.

Inside, behind the piles of rotting rubbish, as we were to discover, lie the most extraordinary scenes: winding streets like subterranean tunnels where the houses on either side touch overhead and the light never enters; warehouses piled to their wooden rafters with tens of thousands of empty metal cans; Rizwan Khan's soap factory, a place that seemed to come out of Willy Wonka, where even the floor was coated with sweet-smelling carpet of soap shavings.

Mr Way has started his tours at a time when there is a sudden Western fascination with Mumbai's slums, fuelled by the bestselling novel Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts - soon to be turned into a Hollywood movie starring Johnny Depp - in which an Australian bank robber who has escaped from prison hides out in them.

The slums are becoming a tourist attraction even as the city authorities are intent on clearing them away. As part of a masterplan to turn the city into a "new Shanghai", the government is demolishing vast areas, and sending in police armed with lathis [wooden sticks] to chase out the inhabitants by force, and leaving thousands of them homeless.

Mr Way, who lives in Mumbai, says he got the idea for the tours on a trip to Rio de Janeiro. "I went on a favela tour, which I found very interesting, but I felt that it was nothing compared to the activity and energy of the slums of Mumbai," he says.

The tours are about more than making money from a tourist attraction. For one thing, 80 per cent of the profits go to a charity that helps slum-dwellers. "We want to help change perceptions, both in India and internationally, that the slums in Mumbai are simply places of squalor," said Mr Way, who makes most of his money from more conventional tours. "In fact, they're full of hard-working, humble people."

Most startling, he adds that the main slum on his tours, Dharavi, a place with a reputation for grinding poverty, is actually home to a thriving economy, with an annual turnover of £350m. There are even textile businesses that export cloth to the US. There are Americans who have no idea the cloth for their T-shirt was dyed in a fetid slum in India.

So we decided to join one of Mr Way's tours. In our group were two Americans, New Yorker Marissa Stokes, whose husband, Russell, is a Briton from Liverpool, and her brother Ryan Quesnel. The guide, Sunil Adhikari, was a local who did not seem perturbed at the thought of venturing into the notorious slums. First stop was a quick tour through Mahim slum, one of the countless illegal slums that are perched on every empty spot of land in Mumbai. The houses huddle so close together the sound of the street seems distant. Chickens and goats wander freely through the lanes, in the middle of one of the world's biggest metropolises.

It is not a tour for the faint-hearted, this. At one point, we come to a street that is flooded, with sewage floating on the surface of kneedeep monsoon rainwater. Sunil skips nimbly down it along bricks and old plastic buckets the locals have left as stepping-stones, gesturing for us to follow. Then, abruptly, we turn a corner and we are in the light again, the other Mumbai, the world of cars and permanent buildings and money, and the slum is just a wretched huddle of huts behind us.

And then we move on to Dharavi, the biggest slum in Asia. Spread over 432 acres, it is home to more than a million people. We are about to enter a world where ordinary locals are afraid to go, even though it exists in the heart of their city.

Immediately we are in another world. Tiny streets wind like tunnels through buildings packed so close together you can hear the sounds of two televisions competing with each other from houses on either side of the street. Blasts of air hit you from either side: hot air from a bakery, cool air from someone's fan. The "houses" are one room where a family of 10 crowds together. In between are tiny shops, no bigger than an automated photobooth, where the shopkeeper sits under shelves of groceries. This is a city within a city - and in this neighbourhood, it is a city in perpetual night. Because the buildings meet overhead, no light can penetrate, which makes it feel like you are underground.

Ms Stokes, who is working in India, seems charmed. But her brother, who has just arrived on a visit from the US, seems stunned. He wanders through like a man in shock, to see so many people crowded together.

You cannot help feeling like an intruder in these residential neighbourhoods: there is little privacy in the slums, and every open doorway lets onto a family's entire home. Mr Way is careful to stress that his tours are not designed to invade the slum-dwellers' privacy. Tourists are asked not to take photographs except in particular areas where the locals have agreed, and not to hang about in some places but to walk straight through.

But the tour is not about these dark residential tunnels so much as the business quarters of the slum, where Riaz Khan's soap factory is one of the highlights. In a low wooden building, under a roof of exposed rafters, Mr Khan and his workers surround a vast open vat that is slowly cooking over a fire in a space dug out from the floor. Inside the vat is soap, a single giant cake of it.

Mr Khan recycles waste soap from commercial soap factories. He buys up all the slivers and off-cuts and boils them all together in his giant vat. Then he cuts the finished product into bars and sells them as cheap soap for washing clothes. Soap is everywhere in the factory. The floor is soft and springy with it, the air is thick with the mingled fragrances of different brands. The Americans are enchanted, the horror of the open drains momentarily forgotten.

The tour is a tour of scents. Turn a corner and the smell of soap is abruptly replaced by the stink of an open sewer. Around the next corner it is replaced by the delicious smell of a biscuit factory. Beyond that there is suddenly the unbearable stench of drying goat hides at the tanners, so strong it makes you gag.

But Mr Way's tour is up to more than just these sights and smells. At the biscuit factory Sunil pauses to introduce Robin Islam, who is putting the biscuits in smart plastic wrappers. "They will sell these outside the slum," he says. "The people who buy them will never know they were made in Dharavi." It is the same in the textiles quarter, where you arrive in a scene straight out of the movies. You turn a corner and suddenly bright yellow cloth flies in your face, reams of it hanging from a line to dry. You fight your way through, only for the yellow to give way to a wall of red, and then to a third wall of blue.

It is these simple factories, where the cloth is dyed brilliant colours, which export to the US. "I'm proud that we are selling our cloth to America from Dharavi," says Mohammed Younis, manager of one of the factories.

Much of Dharavi's business, like the soap factory, revolves around recycling. There is an entire recycling quarter, full of workshops where labourers are beating the dents out of old oil cans. Furnaces glow red inside the dark workshops, and sparks fly as they plunge the oil cans in to clean off the stains. The streets are lined with huge vats of tiny bits of chopped-up computer circuit boards, floating in water before they are recycled.

"This is what we want to show, that the common perception in India, that Dharavi is just a place of criminals, is wrong," says Krishna Pujari, Mr Way's Indian business partner. "This is a place of thriving legitimate business."

Mumbai is a city of slums. It's not possible to spend more than an hour or two in the city without seeing one from the outside. Even in the wealthiest neighbourhoods, across the street from plush apartment blocks you will find a slum.

The city is so crowded that in the centre, there are one million people to a square mile. It has pushed the rents up to impossible levels, as high as London or New York, in a city where earnings are a fraction. But people keep arriving in their thousands every day from the villages, hoping to make it big in India' scity of opportunity. There is nowhere for them to go but the slums.

But now the influx is putting the slums, which are in areas of prime real estate, under pressure. As part of the "new Shanghai" plan, drawn up for the Mumbai authorities by the consultants McKinsey, illegal slums like the one at Mahim are simply bulldozed, the inhabitants ordered out by the police. The problem is most of them are given nowhere else to go: only those who can prove they have been living in Mumbai for many years will get alternative accommodation.

In Dharavi, the situation is different. The slum has been here so long it has acquired legal status, so it cannot be so easily swept aside. The authorities have announced a major plan to regenerate Dharavi, and transform it from a slum into a modern city quarter, with proper sanitation. But the slum-dwellers are not happy about it.

Mr Way and Reality Tours wisely steer clear of politics. But at the offices of the Dharavi local newspaper, we find Akbar Patel, who runs a local residents' group. "It's not that we're against development," he says. "But we think the whole thing is designed to push us out of Dharavi so the politicians can make money.

"They say that to fund the redevelopment, they are going to sell as much as three-quarters of the land to developers, and leave us just a quarter. They say we will get 225 square feet per family. We have 10 people in each family: how can we live in 225 square feet? At the moment we work downstairs and live upstairs. What this means is that we will be unable to stay, we will be forced to sell our 225 square feet to the developers, and move to some other bad place."

The coming months may be the last chance for tourists to see Dharavi. But it's unlikely it will be the last time that anyone will see slums in Mumbai.

The sign was just around the corner from Leopold's, Mumbai's most famous bar, where the Western backpackers rub shoulders with well-off young locals in designer T-shirts. "Reality Tours and Travel," it said. "See the biggest slum in Asia".

It seemed an unlikely offer, guided tours of slums so notorious that the average Mumbai citizen is too terrified to set foot in them. Slums where, it is said, you can hire someone to kill your enemy and get rid of the body for as little as 60p. Places of legendary squalor, where armies of rats can suddenly fill the narrow lanes, and if you don't look where you're going, you can easily slip into an open sewer.

But that is what a young Briton, Chris Way, is offering. From a tiny office perched above a photocopying shop in Colaba, Mumbai's answer to Soho, the 31-year-old from Stourport, in Worcestershire, sends small groups of tourists on walking tours of the slums.

Inside, behind the piles of rotting rubbish, as we were to discover, lie the most extraordinary scenes: winding streets like subterranean tunnels where the houses on either side touch overhead and the light never enters; warehouses piled to their wooden rafters with tens of thousands of empty metal cans; Rizwan Khan's soap factory, a place that seemed to come out of Willy Wonka, where even the floor was coated with sweet-smelling carpet of soap shavings.

Mr Way has started his tours at a time when there is a sudden Western fascination with Mumbai's slums, fuelled by the bestselling novel Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts - soon to be turned into a Hollywood movie starring Johnny Depp - in which an Australian bank robber who has escaped from prison hides out in them.

The slums are becoming a tourist attraction even as the city authorities are intent on clearing them away. As part of a masterplan to turn the city into a "new Shanghai", the government is demolishing vast areas, and sending in police armed with lathis [wooden sticks] to chase out the inhabitants by force, and leaving thousands of them homeless.

Mr Way, who lives in Mumbai, says he got the idea for the tours on a trip to Rio de Janeiro. "I went on a favela tour, which I found very interesting, but I felt that it was nothing compared to the activity and energy of the slums of Mumbai," he says.

The tours are about more than making money from a tourist attraction. For one thing, 80 per cent of the profits go to a charity that helps slum-dwellers. "We want to help change perceptions, both in India and internationally, that the slums in Mumbai are simply places of squalor," said Mr Way, who makes most of his money from more conventional tours. "In fact, they're full of hard-working, humble people."

Most startling, he adds that the main slum on his tours, Dharavi, a place with a reputation for grinding poverty, is actually home to a thriving economy, with an annual turnover of £350m. There are even textile businesses that export cloth to the US. There are Americans who have no idea the cloth for their T-shirt was dyed in a fetid slum in India.

So we decided to join one of Mr Way's tours. In our group were two Americans, New Yorker Marissa Stokes, whose husband, Russell, is a Briton from Liverpool, and her brother Ryan Quesnel. The guide, Sunil Adhikari, was a local who did not seem perturbed at the thought of venturing into the notorious slums. First stop was a quick tour through Mahim slum, one of the countless illegal slums that are perched on every empty spot of land in Mumbai. The houses huddle so close together the sound of the street seems distant. Chickens and goats wander freely through the lanes, in the middle of one of the world's biggest metropolises.

It is not a tour for the faint-hearted, this. At one point, we come to a street that is flooded, with sewage floating on the surface of kneedeep monsoon rainwater. Sunil skips nimbly down it along bricks and old plastic buckets the locals have left as stepping-stones, gesturing for us to follow. Then, abruptly, we turn a corner and we are in the light again, the other Mumbai, the world of cars and permanent buildings and money, and the slum is just a wretched huddle of huts behind us.

And then we move on to Dharavi, the biggest slum in Asia. Spread over 432 acres, it is home to more than a million people. We are about to enter a world where ordinary locals are afraid to go, even though it exists in the heart of their city.

Immediately we are in another world. Tiny streets wind like tunnels through buildings packed so close together you can hear the sounds of two televisions competing with each other from houses on either side of the street. Blasts of air hit you from either side: hot air from a bakery, cool air from someone's fan. The "houses" are one room where a family of 10 crowds together. In between are tiny shops, no bigger than an automated photobooth, where the shopkeeper sits under shelves of groceries. This is a city within a city - and in this neighbourhood, it is a city in perpetual night. Because the buildings meet overhead, no light can penetrate, which makes it feel like you are underground.

Ms Stokes, who is working in India, seems charmed. But her brother, who has just arrived on a visit from the US, seems stunned. He wanders through like a man in shock, to see so many people crowded together.
You cannot help feeling like an intruder in these residential neighbourhoods: there is little privacy in the slums, and every open doorway lets onto a family's entire home. Mr Way is careful to stress that his tours are not designed to invade the slum-dwellers' privacy. Tourists are asked not to take photographs except in particular areas where the locals have agreed, and not to hang about in some places but to walk straight through.

But the tour is not about these dark residential tunnels so much as the business quarters of the slum, where Riaz Khan's soap factory is one of the highlights. In a low wooden building, under a roof of exposed rafters, Mr Khan and his workers surround a vast open vat that is slowly cooking over a fire in a space dug out from the floor. Inside the vat is soap, a single giant cake of it.

Mr Khan recycles waste soap from commercial soap factories. He buys up all the slivers and off-cuts and boils them all together in his giant vat. Then he cuts the finished product into bars and sells them as cheap soap for washing clothes. Soap is everywhere in the factory. The floor is soft and springy with it, the air is thick with the mingled fragrances of different brands. The Americans are enchanted, the horror of the open drains momentarily forgotten.

The tour is a tour of scents. Turn a corner and the smell of soap is abruptly replaced by the stink of an open sewer. Around the next corner it is replaced by the delicious smell of a biscuit factory. Beyond that there is suddenly the unbearable stench of drying goat hides at the tanners, so strong it makes you gag.

But Mr Way's tour is up to more than just these sights and smells. At the biscuit factory Sunil pauses to introduce Robin Islam, who is putting the biscuits in smart plastic wrappers. "They will sell these outside the slum," he says. "The people who buy them will never know they were made in Dharavi." It is the same in the textiles quarter, where you arrive in a scene straight out of the movies. You turn a corner and suddenly bright yellow cloth flies in your face, reams of it hanging from a line to dry. You fight your way through, only for the yellow to give way to a wall of red, and then to a third wall of blue.

It is these simple factories, where the cloth is dyed brilliant colours, which export to the US. "I'm proud that we are selling our cloth to America from Dharavi," says Mohammed Younis, manager of one of the factories.

Much of Dharavi's business, like the soap factory, revolves around recycling. There is an entire recycling quarter, full of workshops where labourers are beating the dents out of old oil cans. Furnaces glow red inside the dark workshops, and sparks fly as they plunge the oil cans in to clean off the stains. The streets are lined with huge vats of tiny bits of chopped-up computer circuit boards, floating in water before they are recycled.

"This is what we want to show, that the common perception in India, that Dharavi is just a place of criminals, is wrong," says Krishna Pujari, Mr Way's Indian business partner. "This is a place of thriving legitimate business."

Mumbai is a city of slums. It's not possible to spend more than an hour or two in the city without seeing one from the outside. Even in the wealthiest neighbourhoods, across the street from plush apartment blocks you will find a slum.

The city is so crowded that in the centre, there are one million people to a square mile. It has pushed the rents up to impossible levels, as high as London or New York, in a city where earnings are a fraction. But people keep arriving in their thousands every day from the villages, hoping to make it big in India' scity of opportunity. There is nowhere for them to go but the slums.

But now the influx is putting the slums, which are in areas of prime real estate, under pressure. As part of the "new Shanghai" plan, drawn up for the Mumbai authorities by the consultants McKinsey, illegal slums like the one at Mahim are simply bulldozed, the inhabitants ordered out by the police. The problem is most of them are given nowhere else to go: only those who can prove they have been living in Mumbai for many years will get alternative accommodation.

In Dharavi, the situation is different. The slum has been here so long it has acquired legal status, so it cannot be so easily swept aside. The authorities have announced a major plan to regenerate Dharavi, and transform it from a slum into a modern city quarter, with proper sanitation. But the slum-dwellers are not happy about it.

Mr Way and Reality Tours wisely steer clear of politics. But at the offices of the Dharavi local newspaper, we find Akbar Patel, who runs a local residents' group. "It's not that we're against development," he says. "But we think the whole thing is designed to push us out of Dharavi so the politicians can make money.

"They say that to fund the redevelopment, they are going to sell as much as three-quarters of the land to developers, and leave us just a quarter. They say we will get 225 square feet per family. We have 10 people in each family: how can we live in 225 square feet? At the moment we work downstairs and live upstairs. What this means is that we will be unable to stay, we will be forced to sell our 225 square feet to the developers, and move to some other bad place."

The coming months may be the last chance for tourists to see Dharavi. But it's unlikely it will be the last time that anyone will see slums in Mumbai.

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Unread postby DeppInTheHeartOfTexas » Tue Jul 25, 2006 8:33 am

Interesting! Thanks for posting it, GG! Not sure I'm ready to visit yet though... :-O :cool:
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Unread postby Raven » Tue Jul 25, 2006 12:09 pm

I have the feeling that the people that take the tour are not the people that need the tour.
"In my experience, those who do not like you fall into two categories: the stupid
and the envious."
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Unread postby DeppInTheHeartOfTexas » Tue Jul 25, 2006 6:17 pm

Raven wrote:I have the feeling that the people that take the tour are not the people that need the tour.


Well said, Ravenbaba! :cool:
Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming -

Wow! What a ride!

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Unread postby nickidepphead » Tue Jul 25, 2006 6:45 pm

Very interesting, thanks! Just started to read Shantaram, and that brings it even more vividly to life. And WHAT a life it must be, in that part of the world... :-O
* So...directly from the beautiful lips of Johnny Depp - THANK YOU VERY MUCH, Johnny Depp Zone! *

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Unread postby DeppInTheHeartOfTexas » Tue Jul 25, 2006 7:16 pm

nickidepphead wrote:Very interesting, thanks! Just started to read Shantaram, and that brings it even more vividly to life. And WHAT a life it must be, in that part of the world... :-O


If you are ineterested, check out our Shantaram tidbits starting on page 29 in the archives. They will give you some extra info on the book You might want to wait and read the discussion section after you finish the book though because of possible spoilers.
Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming -

Wow! What a ride!

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Unread postby Liz » Wed Jul 26, 2006 1:39 pm

It is not a tour for the faint-hearted, this. At one point, we come to a street that is flooded, with sewage floating on the surface of kneedeep monsoon rainwater. Sunil skips nimbly down it along bricks and old plastic buckets the locals have left as stepping-stones, gesturing for us to follow. Then, abruptly, we turn a corner and we are in the light again, the other Mumbai, the world of cars and permanent buildings and money, and the slum is just a wretched huddle of huts behind us.


It was hard enough to read about this in the book. But to witness it firsthand? No thanks. :-/

:thanks!: GG for passing this along. VERY :interesting: read! :cool:
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Unread postby Raven » Wed Jul 26, 2006 3:06 pm

Liz wrote:
It is not a tour for the faint-hearted, this. At one point, we come to a street that is flooded, with sewage floating on the surface of kneedeep monsoon rainwater. Sunil skips nimbly down it along bricks and old plastic buckets the locals have left as stepping-stones, gesturing for us to follow. Then, abruptly, we turn a corner and we are in the light again, the other Mumbai, the world of cars and permanent buildings and money, and the slum is just a wretched huddle of huts behind us.


It was hard enough to read about this in the book. But to witness it firsthand? No thanks. :-/

:thanks!: GG for passing this along. VERY :interesting: read! :cool:


agreed!
"In my experience, those who do not like you fall into two categories: the stupid

and the envious."

John Wilmot, the 2nd Earl of Rochester in The Libertine by Stephen Jeffreys

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Unread postby gilly » Tue Aug 15, 2006 7:43 am

At least 80% of the money goes to a charity to help the slum dwellers.. :cool: [ I think I'd much rather just give a donation.].Thanks GG. :disco: .I wonder how Greg feels about all this?
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