Friday, March 23, 2012

From the Slums to Beverly Hills of Mumbai

What has always been interesting for me, and has happened especially on my SE Asia trip, is going from simplicity and lack of materialism to excess materialism within hours or even just one day.  There is such a wide gap between the social classes, especially in India going from extreme wealth to extreme poverty.  
Prior to coming to Mumbai I had applied to volunteer with the Magic Bus PLUG they are an organization that works with street children and their mission is quite amazing.  They had not yet processed my application so I decided to take matters into my own hands: go the worst slum in Mumbai and find a NGO.
Yesterday in Mumbai I explored the Dharavi slums off looking for NGOS.  From stepping over a dead rat to having the door opened wide for me when going in stores.  To people working on the streets in extreme heat to every doorway and inside store restaurant being full air conditioned.  To paying 10 rupees for a coconut to a $5 dollar coffee in a posh Chocolateteria.  People sitting on the ground or on wooden boards to sitting in Mercedes.  It is the reality of Mumbai-the wide gap between poverty and excess wealth.
Walking around the Dharavi slums-supposedly the worst in Asia- I was not focused on the dirt, filfth, or the poor conditions of living rather I was impressed with the amount of creativity and the strong sense of community.  When materialism is taken away, people are forced to be rely on their survival tactics.   People are forced to be creative and use traditional means of living rather than relying on materialism and for me-this is admirable.  The food looked incredibly good and fresh.  Most of the kids were wearing clean clothing and dressed nicely.  A group of boys followed me around and I shared some of my dance moves with them. Kids were playing with marbles or large size game arcades, little girls playing hopscotch, kids playing  whiffle ball, and adults playing cards.   
Asking people about the local NGOs, people had little information and many looked at me like, “What are you doing here”, which is understandable.  A local man recommended heading to the big temple to see if they had information.  I walked down a small alley, which was not even where the temple was located and I come across my fear: a huge pit bull.  He opens his mouth up wide where I can see his teeth and his eyes look vicious.  His bark is loud and his teeth get very close to my leg.  I run away quickly and am turn around to see him staying put in the back, but still barking.  I honestly thought I was going to get bit again, but thankfully it did not happen.
Continuing my adventure through the slums, I meet my jolly friend selling the Shiva paintings.  A chunk of love sitting barefoot with his belly hanging over his pants, a white beard, and a clean white t-shirt.  He lives almost one hour away by train, but has had his shop in Dharavi for 20 years.  I tell him that I love the positive joy that he is spreading to me. He tells me about his daily routine and says, “I am very happy with life.” I can tell he is very happy as his face is beaming with happiness.  It may take blocks and blocks down the streets of New York to find a man excuding this kind of real happiness.  He is not the first among others who are happy and welcoming.  The man making the large hot pots of Biryani, the woman helping her child ride a bike, the kids being kids, the young mechanic working on cars, the men outside the mosque laughing and drinking Chai, etc. 
The people in the slums looked happier than the people in Bandura- the Beverly Hills of Mumbai.  The next day I went to Bandura where the shops, cafes, expensive salons, malls, and hotels. It reminds me of Beverly Hills with European cafes, expensive food/coffee, and malls.   I found a posh place with Chocolate fondue and churros playing house music and looking like a 5 star hotel lobby-loved it.  Checked out the promenade and watched the sunset at the beach.  From slums to posh, the slums win with excitement while the posh is still a place I feel comfortable and enjoy the atmosphere. From one extreme to the next... this is Priscilla's life whether staying in a nice place to staying in a village hut with no running water and electricity.  This is what makes me appreciative of the things that many take for granted...

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