‘Be aware that everyone will stare at you. Don't take any pictures and keep your head low for any hanging cables. The passageways may be narrow and the stench may be not what you're used to so remember this is their home.'
‘Right' I said preparing myself for visiting Dharavi Mumbai, the second largest slum area in Asia (the largest in Karachi, Pakistan).
‘You want to play?' asks one lady playing softball as I walk past.
I take the racket and give her a short game to the delight of the onlookers then continue my journey through the maze of passageways until we come across an open space strewn with litter. Kids are playing with sticks they have found in the rubbish and they all swarm me curious to find out more about this white person on their homeland. But I don't feel threatened. Instead they make me feel so welcome.
The stench is bad. There are 8 toilets for each 150 people and diseases such as Dengue Fever, Typhoid and Malaria are rife.
Yet these people have ambitions; the young people I meet aspire to be teachers, engineers, bank managers and have dreams.
As my tour continues, the city within a city unravels itself.
Over 1 million people live within this 1.75 sq km area, the majority working within one of the thousands of industries that generates £350 million a year. No one is idle in the commercial area.
I pass workers sorting plastics, making leather products and soap, baking poppadoms and restoring paint cans. There are so many businesses here that export all over India and even as far as the UK, yet the wages are low with companies reaping the profits.
Projects run by Reality Tours give 80% of the money back to the community and have helped set up a community centre and sports schools, giving them the chance to strive for something more. Three girls from here have even been nominated for the India National team.
It's hard to comprehend how they can live and work in such conditions to merely survive day to day. I feel privileged to walk amongst and meet these amazing people who live within such dire conditions: a whole family sleeping, eating and breathing within a room barely the size of my bathroom. Yet they radiate such warmth and compassion within their smiles.
You know the best thing that I liked about your post is that nowhere you seemed to look down upon these people. You looked through their poverty and poor conditions, their dreams and aspirations. You really have a big heart ❤ and understanding to perceive it all so deeply.
Thank you Suraj x