In my last post about Mumbai, I talked about my frustrations with not being able to walk all over and take photos. Well, I’m happy to say that things have improved since then! I think I just needed to talk about it and get it out of my system – writing about my frustrations had a slight cathartic effect.
Last week, I joined a free walking tour of Dharavi slum, one of Mumbai’s largest slums (and apparently the slum that was featured in Slumdog Millionaire, which I now feel the need to re-watch). There were four of us: the tour guide, a local who lives in the area; a couple that has been here for two years; and me. The tour guide knew Dharavi inside and out – it’s a city unto itself. There are lots of small businesses in Dharavi, most of which involve producing raw materials by stripping down and recycling old, discarded products. There is also a pottery business there, where the people make their own clay by mixing sand and water.
In Dharavi, it’s hard to tell what is part of the slum and what isn’t. The slum is a mix of permanent concrete rooms and less solid structures. There was a lot more concrete and brick than I was expecting. The Dharavi slum was very different from the townships I saw in South Africa, most of which had very clear boundaries, uniform informal housing, and a spread-out grid layout. In Dharavi, there are lots of little lanes of varying width that connect to other streets; it would be impossible to navigate without a guide!
The businesses in Dharavi are varied. We saw people dyeing clothes, sewing jeans, building suitcases, creating blocks of pure aluminum from discarded pieces in trash, and selling leather goods. It’s unclear who purchases these goods and when, but I’m sure some of them go to the same shops that you or I frequent.
After the tour, I hung out with the couple for a few hours. We went to the Shree Siddhivinayak Temple, one of the most popular Hindu temples in Mumbai. It was quite the process to enter. The area around the temple was fenced in with various security cameras and two controlled entrances with metal detectors. Once inside, no photos were allowed. There was a place to drop off shoes and many stands handing out little baskets of offerings – flower garlands, a tiny coconut, and a tightly closed box of sweets.
We removed our shoes and stood in line, holding the little basket of flowers. As we waited in line, we got closer and closer to the temple’s inner sanctum. This single sanctum used to be the entire temple, but the temple has been expanded and built up over the years to become the complex it is now. The inner sanctum is filled with gold. By the time we got there, everyone around us was pushing forward. We passed our flowers to the temple workers, who touched them to the statues of the gods and passed them back. Then we went out of the sanctum and eventually out of the temple. That was it!
That’s all for now – a day of iPhone pictures after being here for 2 weeks, as of today – but it’s certainly better than nothing. I’ve also been walking around the city more, which I like. I realized that most areas are more pedestrian-friendly than where I’m staying, so it’s good to get out and see other neighborhoods!