Dharavi: The city within
Edited by Joseph Campana
Harper Collins Rs.
Sayeed Khan Bucklewala came to Mumbai nearly penniless, made Dharavi his home, began polishing belt buckles for a living and emerged, 30 years later, as a
flourishing buckle-maker exporting to some of the biggest clothing brands in the world. It’s a typical Dharavi story, made even more typical by Slumdog Millionaire and the slew of books about the sprawling settlement that came before and after the movie.
But in Dharavi: The City Within, a collection of essays edited by Joseph Campana, Bucklewala’s story acquires greater meaning. It becomes part of a large, intricately-woven narrative of the slum’s inherent complexities and contradictions that help Campana build a case for extreme caution while putting in place any kind of redevelopment plan.
Comprising 24 essays by well known Mumbai journalists and writers, this is undoubtedly one of the more interesting volumes on Dharavi. The buckle-maker’s story features in Annie Zaidi’s essay on the slum’s business entrepreneurs, which tells the tale of Dharavi’s own four-page, corruption-exposing newspaper, Sapna Times. Other essays, by authors including Sonia Faleiro, Sameera Khan, Meena Menon, Jerry Pinto and Suhani Singh, cover everything from how Dharavi grapples with communalism to its underworld dons, mini movie theatres, enterprising schools and the lives of its women.
Perhaps the most gripping story in the book is S Hussain Zaidi’s account of his meeting and interview with Chhota Rajan aide DK Rao. The gangster is as much a Dharavi character as the formidable Hanumanti and Laxmi Kamble who feature in Sharmila Joshi’s essay, The Women of Wasteland about the unassuming mother-daughter duo who struggle to make a living in the area’s mammoth plastic recycling industry. Despite setbacks such as thefts, bankruptcy and a fire that razed their business six years ago, the industrious unit persists, much as Dharavi itself does. As the editor, Campana curates the book cleverly, balancing intimate stories with essays that provide a larger picture of the slum.
Jeb Brugmann’s The Making of Dharavi’s ‘CitySystem’, for instance, offers an engaging analysis of how land and location have been crucial to the growth of the area’s complex migrant economy, while Shirish Patel, in an essay debating Dharavi’s impending makeover, exposes the inherent contradictions in the definition of redevelopment. In the final section, which carries an excerpt from Kalpana Sharma’s Rediscovering Dharavi, published in 2000, the book makes its primary argument — that no proposed plan for the redevelopment of this city within the city would be acceptable if it does not consider the complex needs and desires of the people who inhabit Dharavi.
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