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Slumdog guide for dummies

What are Delhi slums like? Are the kids there as smart as Jamal?

india Updated: Feb 25, 2009 16:33 IST
Mayank Austen Soofi
Mayank Austen Soofi
Hindustan Times

Slums are in focus like never before, thanks to the eight Oscars they got an indie film crew. While Dharavi in Mumbai has already spawned the trend of ‘slum tourism’, Delhi has no such dynamic hub of prosperity in adversity. But should you want to see for yourself how the ‘other half’ lives, we give you a handy primer, taking the Rajiv Gandhi Jhuggi Jhopri camp in east Delhi as an example.

What are slums like?
From outside, you might think the first big gust of wind will sweep them away. But in truth, slum dwellings are tenacious — like the people who live in them.

What to expect inside?
Squalor, clogged drains, slush-filled alleys, but also — you’ll be surprised — happy families and neighbourly bonding, like in any colony anywhere in the world.

Can I visit a home?
Very conveniently. Slum dwellers don’t shut themselves behind locked doors. Walking past the houses, you can usually see what’s going on inside — somebody sleeping, somebody cooking, somebody staring, somebody bawling, somebody getting close to somebody else. Should you want to get in, try acting a little lost and maybe in need of some rest on a hot day. Ask, and you shall get an invitation.

What about privacy?
Washing dishes, brushing teeth, showers… all take place at the same public hand pump. On his field trip, this reporter found long queues outside a community loo. A funny sight: people clutching their tummies to ward off the ‘pressure’. The same thing you saw in Slumdog Millionaire.

Are our slums like Dharavi?
Nah. This place, at best, could attract a documentary film crew from JNU. But Hollywood? Forget it. There’s no Dharavi energy or enterprise here. At least, not visibly.

Are the kids street-smart like Jamal?
Well, there was no kid caked in crap; probably because Danny Boyle doesn’t live in Delhi. Kids here are smarter than Jamal, if anything. Hardly anyone appeared to be a future chaiwalla, or a gangster, or a gangster’s moll. Instead, the kids were getting ready for school.