After watching Slumdog Millionaire yesterday morning, I was struck by the fact that much of what I saw in the movie is going on a mere 15 minutes away from where I am sitting. In fact, on our first trip to Dharavi our tour guide pointed out exactly where one of the scenes had been filmed. While the film certainly had a happy ending, what stayed with me was not the song and dance and general warm fuzzy feeling that it ended with. What stayed with me was the pain and suffering that the main characters went through even as young children. I was highly disturbed by the section in which the children were forced to beg. Although the man did give them food and a place to stay, it was atrocious how he used their pain for his own financial benefit. The one scene that stood out to me the most was when the man blinded a child because the pity it evoked would bring in more money for him. The physical act of blinding the child and also the purpose behind it were both revolting to me. While watching the scene I felt as if I was having sympathy pains because my whole body ached to see the child knocked out and blinded. To think that the man could blind a child just for fiscal benefit made me disgusted in him and disappointed in humanity that someone could ever resort to that. Even now when I think on it my stomach feels as if its being ripped out.
That night, as we drove to dinner, I couldn't help but look out the window and wonder if any of the people I was seeing had ever committed an act as atrocious as that. Who is a good man? Who is a bad man? What qualifies them as such? Every time I let my mind wander it would return to that scene and my stomach would drop. How many beggars that I saw were in that situation? How many had been mutilated by another? Floundering in these oppressive thoughts, I wondered how I could have possibly had any hope in what I could do or how I could change anything. And how could a movie have disheartened me so much when the slum itself exuded a feeling of resiliency?
These thoughts did not dissolve until today at our leadership conference. Instead of thoughts of children being maimed, my mind was subjected to some of the most inspiring things I have seen on this trip. Each PA student was assigned to a group of students from one school to facilitate a discussion on community service and create a project that the students could implement. I was working with students from Akanksha foundation who mostly lived in slums. Together, we created a project in which they will connect with families in a nearby slum to raise awareness about the importance of education. At the end of our time together I asked who was truly excited to do the project and one by one every single student raised their hand. We decided to sign a pact that we would truly follow through on the project and I promised to email them so that I could get updates on how they were doing. I was so instilled with a sense of pride and purpose that all my thoughts of helplessness from the previous day were driven from my mind.
Although this transition from hope to helplessness is certainly a roller coaster ride, I truly think that hope outweighs helplessness. I plan to follow up with all the students from my group today and I will help them in any way I can to follow through with our project. The conference was certainly a success and it gave me much more hope than I previously had.