The Old Woman

During our tour of Dharavi today with Reality Tours, our group stopped together at a leather shop. The men halted their work at their machines and proudly presented us with the finished bags outside of their shop. Pointing to the hand- crafted leather, our guide talked to us about the industrial successes of the city. Dharavi produced $665,000 million of turnover each year, the leader, yet again, reminded us. To our guide, Dharavi was more than a slum: it was a productive work center, a community and the heart of Mumbai. At each stop, he pointed to the smiling children and workers, as though their welcoming faces signified their contentment in their city.

Over and over I tried to tell myself that I could not simply pity the citizens in Dharavi because they did not have what I have. I could not judge their living style or compare it to my own. I “should” be able to see Dharavi in a positive light.

But, I was unable to do so. While I did not doubt that the city felt like home to its residents, I simply did not feel a sense of hopefulness or possibility when I was walking through the streets.

While walking from the leather shop, I saw a woman about 70 years old in age, squatting in the open doorway to her home. Her frail body quivered as she looked up to see our group walk by. I looked away to hide my disgust and pity and tried to shove her image out of my mind. I wasn’t supposed to see her, right? Just looking at this woman wouldn’t allow me to understand that “promise” in Dharavi that I was supposed to see.

Despite visiting several industrial shops and receiving greetings from cheerful children, this clearly malnourished and desperate old woman kept emerging in my head. I had to think more about her. I know I did.

Although my guide wanted me to see promise in the city of Dharavi, this old woman prevented me from taking away this image. To me, her slim, fragile figure was a testament to the poor sanitation and lack of nutrition and healthcare in the slum. Thus, to see hope in Dharavi, I needed to see an attempt to change the sanitation conditions—people cleaning the streets, for example. Instead, when I finished my plastic water bottle, my own guide took the bottle and threw it on the street, next to the rest of the trash on the road.

I kept thinking of the woman as the future of the other girls in Dharavi. Would they work hard their entire lives and end up weak and malnourished like this poor woman?

I look at my future, and try to put myself in the shoes of the other girls growing up in Dharavi. If my future was similar to the life of that woman, I would certainly not be hopeful.