Choose to focus

Dharavi. For most citizens of Mumbai, Dharavi is a giant eyesore of India that most “only see in their cars.” After visiting ourselves, the economic teacher at Cathedral School even considered us “brave” for doing so. Even for Americans citizens, who know very little about India, Dharavi supports the Slumdog Millionaire expectation and forms a very one-sided view of Mumbai. No one would ever expect anything positive to come from such a detrimental place. Yes, I will admit that the conditions of the residents were atrocious and the smells were appalling. Imagine, you wind between dark narrow alleys that people make the entryway to their home, which, in some cases, is smaller than a closet. You walk through carefully as you duck your head to avoid the hanging masses of jumbled electric cables and dodge puddles you hope are just mud and water. Children play- on a giant pile of trash while another young boy defecates on the pile as well. Children run around him as if his action means nothing, as you stare in disbelief. People wash themselves in the street splashing you with their bath water and a mother picks lice out of her daughter’s hair on her stoop. The tour guide mentions that you can not stay long around the melting plastic, but its workers continue their job sitting their as they have been for way to long for their health. Dharavi opens your eyes to a whole new level of living. It will disgust you, break you, shock you, however something about it is almost pleasing.

Throughout all of its struggles you see the hope all the articles are talking about. Despite all their difficulties the residents face, they still smile at us, intruders into their home. They complete their job with pride, cooperation, and humility- skills that even some of the best business in the world lack. A leather company brags about how long its been in Dharavi and it will be there “4 forever.” The potter community, the oldest residents in Dharavi, boast about how their forefathers built it. No matter how troubled their community is, most residents are proud. Everyone depends on one another to complete tasks, Hindu and Muslims put asides their differences to make a living. Each man realizes that he is just a part of a larger process of producing a good. Some pick trash, some sort it, some clean it, some melt it, some dry it, some deliver it-- no job is too small, because it all produces the final good for sale. Dharavi residents realize their modest goals and understand the smallness of humans in the universe. Although we can’t do much to radically change the world, realistically we can make the best of our situations. Dharavi residents really take this idea to heart. We forget that Dharavi is the land of opportunity for rural Indians. The New York City for immigrants to the United States. It may come with struggles, but at least its better than many of the poor in India. In Dharavi, there is at least a job, regardless of the conditions.

Although they conditions are terrible, the innovation and craftsmanship in Dharavi are unbelievable. With the little they have, the residents do more than I ever dreamed possible. Making business out of basically trash, printing gorgeous designs bought by large corporations, and making some of the finest leather goods in India are some of the many ways residents have made the most of their disadvantaged situation.

I think we are wired to always see the worst in the situation and totally disregard anything. We nitpick any situation to find even the smallest faults. It is so easy in Dharavi to be overwhelmed by all the negative aspects to lose value of all its positive aspects as well. Even my host mother kept emphasizing the importance of realizing the positivity of Dharavi. I think that my experience in Dharavi definitely makes me want to see things more positively. You can choose to focus on the negative, or realize the small positive steps.