The Indian sun rises and I’m interested in paying a visit to Dharavi, one of the biggest slums in all of India. I kick off first thing, hail a rickshaw and casually offer the driver a fresh collection of honey nuts. I instantly receive an authentic warm smile of gratitude but no discount on the fare. Upon arrival, I decide not to take a guided tour and instead go in solo through the back fence. I have a camera in my backpack but decide against the idea of entering new and poverty stricken terrain with grand spanking new video equipment donated by a good mate Harry Fisher. I am welcomed by a few street kids playing with sticks and I ask where the main street is. They circle around me at first then playfully lead me further inside the slum walls.
The first thing I notice are a few alcoholics stumbling around on the streets, almost everyone on the street is staring at me and some other children instantly come up and start pulling on my clothes. It saddened me to see the children didn’t even say hello, but instead had to put their hands out to say “Money! Money!”. I play a quick game of cricket with some local boys who invite me over and then decide to try a little Chai to relax my nerves. Everything here is surviving on the smell of an oily rag. I sip my 5c chai and notice a man powered ferris-wheel! I see the children laughing and screaming with joy and feel a connection between this mans love for bringing happiness to others and my own.
There are so many kids running and playing around me I start to think that it’s an elaborate distraction, my terrified mind jumps to the worst conclusion. I stand up and feel my pockets in a frightened pop! People look at me in a surprised manner and I realise that I am totally over acting and decide it’s best to just keep moving. I continue down a large working street filled with various deep fried foods, strange plastic pipes and a few other stores. I casually chat with the people who seem open to it and curious eyes continue to pour in. I happily keep bouncing along until a majestic woman helping her friend sell flowers starts talking to me in near perfect English. She quickly discovers I’m from Oz and proudly explains how her husband was originally from Australia. Ms. Davis proceeds to tell me she’s an English teacher at the local school and offers to take me back to her house for a drink of water…yes water.
I agree and we weave our way down the dark inner streets. Occasional white eyes pop out of holes in houses along the way as they curiously watch the foreigner enter their land. We enter a single room no bigger than 2 overweight elephants stacked on top of each other. There are 11 young children sitting in a circle and Ms. Davis introduces me to each and every child. Some of them are her children, others are their friends who are on holiday. She get’s one of her daughters to fetch some water and I embarrassingly refuse having heard far too many stories of the water in Indian villages turning a westerners stomach into a nuclear wasteland. She looks a little hurt and confused but continues chatting anyway. She informs me that the slums were not so poor anymore. Much of the handy work of Mumbai was done in the slums having a total annual turnover of more than 600million dollars. She then decides to bring out the family photo album and shows me some abstract photos of her Australian family. Some photos are of things such as the lampshade or the couch without anybody on it. She loved all of the photos never the less and spoke of one day being able to go to Australia. I give what I can by playing a quick English game with the children that combines counting, names of animals and the sounds of animals all in one.
After sharing a few laughs Ms. Davis asks if I would at all be interested in returning tomorrow to teach more of the children at the school! Although tempting and generous, I thank her for her offer and politely say that I already had plans to arrange my ticket to Goa tomorrow. I ask if it’s possible to take a photo with everybody in the room and instantly realise taking a photo is quite a special occasion for the kids as they all excitedly jump to their feet and arrange themselves nicely. I left Ms. Davis that day feeling light and bright on my feet. I had just entered a slum that my consciousness previously told me was dangerous, full of poverty and difficulty and left feeling loved, respected and cared for.