Last weekend, I spent a day touring different areas of Mumbai and most importantly the Dharavi Slum. The Dharavi Slum is one of the largest slums in the world and sits on a 500+ acre site in the heart of this thriving city. The slum is home to approximately 1M people. And, yes, Dharavi was the location of the movie SlumDog Millionaire.
To set the stage, Mumbai, as much of India appears to be, is a place of truly “haves” and “have nots”. In a city of approximately 23M people, over 50% (11M+) of the local residents living in some level of slums or street dwelling. Other parts of the city are booming with construction of office towers and multi-million dollar residences. The streets are bustling with traffic of cars, taxis, motor bikes and pedestrians, which while something inconceivable to me, seems to be a form of organized chaos with everyone simply going about their day.
Going into my tour, I had a strong impression of what I believed I was about to experience – poverty, filth, and sadness. Yes, many of my beliefs were there. The living & sanitation conditions were indescribable with families living in spaces of less than 10 square meters and open flowing sewage running through the narrow alleys.
What I didn’t see was the sadness that I thought I would experience. It was amazing to see the little children running through these alleys smiling, giggling and playing just as any small child would be doing on a sunny afternoon. The adults were simply going about their day and very proud to show me what they were doing. Everyone was very friendly and wanted to say “hi” at every opportunity.
Everyone seemed to be simply enjoying their day.
A remarkable thing that I learned about the Dharavi Slum was the pure ecosystem that this community has developed to support themselves and each other. There were a number of “industries” in the slum that produce over $650M of annual revenues for the community. Seeing how the people worked and how they had an entire process for their industry was amazing and unforgettable.
Although it is difficult to do justice to the systems I experienced, one industrial ecosystem that I walked through was Recycling. They had a process for recycling virtually everything from plastics to aluminum and metals. They brought in the initial “garbage” and hand sorted it into different pieces of the process. Then they went through a full recycle process were the output was truly reusable product – aluminum ingots and plastic pellets. This finished product was then distributed to third parties that would sell to the world to produce products that you and I use on a daily basis. This process is so efficient, that recyclables from around the world are shipped into the Dharavi Slum to go through the system.
What I experienced was that people were truly grateful for what they had. They were extremely proud of their lives, their community, and their support of each other. It had nothing to do with the amount of material things they had or the amount of money they made. They were simply happy living in the moment and enjoying their contributions to the overall well being of their community.
Leaving the slums, I much better understand the meaning of being grateful for all that I have and not stressing over things that seem to be huge at the time, but are really minimal in the overall scheme of life. I also learned the challenge with pre-judging as we may not have critical information or fully understand the situation. It was a great experience.
Enjoy your day. Be grateful for all that you have. Be happy.