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Excursion to Dharavi

March 21, 2014

By Sushrut Patgaonkar

Mumbai is a city of 20 million dreams, we journeyed to Dharavi where a million of those dreams live, work and pray. We walked for 2 hours to get to the heart of the Dharavi slums. Dharavi houses soap and leather goods manufacturing along with recycling industries.

The first stop on our visit was at a micro-theatre. The micro theatre is a small darkened room with a TV; the latest movies are played here. Entry is 0.3 dollars in Indian currency.

We continued on to a metal recycling area where pieces of metal are melted in a furnace where temperatures reach as high as 60 degrees in the summer!


Next we observed the textile printing sheds where they use liquid wax to make prints. As the wax has to be in a constant liquid state there are no fans for ventilation, in the summers temperatures rise to 45-50 degrees.


Later we visited a plastic recycling centre. Here the workers jobs are to separate the plastics by type, this is determined by burning a small part of each piece of plastic and inhaling the fumes – each type gives off a different smell. This job is extremely hazardous to the workers.


I was particularly surprised to see fully automated embroidery machines in Dharavi.

Embroidery machine, Dharavi.

We also saw the living quarters of the workers. The worker’s homes are about the size of the interior of an SUV, the lanes between living spaces are only a foot apart. It is hard to imagine how someone could live in such a claustrophobic place.


The manufacture of metal sub-assemblies happens here in the slums away from the vibrant Mumbai. Most of the industries here in Dharavi employ the use of people and craftsmen rather than machines for finishing and manufacturing.


In this picture a worker is washing a container with an industrial grade solvent which is used to dissolve and remove oil paint from metal. The worker handles the solvent with his bare hands; this is another example of the everyday living and working conditions here in Dharavi.


The life expectancy of the locals in Dharavi is no more than 50 years due to such hazardous conditions.

Dharavi sweets

This is a new type of treat popular among the kids here; it is candy that is wrapped around a stick to resemble a flower.

Overall this trip was an emotional experience for me. I was born and raised in Mumbai but I had never known this part of my country. But despite of all the harsh living and working conditions the people in Dharavi still have smiles on their faces. It really makes you reconsider your ideas about happiness and the value we assign to life.

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