Monday, September 27, 2010

A Slum as a Gift?


Who would give his wife a slum colony as a birthday gift? Well it has been done, by our own inimitable poet and screenplay writer.

While I would defend slum-livers as the people we forgot in our race towards super-power-dom what would make anyone glamorise and thus sensationalise a slum? Kinky as it might sound to me, I think of it as going a bit too far. Not that the pair hasn’t been known to be off the beaten track. Well, sort of.

Slums are the curses of humankind. I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone. No, not even a visit. I have visited and passed through some of the worst. Many people praise it as a unique eco-system, a novel community, an experiment in urban living and such like. They want to be different, they want to glamorise it. But have they been inside a place which is accessed by a narrow strip through which only one man can pass, that too if he bent his head, where sewage runs in open runnels and into putrid gutters emitting the stench of a thousand bodies? It is also where criminals rule the roost and brazenly intimidate innocent people.

Years ago a peon in the office asked me for leave to go home. I asked what happened. He replied his aunt has been murdered in a quarrel at the water tap. He lived in Dharavi, one of the most fearsome slum in the world. Killings are an everyday affair here. It isn’t funny or glamorous for the people who live there. It’s actually the worst kind of life.

And a rich and successful artiste glamorising a slum by gifting his wife one is somehow lessening its gravity, lessening the very work they are doing to improve the lives of people living in them.

China has the worst slums, I am told. Brazil too has the worst. India has the very worst among them, I have been informed. Yet they call India, China and Brazil as the fastest growing economies in the world. Perhaps they should ask why?

These countries are taking away the wealth of the poor, giving it to the rich and then unceremoniously pushing the wretches into slums. I had blogged about the increasing wealth in the hands of the wealthy in this post. The number of millionaires in the U.S., India, China and Brazil has doubled and as for the poor nobody asks whether the poor are poorer.

Fact is the rich are richer and the poor are poorer. We say they are poor because they didn’t exercise their choices. The problem is they didn’t know the choices that were offered to them and like fools they got carried away by false promises which never materialised. They got carried away by the promise of jobs, food, water, electricity, roads and healthcare. Yet all these sectors are in shambles today.

Success can make people derisive. I have a sneaking suspicion that the gift was a way of disapproving what the wife was doing, not approving it. 

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