Book #8 – A book based entirely on its cover – Poor Little Rich Slum by Rashmi Bansal and Deepak Gandhi
Rashmi Bansal has some great books to her credit. Her Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish, Connect the Dots and I Have a Dream are all books that contain a wealth of wisdom and inspiration through real-life stories of enterprising and entrepreneurial people that she has met and interviewed.
Poor Little Rich Slum, a collaboration between Rashmi Bansal and Deepak Gandhi is no different. Except for one important element. It’s about Dharavi, Asia’s largest slum area of around 500 acres in Mumbai with a staggering population of more than a million residents. It’s this hard-to-miss arrangement of tightly squeezed huts covered with tin roofs and blue canopies that you see just as your aircraft is approaching Mumbai airport. The inspiration behind many films, including Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire, Dharavi is a myriad of cultures, religions, classes and in this case, ideas.
Most Dharavi residents are immigrants from other states, who came to Mumbai with big dreams of earning more money so they could support their families back home and found themselves welcomed by this place with open arms. This book tells their stories – from the twelve-year old boy who slept on the streets when he first came to Mumbai and went on to own an export business with an annual turnover of 120 million rupees to a teenage ragpicker who goes to school in the morning and supports eight of his family members by collecting plastic waste in the afternoon. Every real-life story in this book teaches a deep and profound lesson that when you are at the bottom, the only way to look is up.
Despite the filthy and crowded surroundings, the spirit of Dharavi is unshakeable because of the strength of millions that rely on each other’s support to survive. Alone they are nothing, but together they make a huge difference. And each time the government has failed, self-reliance has kicked in. Enterprising individuals, groups and NGO’s have set up schools, clinics and educational programmes that provide some much-needed support to slum residents at little or no cost.
I love that the focus of this book is not on the poverty and inhumane living conditions of the slum dwellers, but on how industrious the people are, despite their circumstances. They have no time to sit and feel sorry for themselves, instead they are constantly on their feet figuring out new ways to be more productive, resourceful and helpful to each other.These hardworking folk are doing the best they can with what they have and trying to uplift themselves in this fast-paced, madcap of a city.
Like past experiences, I was bowled over by this edition of Bansal’s book as well. The co-authored book with everyday stories of hope and the right amount of human touch strikes a real cord. You do not, at any moment of your reading experience, feel pity for the slum dwellers, instead you feel happiness and pride in their accomplishments and how they are all trying to help each other out of the quicksand of poverty and despair. Each story is packed with some powerful last sentences that remind us how supremely blessed we are and have much to be thankful for than we care to think.
What could have been better about this book was that none of the photographs were captioned. Some were pretty self-explanatory but in most of them I was trying to find out who the main person being interviewed was because there were multiple pictures in each story.
Dharavi has witnessed and borne the brunt of many a difficult time from epidemics to other calamities. Nevertheless, the soul of Dharavi is eternal and has forever found a way to bounce back and rise again like a phoenix from the ashes.
“We can be happy, we can be hopeful, we can be enterprising – no matter where we are.
The question is – are you?
If Dharavi can, so can I.”
Some other lovely parts and quotes from this book:
1. Economies are not built on capital alone. They are the products of human intent. Dharavi is what you get when a million people hold a common intention. To rise above their circumstances, and make the best lives possible for themselves.
2. Dharavi should be celebrated and replicated.
Because every human being has the potential to be ignited.
Poverty is nothing but a state of mind.
3. “Aage main ek bada insaan banna chahta hoon,” says Afsar. “Bada aadmi ban kar jhopad patti walon ko building mein ghar dena chahta hoon.” (Translation: “I want to become a big man in the future. I want to give the hut dwellers a home in buildings.” says sixteen year old Afsar, a ragpicker.)
Because a life lived for oneself is the biggest waste of all.
4. Ranis of Jhansis astride horses of valour. Charging through the narrow bylanes of the mind.
Which are as difficult to redevelop as Dharavi itself.
Book Rating: 5 out of 5 stars.