Dharavi is the largest slum of Asia on the way from the airport to the southern lobe of Bombay, with at least 500,000 inhabitants. In a leather dyeing, a worker sprayed brownish color, which takes the breath away, in an embroidery young men routinely use the buttons of machines of Chinese origin, from a hall smells of fresh pastries. And here in a restaurant an Indian slum boy is photographed.
The most famous slum of Mumbai has been pictured by Kristian Bertel, a slum located in the middle of the city, on a 175-hectare site between the Mahim district in the west and Sion in the east. He who has seen Slumdog Millionaire knows the place. Dharavi, the largest slum of Mumbai and supposedly also the largest slum of Asia.
Mumbai, the city that never sleeps
Maximum City. City of Dreams. The city that never sleeps. Mumbai, a city of superlatives has many names. With an estimated nineteen million inhabitants, the exact number nobody knows exactly. Many of them are not a real Mumbaiian, but have come from other parts of Maharashstras, from Gujarat, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar to Mumbai to find their happiness and to lead a better life. A life like from the dream factory Bollywood. A life in prosperity. In the city of dreams. In the city, where thirty of the sixty-eight billionaires live in India. Located in the Malabar Hill villas, the chic restaurants and five-star hotels on the Marine Drive, Juhu and Bandra in stylish bars and clubs that are not inferior to those in the Western world. The big business in the glittering office towers in the financial district of Bandra. Mumbai, one of the oldest economic centers in the world, the bridge between Europe and Asia, has always been a seeking place for fortune-tellers and travelers like the photographer traveling in India.
In fact, 62 percent of the population of Mumbai live in slums. A total of about nine million people live in city districts like Dharavi, the largest slum in central Mumbai, where up to one million people are struggling on just two square kilometers.
60 percent of Mumbai residents live in a slum
For many, who have come to Mumbai, however, the dream of a better life has burst. They do not live on the Malabar Hill. But in one of the 2,000 slums of the city, as nearly sixty percent of the population. The slums of Mumbai are the first to come in contact with as a newcomer, at least when you arrive by plane. The shuttle bus, which takes you to the terminal at Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport, and the huts made of corrugated iron and blue plastic planes, separates only a wire mesh fence. The most famous slum of Mumbai is located in the middle of the city, on a 175-hectare site between the Mahim district in the west and Sion in the east. He who has seen Slumdog Millionaire knows the place. Dharavi, the largest slum of Mumbai and supposedly also the largest slum of Asia. Since the success of Danny Boyle's film from 2008, Dharavi has become famous throughout the world beyond Mumbai's borders and beyond the borders of India. So famous that since then, guided tours of Dharavi have been offered.
The photographer would first visit the industrial area, explains an Indian man, who grew up in Dharavi and seems to know everyone here. On the left and right of the narrow path are crates and barrels with all kinds of metal scrap, old clothes hangers, spray cans, battered bumpers, fenders of bicycles. The photographer's eyes start to burn, I have to cough. The air is impregnated with dust and smoke.
In Dharavi, the heart of Mumbai pictured
Dharavi is the heart of Mumbai, in two senses. The area, which is located between two railway lines, on which the trains of the Western Railway and the Central Railway run, is shaped like a heart. At the same time, it is one of the economic centers of Mumbai. Because Dharavi is not only the home for a good one million people, but also accommodates about 15,000 small businesses. Over 665 million dollars are implemented here every year. Since the first non-Mumbaikar settled in 1882 on the dry marshland, shops are made in Dharavi. The first ones to settle on the then free country, which seemed to be none to belong to, were the Gujarathis with their ceramics workshops. Then came the Chambhar, the Gerber from Maharasthtra, the tailors from Uttar Pradesh and the immigrants from Tamil Nadu who worked in the tanneries. The pottery workshops, leather factories and tailoring shops still exist today, with recycling companies.
Mumbai is also known for its colonial buildings, its style office complexes and two heritage sites. The city counts a total of thirty-one skyscrapers with a height of more than 100 meters led by the Imperial Towers, which are the tallest buildings in the city with 256 meters to this day. Constructed a few years ago the futuristic building Residence Antilia is the most expensive residential building in the world.
Residential districts of Dharavi, India
The residential district of the Hindus begins a few corners further. Altars with figures of Hindu deities and women in colorful saris, the typical image. Life and work are mixed up in the Hindus. On a square are conical shaped bats made of bast, on which lie thin, light fladen, which dry in the sun. If you order a pappadam from Dharavi in a restaurant in Mumbai Papadums, the crispies of lentil flour, most restaurants in Mumbai will get their papadums from here. Directly next to it pallets stacked with ceramics, brown clay pots of all sizes. The Kumbharwada Pottery Colony is the oldest part of Dharavi. For more than 150 years, pottery has been produced here by more than 2,000 pottery factories supplying not only Mumbai, but all Maharashstra with their goods. Almost every hut in the slum runs a television and a fan, some walling on a second floor for their home. Water is freely accessible here, in contrast to other poor areas of Bombay. Because an average of 100 families have to share a water tap there, the slum dwellers often tap into the pipelines of the municipal water supply or buy water from tank trucks. The precious water stigmatizes a kind of a slumlord, which is associated with a politician at inflated prices.
Sounds and smells of Dharavi, India
Many places you go in Dharavi you can hear sounds, sounds that come from the kilns. The walls in the small, open workshops are black in front of soot. It is hot and dark inside. Men are standing in front of stoves, the white longhis and vestures are no longer so white, the faces and upper bodies are shining with sweat. Here the metal scrap is melted. By the way, he comes from all over the world to Dharavi to be recycled here.
The photographer is running on through the road traffic. Past sewing machines where sewing machines rattle, women and men sit on the floor and sew t-shirts and tunics. Mainly for the local market, but the photographer read that some European designers can be sewn here. In one of the open houses, plastic wallets are stacked with biscuits.
Production and recycling in the slum city
Tons of salted pastries are produced here in Dharavi, which supplies all of Mumbai. Dozens of crates and tins of plastic scrap announce our next stop: Dharavi Plastic Recycling Plant. Plastic waste from all over the world is sorted, washed, melted and processed into granules, which are sold to the industry. Everything by hand, a heathen work, harmful to health, just like the aluminum recyling. Respiratory protection masks or protective clothing, misuse. The business with plastic granules from Dharavi is booming. Many of the workers have come to Dharavi because of a recycling job from other parts of India. Without family, without flat. They sleep in the factory. On the floor. Or on the top of the roof from where the extent of Dharavi opens up. Underneath us corrugated metal roofs as far as the eye can see. To the north you can see Bandra's office towers, the Marine Drive to the south.
More than half of the families have lived here for more than sixty years. Most work in Dharavi. Only about a quarter has a job outside the slum, one of the coveted jobs in the public sector, in an authority, or as a policeman or firefighter. Many still stay in Dharavi. On the one hand, they have always lived in Dharavi and have their social network.
Living in Dharavi without running water and own toilet, but with TV
He continues to a leather store, where you can buy directly the handbags, laptop bags, cell phone covers and wallet produced in Dharavi. Dharavi is not only a starting point for interested travelers, but also for scientists and students. They come here to understand the complex construct Dharavi, this social fabric of a self-governing city in the city whose inhabitants have built up a kind of economic center from scratch. You should watch where you are going, maybe the photographer has to move his head a bit, warns an Indian man. Now he knows, why someone once said to him, that one should wear solid shoes. The concrete slabs stand out from the ground, he almost stumbled because he paid more attention to the fact that he do not stick with his head or hang on the hanging cables. It is slippery, the drainage channels run over and the cloudy wastewater mixes with the dust to a greasy film. There is no running water. Also the houses do not have their own toilets. There is a community stadium for 1,400 inhabitants. But nevertheless, it does not smell of cloaca in Dharavi. Either after three weeks the photographer's nose has already grown accustomed to the smell of public toilets or the public defacing, which he always meets again. The drainage channels have let the city build. He imagines how it is here in the monsoon. The lack of proper sewerage is seen in the river, which runs along the main street, next to the street and flows into the Arabian Sea. It is dark and damp here in the narrow streets. Between the walls are perhaps two meters. No light beam penetrates here. The doors are open. In the rooms on the ground floor children sit on the floor with their homework. Women who sew. The districts of Dharavi are divided into religious communities. Sixty percent of the inhabitants of Dharavi are Hindus, thirty-three percent Muslims and six percent Christians.
Pictures of slum life in India
More than half of the families have lived here for more than 60 years. Most work in Dharavi. Only about a quarter has a job outside the slum, one of the coveted jobs in the public sector, in an authority, or as a policeman or firefighter. Many still stay in Dharavi. On the one hand, they have always lived in Dharavi and have their social network. On the other hand, because rents are relatively favorable. And whoever has a house of his own may be reluctant to give up. Buying a house in Dharavi now costs 22,000 euros. Who dwells in Dharavi is not one of the poorest of the poor, who called Dharavi a five-star slum. Most houses have electricity, many even have a TV. The electricity network is improvised, actually illegal, as is the whole house.
Dharavi is something like a showcase slum, which tourists can also explore on a slum tour. There flourish small leather and textile factories, pottery, bakeries that even deliver to luxury hotels in Bombay. Tourists often make a short stopover before the departure to cover up with cheap leather clothing. 600 million dollar sales make the stores in Dharavi per year.
Masterplan for Bombay
The vacated areas are likely to be used by the construction libraries for office buildings and luxury apartments. One of the best schools in Bombay was invited to give free lessons, where there will be two schools for the rich and the poor. The people in Bombay are turning their heads over the slums. They are simply not used to going to the same schools. A masterplan for Bombay a private initiative called Mumbai First, has made more than just removing the slums. It is a concept and a vision of how Bombay should look in 2025, looking from his desk at old engravings showing the city ruled by the British in the nineteenth century. Entrepreneurs like the influential people of Tata group have begun to develop a master plan that includes a metro and a twenty-one kilometer long pier to open up the hinterland. Again a few corners further. A large wide street. Black and yellow taxis are waiting for customers, mingling with carts on which goods are transported. Left and right supermarkets, banks, restaurants, videotheques. Is he still in Dharavi. Yes, he is still in Dharavi. This commercial street, which could be all over India, is part of the slum. He stops at one of the many small cafes, mostly frequented by men who drink their morning tea. With a hot chai and freshly baked muffins, an Indian man tells me about himself and his family.
From the slum to the luxurious residences
The future of Dharavi is uncertain. Even more than once, the slum was to be razed to the ground. As early as 2004, the government had signed an appropriate decision. With its central location in the middle of the city, Dharavi is a coveted land for investors. They have ambitious plans. A new city in the city is to emerge, with apartment high-rise buildings, shopping arcades, a golf driving range. Schools and hospitals. The inhabitants of Dharavis are to be relocated to high-rise buildings. Each family should be allocated an apartment free of charge, twenty square meters. After all, almost twice as much space as today. With running water, a real kitchen, a tiled bathroom. A few such high-rise buildings have already been built, some families have already moved. But it is lonely in these high-rise buildings, especially for the women. The social network, which is missing in the streets of Dharavi. And then one can ask oneself about where the farms are and if a leather workshop is in a high-rise. Other questions can be where the pottery industry is and the Papadum drying on the balcony, as well as the recycling plastic in the living room. Many residents of Dharavis do not want to move. They do not want to lose their social fabric. They fear their livelihood. Not even a quarter has a job outside the slum. The planned apartments would not be enough for all. The alternative would be homelessness. Or move to another slum, outside the city. Or in the airport. But that too is to be demolished. It remains uncertain for the inhabitants of Dharavis, who have built up an existence here.
Pictures of Dharavi are available online
Danish photographer Kristian Bertel (b.1980) is recognised as an image-maker and his photography is online a lot of places. This illuminating new series of photos from India will tell the stories of the people living in different communities around India, through Kristian's beautifully arresting, color photography.
"- People's faces are telling stories, which I think is very interesting to photograph. I have a keen interest in photographing people. Because all people look different, they will probably be my most interesting subjects also in the years to come. I choose my subjects based on many things, for example if they are dressed in traditional clothing or if a subject has a great expression or is standing in a great scenery", the photographer says. For further information, please:
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More pictures from India
If you are interested you see more the pictures by the photographer. In the slideshow below, which also appears on the photographer's website you can see a range of images from India.
See the slideshow | press here