Real Development

Inclusion, participation, democracy, we shout silently from our desks in our sound proof, air conditioned classroom. We need Development, we shout – and Real Development, not Western Development. There are communities whose labels we like to keep in our back pockets (we are development studies students, after all) – slum dwellers, tribals, homeless, lower income groups, villagers, Dalits, minorities. Their voices are being suppressed. It enrages us. We have to want to develop them – no, we are from the new age of Development; we have to want to help them to develop themselves. That means help them make their lives more like ours, because we definitely don’t want our lives to be more like theirs. They are being excluded, we say, shaking our heads at the injustice of the establishment. They are being alienated. They are being deprived of their right to live (Article 21). They have no Recreation, no real Shelter, no Real Education, no Say.


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Blog post 4: Dharavi Diaries

When people ask me which area Dharavi is in, I never know what to say. I’ve finally settled on, “It’s an area by itself, really.” When my friend came to Dharavi for the first time, she looked around the apartment blocks and said, “Wait…so there are proper buildings in Dharavi?” Yesterday, at an idliwala’s stall, I ate the first decent could-pass-for-South-Indian sambar that I’ve had in Bombay. We peer into Dharavi Nature Park, breathing in the different smelling air, listening to the alternate chirps of sparrows and warning screeches of crows; the same Nature Park that shares a border with the part of the Mithi nadi (“It’s not the Mithi nadi, it’s the kaala nadi!” the local boys say, laughing) from which dead bodies are pulled out every day.

Dharavi cannot be contained, or described, in a word, or a sentence, or perhaps not even an essay. It is full of harmonizing contradictions. It’s a different world every time I go there. It surprises me every day.

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Blog post 3: Right inside a pedestrian subway

For a student of development and culture studies, and a reader of Foucault, the idea of urban public space and alternate uses of urban public space is exciting and politically charged. Gloria Steinem once said of India, “It adds, but it never subtracts.” I was having a discussion with some classmates and teachers about the implications of widening the footpath on the main road of Dharavi to make sure schoolchildren could walk safely, and Nitya said, “It’s not going to help. Even widening the road by a foot will give bhel puri walas enough space to come start a stall by the next day. People will still walk on the road.” From my academically cushioned armchair (and probably even after I stand up) it’s an exhilarating thought, the idea of how resourceful Indians are, setting up their business wherever they can, seeing it as a fight against the system (I think for development studies students, everything can be seen as a fight against the system), a fight for space that does not exist in western thinking, creating space, conjuring it up, like dancers; giving a new meaning and purpose to urban space, transforming it, like graffiti artists.

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Blog post 1: Humari Pyaari Mithi

“Don’t call this river dirty,” the boys at Mahim Creek said in a pained tone about the filthy river they lived on the banks of. I had seen a month (at least) old corpse of a dog floating around in the river an hour ago.

But, you know, all the garbage that comes from upriver… “Woh sab woh side mein hai, idhar kuch nahi hai.”

But doesn’t it harm your skin, swimming in it…? “It’s magic water! If you swim in it, it will cure your rashes.”

But those messy floods during the monsoon… “It’s even more fun in the rain!”

“Don’t call it dirty,” they implored. “Everyone calls it dirty. It’s not dirty. It’s beautiful and it’s very special to us.”

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Railway Chronicles: Gridlock

It is very easy to get angry at a woman who pushes you off a moving train. It felt like a reasonable reaction too. Especially at Bandra, which is a queen at making you feel like your face and your hair are playing tug of war with your brain. Sometimes I stand in the train with my bag on my head wondering what a world in which single file entry and exit onto the train was enforced would be like. It seems so ideal. But being a development studies student and an urban Indian, with a newfound political identity, I am suspicious of anything ideal. What’s ideal, anyway? At what point in our lives do we start to prefer ideal to human?

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