Looking Back at Dharavi: Pre-Pandemic
My husband and I were on a small-group tour in India from February 2–18. We crisscrossed the subcontinent by plane, train, bus, boat and rickshaw—awed by the diversity of the land, people, art, architecture, flora, fauna, food, and habitats. It was a trip of a lifetime, taken on the eve of unprecedented worldwide upheaval, though we didn’t know that at the time. Within a few short weeks of our departure from Mumbai, the Indian government had imposed a lockdown on 1.3 billion people in response to the novel coronavirus pandemic. These are strange and frightening times. As we hunker down in required isolation at home in Canada, I look back at the photos from our trip with a solemn, quieter awe. The captures that stand out for me most are the ones I caught on my iPhone in Dharavi: we were instructed not to use our cameras but smartphones, used discreetly, were okay. According to our guide, Oves, an eloquent and gregarious twenty-something man (Dharavi-born and bred, and proud of it), Dharavi is one of the world’s largest, most densely-populated slums. Dharavi impressed all of us in the group: it was a great compression, a multi-ethnic and multi-religious settlement, with an active and enterprising economy of leather, textiles, pottery, and recycling—perhaps the recycling hub of all Mumbai.
Striking juxtapositions of sights and sounds. Children’s open faces, a feeling of safety.
BIO: Elana Wolff is a Toronto-based writer of poetry and creative nonfiction. Her Kafka travel-pieces have appeared in Wanderlust. Her most recent Kafka-quest essays are featured in The Bangalore Review, Eclectica Magazine, and GRIFFEL 2. Her sixth poetry collection, SWOON, has just been released on Guernica Editions.
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