Dharavi Municipal School: Cityscape & Childhood
Director: Richa Hushing; Cinematographer: Tapan Vyas
Duration: 00:08:46; Aspect Ratio: 1.778:1; Hue: 282.841; Saturation: 0.053; Lightness: 0.335; Volume: 0.165; Cuts per Minute: 49.848; Words per Minute: 72.091
Summary: Dharavi is a settlement popularly termed as the Asia’s biggest slum. Known to be one of the densest and most layered human settlements in the world, the origin of Dharavi can be traced back to early 20th Century, at the height of the industrialization in the region. Dharavi is was originally located at the northern periphery of Bombay, but with boundaries of this ever-growing city constantly extending on all sides it has come to occupy prime location today. Today, according to official records, Dharavi is marked as an area spread over 175 hectares, where as many as 18,000 people crowd into a single acre. But considering the large presence of unofficial/illegal migration influx, the real number of people living in Dharavi is likely to be much more. Currently, Dharavi is in the eye of a storm as the prime land that it occupies needs to be ‘re-developed’ to keep in pace with the economic globalization that is sweeping the city. Bombay, the supposed trade capital of India and India, the media acclaimed neo-Asian tiger of the international market, needs to acquire more commercial land and the old fashioned settlement of Dharavi must go in order to facilitate that.
As there is influx of people into Dharavi, there is also an exodus of people out of Dharavi. While most of the women in Dharavi work in home based trades, men often venture out, some even migrate to other countries in order to earn enough to eventually shift out of the infamous slum of Dharavi. Some men join shipping cargos which is considered prestigious occupation in Dharavi. Some others go to Arab countries as tailors, waiters etc. So many children grow up without seeing their father much.
This event is shot outside the Municipality school in Dharavi, a centre of high aspiration for the poor residents. As the adults worry about ‘re-devolopment’, eviction and future of the children, the students happily court the camera. Shot by Tapan Vyas.
Early evening. Outside the school compound. The school is named Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar Municipal School, after the Dalit leader and author of the Indian constitution. The school has just got over. The young students of 8 to 13 years old crowd the outside road. Some parents have come to escort them home. The parents faces are shining with aspiration, hope. They believe education is the key to get out of this dirty slum and poverty. Among the parents is one of our protagonists the Papadwali who talked in detail about her aspiration for educating her children and grow out of this cycle of pocerty. (for more detail see the event 'Dharavi Papadwali: Cityscape & citizenship' in this site). The children in neat uniform sometimes betray their working class status. One can see with what care they are being prepared for a brighter future. Ambience shots of the location. Some fisherwomen pass by with their fish baskets. Some vendors sell chatpata (salty snacks), panipuri, churan to the children. These vendors are essential part of the middle class childhood. Close up of faces – bright, shining, tired, sweaty, mischievous, aspiring, shy and curious of the camera….
Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar Muncipal School, Dharavi, Mumbai
A group of boys gather around the crew. Close ups of their faces. While asked about their future plan prompt come the predictable answers… doctors, scientists etc. Middle class aspirations being doled out of the school without any reality check. The absurdity of the question and the rhetoric quality of the answers show the precarious position of the class that the Dhravi residents belong to. Somebody mentions the 'Munnabhai' character. He is a loveable don who faked as a doctor and then fainted seeing a corpse. Bollywood don characters are very romantic and particularly this character must have touched a cord in them. The little boys are absolutely comfortable in front of the camera and performing the role of interviewee with ease. The girls though completely shy away from the camera. Though they come to schools, an extrovert activity such as talking to a middle class camera crew is out of their bound. Gender division is in place even at this stage.
- Who me? – Don't think, there are many options… - I will become a doctor. - And what will you be when you grow up? – I will think of that when I grow up.– He will be like 'munnabhai' (a popular don character in Bollywood)… he'll faint when he'll see the body… such a doctor ! – And what about you ? – I will become a pilot… - I will become a scientist… I'll check the rain… I know only one thing that the scientist does… dirty the water and then clean it… - And what mischief do you do in school ? – Nothing much, we play hide n seek in the toilets… Everyone plays in the toilets !- And how much do you trouble the teachers ? – A lot ! Everyone troubles teachers – He says, "I will torture the teachers till the end of my life !" – Hey liar ! you will keep lying till the end of your life…" - Where has Prakash gone ? – He ran away… - Here is Subhashini… She's a teacher's daughter….
Interview continues. The boys recite a poem about beautiful shoes. Incidentally there is a thriving leather industry in Dharavi. Some of these children could be from tanner (chamar) community. Atleast one hopes to find children of that untouchable community present in the school named after their iconic leader. 'Beautiful shoes' is not a matter of desire for them. There belong to the other end of the spectrum. But our education system has no idea how to cope with such contradiction. They tease each other – obviously lies, mischief, fun and fantasy all are mixed in this. Who can read, who has a home, whose father has a job in Delhi… they are partly like any children of that age, but partly specific to their space and status.
- So do you have any essay writing competitions ? – Yes ! – Anything that you wrote recently ? – We didn't write, we recited… - What ? – The shoes poem… - My father has a pair of shoes, too beautiful to see… I want to wear my father's shoes they are too big for me… My baby brother has a pair… too small for me… - I want to wear my fitting shoes !... written by Tom Robinson… - Could you repeat ? – I don't know… I haven't learnt… it was taught in their class… – He doesn't even know how to read… - Not even ABCD… - The boy who just went, he doesn't even know a word, we teach him everything… - Where do you stay ? - I stay in Mukundnagar, here is my grandmother's house… - So you stay at your grandmother's place ? – Yes- No – my mother has her own house… no… it's a rented house. - So what does your mother do?– My mother gives training to teachers. - And you torture the teachers !– not only me, everyone… - And what does your father do ? – my father is in Delhi… - lie ! - no he is not in Delhi… - yes, he is in delhi… who said I'm lying ? I'll see you tomorrow…
I'll tell you something, he once urinated in the water bottle of a boy… - What ! – No, someone else did it and took my name… - even in 3rd standard he had done the same thing… - I only went to pick up the bottle and the blame was on me… in 3rd standard, many times we urinated in Zaid's bottle, he could never catch us… - So you did it ! – Not me, one of us… ask my grandmother… there could have been complaints for mischief, but never for such a deed… -His name is 'Shishukumar' ! – And he calls himself 'Bunny' – his name is 'Window' - and his name is 'my shoe'…
Stories of mischiefs, pranks and nick naming… the children are growing up the way they should. Difficult to imagine that such a well settled neighbourhood is actually facing extinction. The ground adjacent to the school was earlier a well maintained park with benches and swings. It was a space of respite for the residents as well as study place for the students. Offlate the minicipality has stopped maintaining it and thus it has become a dumping ground. Could there be a design behind it? Though the incorrigible Dharavi residents still make use of the rare open space by putting up community cultural programme there. Most of these children are first generation school goers. A major relocation might snap the delicate balance on which the continuity of their education lies. 'Development' in favour of whom and at whose cost?