Dharavi Livelihood: Female Cobbler
Director: Richa Hushing
Duration: 00:18:32; Aspect Ratio: 1.333:1; Hue: 14.913; Saturation: 0.136; Lightness: 0.416; Volume: 0.138; Cuts per Minute: 55.476; Words per Minute: 1.563
Summary: Popularly termed as Asia’s biggest slum, the origin of Dharavi can be traced back to mid 20th Century, at the height of the industrialization in the region. Today, according to official records, Dharavi is marked as an area spread over 223 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.
As a microcosm of contemporary urban phenomena of the developing countries, Dharavi populace includes diverse language groups, religious communities and economic units. Many of the citizens of Dharavi are petty traders, urban artisans or piecemeal workers, functioning out of the outer space of their one-storey shanties. This seamlessness in working and living space, over the decades, has resulted in high number of female wage earners.
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 grab more land and the old fashioned settlement of Dharavi must go in order to facilitate that. Dharavi today is home to approximately one million people, mostly migrants. Therefore, any sort of re-development of the area would imply mass rehabilitation of those living here. The rehabilitation package is likely to be delivered in terms of the exact measurement of the living space, and not considering the value- financial, cultural and social, attached to the living-cum-working space.
Our project aims at documenting the various communities who have not only found homes for themselves in Dharavi but whose livelihoods are intrinsically tied to this space. Since the workspace is part of the living space women are key players in their home-based trades. We hope to evolve a comprehensive documentation and dissemination of the spaces and lives of Dharavi residents. The documentation is aimed to provide resources at the negotiating table with Govt. and the builders’ agencies, for urban study curriculum and for social movements against displacement of urban poor in the name of development.
This event is portrait of a 80 year old woman, working as a cobbler. Cobbling is traditionally meant to be a male profession. Generally practiced by lower caste men there is a nasty stigma attached to the job. Cobbling as in shoe making could be a lucrative profession. But individual cobblers as local vendors, who repair people’s old shoes, are a far cry from the glitter of the shoe market. Our protagonist, the 80 years old woman, opted for this vocation 60 years back when her husband and son died of alcohol poisoning. She works under a flimsy plastic sheet on the road from 11 am to 7 pm. When she comes back home in the evening her first priority is to go to the toilet as she could not do that for the whole day. The next routine is to drink a glass full of country liquor. We failed to fit in an interview in this tight schedule. All the information that we gather about her is from the other family members. The family has been shifted to their present accommodation a few years back at the beginning of the current construction activities in Dharavi. The accommodation is called Transit camp. But the family members have no idea what they are supposed to be transited to.
As we enter Dharavi, the shanty town, from Mahim Station, a BEST bus passes by towards Dharavi bus Depot. The busy artery road which ply heavy traffic all through the day and night. The motorists can't help noticing the nuisance of the large number of pedestrians crossing the road in abundance. But rarely any of the motorists ever get to know or want to know where these pedestrians are coming from. They come from the city within the city - Dharavi. The people who cross the road lengthwise to get to the other side of the city and the people who cross the width of the road to reach to another section of the slum are two distinctly different people.
Inside Dharavi. The busy inroads, the bazaar with vendors - hand carts, coolies and heavy carrier vehicles.
dharavi main road
Amidst the daily dins of neighbourhood market in one corner of a by lane next to the Dharavi main road, sits an old woman, clad in traditional Maharashtrian 9 yards saree, quietly mending footwear -a job traditionally known as an occupation of men from lower class. In the visual cacophony of a busy urban settlement everything gets blended, even the fact that a woman cobbler is an extremely unusual sight. Speed and colour pass in the foreground and our protagonist continues with her work with the precision and quiet of a seasoned artisan. An under construction high rise building stands tall next to her. This building is part of the earlier SRA (slum redevelopment authority) scheme. Under this scheme all 'authorised' residents of low rise horizontal slums will be relocated in vertical buildings. This scheme is the predecessor of the Dharavi redevelopment proposal. The cobbler woman sits in the doorstep of a doctor's clinic. But the clinic is about to be demolished to accommodate the 'rehabilitating' building. Obviously with the clinic will also go the little nook of our protagonist. We catch her when she was living under this apprehension.
dharavi main road
The ambience shot of the market. As the urban tales go it is said that – Dharavi produces everything that it needs and nothing is consumed in Dharavi which is imported. This area, though in the middle of the mega city, resembles a small town. The leisurely pace of the elderly vendor, the don-like attire of young people, the old fashioned vocations such as 'pinjari' (cotton menders) and spice dusting etc. are more common to a small town than a metropolis. There are also sprinkle of women vendors and petty traders – selling bananas, wrist watches, powdering spices. Women's presence in public place is significant in this market. Still that does not prepare us for a visual of a cobbler woman. Shoe mending is a caste profession for the Chamars. Traditionally there is a stigma to this work. Besides it is a completely male profession. The cobbler is surrounded by urban cacophony of school, tea vendor, police chowkie and also a crematorium, Her vantage position makes her watch a procession of life equivalent to that of Lord Buddha's. The children of Dharavi Municipal school, the dead body from Sion hospital to the crematorium, the passing vendors, the assembly of motely crowd at the tea stall, the hustle and bustle of the police station, activities in the near by Tamil temple and the deadly growth of gentrification in the guise of building costruction behind her… and so on and so forth.
Close shot of the cobbler lady. The modest shack with old and torn sandals, bags, satchels – a far cry from the glittering shoe business. Nylon, plastic and other synthetic material are replacing the leather. She is trying to cope with the changes, but for how long. The nylon and plastic are synonymous to the digital accessories. The vendors who depended on repairing old things are completely dispensable today. The death of leather is not only a matter of fashion but also related to the banning of tanneries – which in turn has made many Dharavi people jobless. Customers who are also neighbours hang around in the shop with familiar ease. Our protagonist opted for the family profession to sustain her family after her husband and son died an untimely death. She has been working on the same spot over past 60 years.
Though she does not resent the camera, she does not encourage it either. The camera crew's attempt to start a conversation does not yield much result, except a shy smile. Ofcourse it is working time and she is busy. But there must have been also the distrust stemming from class disparity. Finally she spoke and that too quite voluntarily. She told her friend about her another tryst with the glamour world when a foreign crew shot her image and showed it on television. Her eyes shine with pride. Long shot of her shack. The fragility of her infrastructure and the frugality of the merchandise are shocking even in the context of Dharavi. We wonder whether the presence of a camera crew is bringing in more customers or driving them away.
Cobbler lady: ... they have taken my photo... those people who came...
Her friend: Who?
Cobbler lady: The white skinned people... then they showed it on TV... all over the place...
Detail of her skill. The wrinkled yet strong hand of a working class woman. A woman who has crossed the caste and gender boundary in order to feed her family. This is the norm even the working class movements in the organized sectors could never confront. Here is an autonomous story of a working class woman making quiet revolution.
She is mending these worn out sandals for some 60 years sitting in the same spot. Her family comprised of 3 grandsons and 3 grand-daughters in law. Due to her old age and a broken leg the family has been asking her to stop working and stay at home. But because of the streak of independence and self reliance in her, she chooses to continue her work and earn income to suffice her daily needs as well as support family. Though she always claims that she would stop working from the next festival in the calendar.
The evening is setting. Our protagonist starts the process of packing up for the day. Her friend helps her in folding away the plastic roof. Suddenly the meagerness of her shop is exposed. It is an extremely narrow niche between two walls of an old house. A plastic hung from the wall created the illusion of a defined space. Now that the roof is gone, the shop is as exposed as the road.
But then something else happens. The grand daughter-in-law and the great grand daughter arrive in the scene to escort her back home. With the presence of the family the old woman metamorphoses once more into dignified professional - just preparing to call it a day.
The old woman folds her entire shops into two satchels – with the same precision of an artisan handling her tools. The little great grand daughter offers her service to carry the tool bag. Now the space shows no sign of the activity of the day. The three generation of women walk back home. The old woman has a severe limp. It is an old wound which never got properly treated due to paucity of money. The life flows around them. And for the first time the woman looks at the camera and nods – to say Bye!
A reluctant phenomena, an ordinary protagonist, a working class woman.