Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Dharavi- not just about slumdogs

Everybody’s been talking about Slumdog Millionaire reaching the Oscars and going gaga over the film and its exceptional direction, story and music. But the life of the real ‘slumdogs’ (no offense intended) isn’t so easy. They have to fight for basic amenities such as proper space to live and water for daily use.

My colleague and I had gone to Dharavi for a story on water scarcity and we unveiled some rather interesting facts. An NGO called SHED helped us in getting through the place and making some contacts with the residents. We went to Sion and the ‘little’ world of Dharavi was waiting for us. Finding the place called Social Nagar was not very difficult as a policeman helped us with the directions. The NGO person was waiting for us and after meeting her, the world of reality hit us.

In her office were two women, who had come to give her a ‘report’ of happenings in their area. To combat their problems, these women have formed Mahila Samitis in their area and they have a monthly discussion and meeting. The major problem in Dharavi which is more serious than water scarcity is the contamination of water. Getting a legal connection of water is difficult and one has to wait for months and visit the BMC office for umpteen number of times and to add to it pay a heavy amount of 35,000 Rs. Therefore, the business of illegal connections is flourishing. They give a connection for just 4000 bucks! So who will opt for the legal one? ask the residents.
The illegal connections also come with a risk of contamination. The clean water and the sewage water pipes run parallel and the illegal connection is inserted to any pipe. So there is a high chance of mixing of water and contamination. Some people are aware of boiling water but some only strain it with a cloth. A resident doctor told us that around 4000 people are affected due to water daily!

I have to mention this. While we were passing through the narrow gullies jumping of gutters to avoid slipping, we saw a well. Well, you must be thinking, what is so different about a well? But let me tell you that this well was not the normal water-only well. It had scary looking fish which has moustaches (something which looked like them), remains of watermelon and dozens of other vegetables, plastic bags and other garbage. A woman came there with a bucket and started filling the same water. She said that they use this water for washing clothes and utensils (thank god, not for drinking!).

The narrow gullies, some houses clean some dirty, 12 people staying in a house of 300 sq ft, people struggling for earning livelihood….is a common scene here. What new did Slumdog show? It could have projected the ‘never say die’ spirit of the Mumbai slums. People of all castes and creed stay in harmony here. There are problems, fine but they know how to tackle it and how to survive. A westerner will never see beyond the filth in the slums… we have to show them what a country like ours is made up of. A trip to Dharavi made me realize that we are a strong bunch of people struggling for positive portrayal of our country in the Western world.

(-- Seen in the photo above is a woman drawing water from the well filled with garbage and fish.)

Monday, January 19, 2009

There’s something ‘fishy’ in this gene….

I stumbled upon a report in the edition of a leading newspaper (dated 15th January), that a new algal gene of an alga called Chlamydomonas had been cloned in the Kalina campus of the Mumbai University. As health and science journalism enthusiast, I jumped at the idea of doing a follow-up of the story.

I picked up the phone to call the university and fix an appointment with the researchers involved in the cloning. The idea was to focus on the bio-fuel aspect of the alga. Like all government institutions, my call was transferred to all possible extensions. And to my surprise, I found out that there is no Biology Department in the Kalina campus. When asked about Life sciences department, the guy said ‘Ha, life sciences toh hai madam. Further, they couldn’t get hold of the professor incharge of the research. ‘Arey madam, ye naam ka toh koi nahi hai yaha pe’, was the answer I got.

Luck was absent that day, in my case. Finally, I got through one of the PhD student who was a part of the whole research. He was reluctant to say anything. He told me to call back and then disappeared into thin air (because he was not there when I called back). A girl picked up the phone and said, ‘I am from the Physics department and have come here to take a test tube.’ Gosh… their Physics department doesn’t have test tubes! I called back after an hour and she was still there, accusing me for calling back.

I have to do something now, I felt, so I told my colleague to call up disguised as a university student asking about the research. And as I thought, she was given the information about where the researcher was. Now things are getting interesting, I thought. So I called up again and got hold of another researcher. ‘Rudeness’ could be another name for her. She told me that I should improve my manners and if I want to know more about the research I should read today’s newspaper for the same. When asked about meeting she said, ‘We are very busy and can not meet.’ If the research was so secretive and if they wanted to refrain from giving any information to press, they should have said it clearly and in a better way.

In all, I feel that something is definitely ‘fishy’ in their genes… ;-)

Thursday, January 1, 2009

It’s all about LOVE!

"If you have it [Love], you don't need to have anything else, and if you don't have it, it doesn't matter much what else you have".

Love…the word has so many meanings (subjective to each person, of course). People say that love is life and that love is god, making all these terms very clich├ęd. But the search for the perfect definition of this mesmerizing word is still on.

I have fallen in love many times in life… (now people, don’t get me wrong)…with my mother, father, brother, friends, cousins and many other people I meet daily. I fall in love with my mother again when she cooks my favourite dish or caresses my cheek when she is proud of me. I fall in love with my father once again when he pats my back for something good done or when he sits besides me when I have fever. I fall in love with my younger brother again when he becomes my partner in the various crimes I do or when he just clears the tears falling over my cheeks when I am unhappy. I fall in love again with my soulmate cum best friend again when he unexpectedly gifts me something or when he is there with me when I am low. I fall in love with them again.

There is a philosophy to love, a science behind it and chemistry too…. (In our body hormones ofcourse!) One sight of ‘him’ makes all these mix, stir, stir and come out as a great recipe of love and adoration. Life is a reason to love and love is ‘the’ reason to live. Love has taught me many lessons. Most important of them all is to love someone without limits and not expect anything in return. If your love is true, you will definitely get what you deserve.

So people, look at love with a new perspective and love will heal all your wounds!

(Psst: Wish you all a 'lovely' 2009! -Vish)