Not all slums are created equal. Similarly, neither are regions within a slum. The textbook example for this is Kumbharwada, the pottery production centre for Dharavi, one of the largest slums in the world. Incidentally, Dharavi was featured in Danny Boyle's Academy Award-winning Slumdog Millionaire and several Bollywood films.
Recently, I had the privilege to visit Kumbharwada for the first time with a group of photographers. The tour was billed as a street photography workshop and was sponsored by a local tour companies here in Mumbai. I happily signed up for the opportunity to photograph Dharavi's residents. I was keen to interact with them in order to understand how they lived compared to other citizens I've documented as a street photographer in India.
While I wasn't surprised by any major differences, I was struck by a thought: Kumbharwada resembles an anachronism more than a slum. Perhaps this thought only occurred to me because I'm an American and I'm viewing things from an outsider's perspective. But let me explain what I mean by anachronism in reference to Kumbharwada.
In Kumbharwada, they "make things." They make pottery for export. In America, consumer goods are largely imported from places like China these days, including orders for Kumbharwada pottery. I come from a land that no longer manufactures most of the products we use in our day-to-day lives. How wonderfully strange then to see people actually making something beautiful on such a large scale! For me, it's a throwback to an even more distant time when the concept of a "village" was nearly synonymous with being self-sufficient.
I find it difficult to associate Kumbharwada with a slum. But like I mentioned earlier, not all slums are created equal, nor are their individual parts.
Considering that Dharavi manufactures other goods and provides services as well (like recycling electronics parts and wastes) and by some estimates generates up to $1 billion annually in transactions, I find it difficult to associate Kumbharwada with a slum. But like I mentioned earlier, not all slums are created equal, nor are their individual parts. There are sections of Dharavi where living conditions are horrendous, the access to clean and safe food and drinking water limited or nonexistent, and disease and illnesses rampant due to poor sanitation. For the record, I did not find Kumbharwada in that bad of a shape, not even close. What I witnessed resembled more of a village. But I knew too that this place was essentially an anomaly within a greater slum complex.
Close-up of woman carrying a basket of pots on her head.
Overall, I found the people very welcoming and helpful. I hope to explore Dharavi further with my camera at a later date. Until then, here are a few more of my images from Kumbharwada.
The clay is imported into Kumbharwada and then worked by hands and feet into manageable portions.
Skilled artisans then shape the pots on the wheel.
The pottery is then baked in large kilns.
After the pots cool, they're stacked and ready for transport out of Kumbharwada to be decorated.