Health Signboards @ Dharavi

We are roaming the lanes of Dharavi with a mission to shoot at sight. We are on the lookout for signboards on health (normal, quirky, spelt wrongly – all kinds) as part of our latest workshop by Khushboo Bharti. We are studying the various design aspects of health signboards in the area and understanding the impact on locals. We have broken up into groups and the naughtier boys have obviously chosen to go the farther ends of Dharavi with the hope of playing truant.


Some of our girls and we are walking on the crowded 90 Feet Road when we see a shop with a very interesting copy. It is a weight loss-weight gain clinic and it read, “Health, Wealth and Happiness Clinic”. There is a sly subheading with an announcement in Indian English stating, “One visit may change your life 100%”. We wonder what kind of clientèle this centre might be having. Will the ordinary Dharavi resident be willing to spend at this centre for weight issues or will she be more open to home remedies and neighbourly advice? And are body image issues only a concern for the privileged?

Centres like this mark a change in the wellness options for people in Dharavi and the kind of advertising measures they undertake. If you thought the handpainted signboards are the norm in Dharavi, well, you will be mistaken. They are on the verge of extinction here as much as in the rest of Mumbai.


We spot a few of these handpainted signboards such as that of the Bharat Mata Health Club, a very stylish way of referring to a gym. These health clubs were places for bodybuilding and that gave you the hope that you could become a pehalwan (bodybuilder) of legend. Bodybuilding is of course an art in the Indian tradition, with several cultural and dietary practices that surround it.


Some signboards in Dharavi have copies in a variety of languages apart from English and Hindi. There are pockets of Maharashtrians, Tamilians, Muslims and Andhra Pradesh people in Dharavi and you can even tell where they are located by looking at the languages on a signboard. In fact some of these signboards are congested with several fonts, scripts and colours that they send you into a psychedelic dizzy.


Another group notes that there are several dental clinics in the area and you can identify those by the ubiquitous symbol of the tooth. Graphic literacy and constant repetition of the sign makes sure that people know what a smiling tooth or a happy tooth refers to. Our mentor artist Khushboo Bharti wonders if the huge number of dental clinics in Dharavi indicates dental health as a major concern among residents here.

Khushboo Bharti, our mentor artist, discusses these signboards with our participants.

Khushboo Bharti, our mentor artist, discusses these signboards with our participants.

Visual Charts – Old and New

Learn the parts of your body

Learn the parts of your body

As part of our requirements for the upcoming Art Box by Khushboo Bharti, our mentor artist from Jaipur, we had to get hold of some visual charts. We were thinking big sized charts from which tiny tots learn the alphabets and fruits, but we wanted to find something handier. We recalled smaller visual charts back from our school days. These were theme based (like Indian dresses, Indian religions, fruits, flowers, insects and so on) that we were asked to cut and paste in our notebooks as homework. It was a ridiculous exercise and it seemed to be pointless apart from promoting the sales of printers. Still, it was better to carefully cut these charts than solve a math problem.

For these visual charts, we were directed to select stationery stores in Dharavi that specialise in their sales. We went to a little shop off 60 Ft Road which has things specially dedicated to the whims of schoolchildren – from candied tamarind to these visual charts.

We, in our late 20s and early 30s, realised that things have changed. The new visual charts are more clipart inspired or composed of digital photos downloaded from the internet. The charts from our childhood had hand-drawn vibrant pictures on cheap paper that would tear if you didn’t pay attention. The new charts are thoughtfully made with stickers.

Same drawings, now digital

Same drawings, now digital

We found an old one with first aid measures printed on it and it featured incidents like cutting oneself with a blade while sharpening a pencil. I believe we didn’t have sharpeners then. And then we spotted a new version of digital drawings of the same chart. Digital perhaps but it still showed you the dangers of sharpening a pencil!

We were tripping on nostalgia and lamenting to each other with the cliché of a fast changing world. We were sure the participants, mostly college goers and young mothers of school going children, would empathise with us, but we were mistaken. They loved these new charts, with photographs and digital art, glossy and with stickers, with American children on them! Well, talk about the generation gap!


Mentor Khushboo Bharti discusses the visual charts with participants