Dharavi Biennale Health Signs on the Streets!

Earlier this month, we scanned the streets of Dharavi for some health signs. Our participants, led by Khushboo Bharti, then came up with their own health signs that we put across areas in Dharavi. We put up these colourful signs at chemist shops, near garbage bins, at a ironing man’s stall and on the gates of buildings. Some were random places really. Some, however, were calculated.

As we went around pasting the health signs and getting our hands dirty, we received varied reactions from the locals. Most of them empathized with the messages in the signs and discussed the issues with us. But that was not before they gave a good piece of their mind to those present and those absent – namely us, the government and the municipal corporation. Their honest feedback was that while awareness campaigns are seen in the area, very little change has occurred. One lady who lived off 60 Feet Road specially pointed to a gutter and said how it hasn’t been repaired for years together. There is a general feeling of grievance against public bodies felt in the area since they feel neglected and exploited. Thus, we could understand their initial faithlessness in us and our signs.

But we do believe that we did our very best in communicating about health to the locals. Perhaps, the first step to public hygiene is to start at the personal level and develop a civic sense as well.

We were a little wily in pasting anti-alcoholism posters outside a tea-stall. Some of the participants very sincerely asked us if we should paste them outside the several bars that we see around Dharavi. But, how would that work? The posters would be taken down the minute we put them up outside a liquor shop. That is, if we are allowed to paste those signs there in the first place.

We thought we were successful in pasting the anti-alcoholism posters outside the tea-stall. The people looked at us curiously and for a moment we though our strategy would work! When we walked past the stall a few days later, we found the posters missing. Well, nobody said we weren’t resilient.
































Signboard Splash

From our most recent Art Box by Khushboo Bharti in which our participants made hand-drawn signs to be put all across Dharavi. These signs address some of the local health issues such as garbage disposal, alcohol addiction and timely visit to doctors.

Drawn by Babita, the sign urges people to avail correct information regarding health from accurate sources.




By Anita, this sign addresses a common problem in Mumbai. You see a garbage bin but you will find garbage lying all AROUND it rather than in it. Is it because the amount of waste generated is more than the number of disposal options? Or it because we are generally lazy and careless?



Made by our oldest participant, Lakshman, this one tells you the importance of checking the expiry dates of medicines.



By the very enthusiastic Akash, who made a little cartoon like sign that tells you how to control the spread of malaria.



By Akshay, this very attractive sign, is about the approaching local groups for help with medical relief if necessary.



This lovely sign was drawn by Renu. You get what’s it about, don’t you?



We loved it! By Rani, this poster warns us about air pollution.



Drawn by our very own Dipesh Thakker, our new project coordinator, this sign is about the correct method of waste disposal.


Chai with Lakshman and Savitri

On one of our trips to locate health signboards in Dharavi, we were invited to visit the home of Lakshman Mane, the elderly participant in the workshop. He takes us through a narrow gully with no house numbers and then ushers us in through a narrow door. It is a modest house, typical of Mumbai flats, with an upper loft that converts into a bedroom. There are several things not belonging to this century in his house. An old cupboard, wall hangings made of intricately woven wire and monochrome photographs.


His wife Savitri makes sizzling cups of chai for us. As we inhale the gingery aroma of the chai, she shows off her latest creation – a toran adorned with pompoms made from old cloth. It is a serpentine and grand toran and she says that it was recently around the neck of a Ganesha idol in a nearby mandal. She has also made a smaller one for the entrance of their house. Torans are traditionally entrance decorations in Hindu homes and this one looks pretty unique with its pompoms. While Savitri learnt pompom making at our Sewing Club by Susie Vickery, she has her own skill set of making woven table mats and rugs.


Lakshman used to be a mill worker a few decades ago and he lost his job when the mills closed down in the 1980s. His expertise was in the huge industrial looms and saw heaps of cotton converted into the softest cloth for men’s trousers. He is a skilled artist as well, as was evident during this workshop when he took discarded pieces of cane and transformed them into brushes. This technique, he says, is how he and his friends painted in their childhood. “We lived in times when you could shop for a day’s grocery with one rupee. Today’s generation does not know what a sweet feeling that was!” says Lakshman.