Dharavi ka Diwali

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It is the busiest season of the year in Kumbharwada, the settlement of potters in Dharavi. Women repeatedly dip diyas into red paint, older women have small stalls on 90 Feet Road and have no time for wasteful chit-chat, perspiring men have heated telephonic arguments about diya orders, and broken pieces of earthenware are scattered across the lanes: it’s business and busy-ness. As in the rest of the city, Diwali arrangements are in full swing, and preparation for Kumbharwada families means not just shopping, but also selling. For the three months leading up to Diwali, families are immersed in the household business of making earthenware – from diyas to idols – for local markets and for export.

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It is the busiest season of the year in Kumbharwada, the settlement of potters in Dharavi. Women repeatedly dip diyas into red paint, older women have small stalls on 90 Feet Road and have no time for wasteful chit-chat, perspiring men have heated telephonic arguments about diya orders, and broken pieces of earthenware are scattered across the lanes: it’s business and busy-ness. As in the rest of the city, Diwali arrangements are in full swing, and preparation for Kumbharwada families means not just shopping, but also selling. For the three months leading up to Diwali, families are immersed in the household business of making earthenware – from diyas to idols – for local markets and for export.

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For those who lack the nimble movements required for mehendi designing, painting diyas is a useful business. Bhanu Devanand Tak, a 40-year-old mother of two, paints pots and about a hundred diyas every day between household chores. She started painting diyas a few years after her marriage and, ten Diwalis later, Bhanu figures she must have painted more than 2 lakh to date. “Earlier, I was only painting diyas and a hundred diyas fetched me Rs. 10. Now I have picked up some decoration techniques as well and that helps me earn twenty bucks more,” she says. The money she earns doing this every year, around Rs. 15,000, is used for buying Diwali sweets and dresses for her children.

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While the earnings from such voluminous orders of diyas seem small, homemakers like Bhanu are undeterred. She says, “My whole day is spent this way. I don’t need to go anywhere to find work and I can manage the household as well. Besides, this keeps me occupied and I don’t indulge in useless neighbourhood gossip this way.” She gives the example of her mother, who makes a living making festival sweets such as puranpoli and rotis for customers on regular days. As an aside, Bhanu adds that she would like to do “something else someday” when her children get jobs of their own.

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Much like Bhanu, a stern old timer called Veni Behn also picked up diya decoration skills from her mother-in-law after she got married. Her family lives in the upper story of the house and the ground floor has been converted into something like a production unit, with wrapping paper, paints and a variety of colourful earthenware strewn around. A bunch of women, including Veni’s daughter-in-law, have their noses buried in their work. Veni’s son Jitendra Valji comes downstairs to investigate the progress they have made and seems pleased. Veni says that women are more talented when it comes to diya decorations. Her son adds that this is a family business in which everyone has a part of play. He runs a store in Thane and complains that the festive earthenware market has been affected by the “Made in China” label found on serial lights and wax candles.

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But the festival of lights is also the bringer of smoke to Kumbharwada. Given the nature of the work, most houses have an accompanying kiln and a water-filled clay-pit. This might be a poetic meeting of the elements, but the kilns burn avidly to produce huge quantities of diyas for Diwali. Doors open onto fumes and most women decorate Diwali wares in the midst of a grey haze.

Hawa Toya, a jolly 60-year-old, is among the Muslim potters who also make diyas for Diwali. She lives in Kutch and is visiting her sons in Kumbharwada. “Over there, we have kilns under the earth, and it is so hot that just a match is enough to light up an entire kiln. We use acacia branches as fuel, unlike the hazardous industrial waste that is used in Kumbharwada. It is less polluting,” she says.

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Nevertheless, most Kumbharwada residents are fiercely protective of their smoke-ridden locality, especially in the wake of the redevelopment proposal. Instead of looking at the respiratory and eye problems brought about by the smoke, they prefer to see their glass as half-full. One woman points out that the smoke rids the area of mosquitoes, which could have been prevalent in the clay pits. She says, “This smoke is our livelihood. How can we blame the kilns?”

Young photographers show you Glass

From our latest photography workshop conducted by Nitant Hirlekar. Young photographers ventured into the recycling units in and around Dharavi. Here are some snapshots of the glass recycling workshops in Prem Nagar, as seen by them.

By Ankita, Mehzabeen & Roshni

By Ankita, Mehzabeen & Roshni

 

By Pooja & Ahmed

By Pooja & Ahmed

 

By Roshni, Sameer and Suhani

By Roshni, Sameer and Suhani

 

By Ankita, Mehzabeen and Roshni

By Ankita, Mehzabeen and Roshni

 

By Roshni, Sameer & Suhani

By Roshni, Sameer & Suhani

 

By Roshni, Sameer and Suhani

By Roshni, Sameer and Suhani

 

By Ruksar & Nazmeen

By Ruksar & Nazmeen

 

By Ruksar & Nazmeen

By Ruksar & Nazmeen

 

By Ruksar & Nazmeen

By Ruksar & Nazmeen

 

By Ankita, Mehzabeen & Roshni

By Ankita, Mehzabeen & Roshni

 

And, here is one that shows our young shutterbugs at work!

photo group collage

Round Two of Comics Mania

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We did it again.

About 20 boys and girls and men were mentored by Chaitanya Modak (a comics creator and illustrator) and drew comics on injuries. Injuries both inside and outside. Injuries of the body and injuries of the mind. In just four days, many of the participants, who were just recent initiates into the understanding of comics (leave alone the making of comics), drew four paneled and six paneled comics on injuries.

Since there were varied interpretations of what injuries could mean, the participants unleashed these on paper. Saraswati’s comic (Koi To Meri Suno: Someone please listen to me) was about depression, while Manoj’s comic was about dog bites. Some interpretations were the result of Dr. Anil More’s observations. Anil is a doctor attached to the Sion Hospital and has seen several cases come in from Dharavi. He says that most of these cases are due to accidents, street fights and dog bites. One of the most intriguing comics was by Raghavendra in which a boy thinks he is a superhero and therefore meets with an accident.

Lots of excitement and the frenzy of pen on paper.

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We were ready with the comics by the end of December and this week, we went to the streets armed with jumbo photocopies of the comics. Some of us went to the nearby Transit Camp while some others went to Kala Killa, a little farther away. The idea was to spread comics (thereby a little education and a little entertainment) all across Dharavi. There was a slight tussle among the participants since some had to wield the slimy glue brushes 🙂

Transit Camp, where Kishan, Nilesh, Raghavendra and the very lazy Avinash went, is a busy hub where people crisscross the streets or gather in the corners. Groups of men, shopkeepers and schoolchildren gathered fervently around the comics we put up and asked one resounding question: What is this about? Read, we said. “Many people were initially a little resistant to the idea of comics. But they eventually got around to reading them,” observed Nilesh.

People who read the comics could easily relate to the situations portrayed. Among those who read Raghavendra’s story about the delusional boy who thought he was a superhero, one man said, “I knew someone who thought was like Shaktimaan and tried to jump from a building.” People read Ravi’s comic on alcoholism and wanted to know where they could get info on deaddiction.

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Manoj, who went to neighboring Shastri Nagar to put up some comics, said, “Many people loved looking at the comics. But they had never seen something like this and did not know where to start reading. They asked me: Tell us where to start.” The form is a little unusual for a majority of the population. While they are well exposed to cinema, novels and plays, this form of storytelling requires a bit more attention.

The participants found a lot of support from the communities they went to. Some shopkeepers were a little suspicious of our work but most others were forthcoming with praise and suggestions. Some men suggested that the public toilets would be the best place to put up the comics. Before we could object to their remark, a man said, “Because this is where men will stand for some time and read.” Considering we spread our monochrome comics over colourful propaganda posters, prayer meeting announcements and loud adverts, it was a pretty good response from the public.

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Colour Box is our new house!

We have a brand new house right in the potters’ community in Dharavi. Our potter friend, Devanand, is loaning it to us for a couple of years and we are currently in the process of deconstructing and reconstructing it. It is a two-storey house that will become our workshop, office and gallery space and we are so stoked about it! After several discussions, we decided to christen it Colour Box, with a mild unintended pun on Kala Box. We tore down a couple of walls to make space for exhibitions but we are attempting to retain as many of the original details of the house as possible. It has old-world terracotta tiles on the ground floor, ceramic tiles lining the walls, a few stairs leading up as if the upper floor were an attic and a door on the upper floor that opens into nowhere. We are right amidst the winding lanes of Kumbharwada and we are particularly happy to have a space right in the midst of the communities that we work so closely with.

If imagining the house is too much but not enough, do drop in this Sunday for the inaugural programme at 5.00pm.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Comics Street Invasion

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Rainy day. But it stopped raining when we set out and started pouring when we finished. In between we had some sunny comic relief. Armed with rolls of comics posters that we had made and a pail of glue, we invaded the streets of Kumbharwada, Sri Shakti Nagar and Naik Nagar. In little battalions, we pasted the comics we had made on the walls of houses, compound walls and shutters of shops. Chaitanya Modak, the mentor artist, said that the agenda was to interact with locals and get them talking about our comics – the themes we had portrayed, the incidents depicted and the techniques.

In Naik Nagar, just on the outskirts of Dharavi, the lanes are narrow and maze-like. Sitaram, our logistics man, and many of our participants from the comics workshop are residents of this area and were quite eager to put up their comics to impress their friends and family. On a wall in the lane where he resides, Pinku put up his comic on an accident that occurs during the monsoon game of dahi handi. Priyanka and her sisters pasted their comics in their neighbourhood amidst curious children and bemused women.

Sonali had drawn a comic about the aches and joys of the monsoon season. Her comic showed children making merry in the rains and soon falling ill with monsoon related diseases. Another water theme was found in Nisha’s story about scarcity of drinking water in a village. A small kiosk owner helped us put it up on the detachable shutter of his shop.

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Over at Kumbharwada, pasted on the walls was Suryamala’s story of how a woman is torn between the love for her family and her in-laws. Luckily, the story narrates, her in-laws are very understanding about her need to spend time with her own family. A man who read the story told her that he connected with her story and went to say that he had a ‘second marriage’ with another woman just because his mother hated the first 🙂

We realised it’s not easy just talking to strangers on the road. We called men, women and children to consider the comics and we discussed stories with them. Some teenage boys teased us but we would like to believe we won them over as well.

At the end of the day the forces got together and shared their experiences. Komal and Jyoti had been motivated to make some more comics on their own. Komal had drawn an elegant comic with wolves and lions to discuss the theme of family planning.

Operation comics street invasion. You could say it brought out the child in us. Exhilarated. Enthused.

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