Money, Food, Children

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On the road with 13-year-old Farida and her best friend Ayesha. We are on our way to finish off a film shoot. Hungry and sweaty under the afternoon sun, but not wanting to waste time, we buy ourselves a pack of choco-chip biscuits, the name of which I have never heard before.

After munching the biscuits, and dropping a few on the way, we are obviously thirsty. Farida suggests that we grab some roadside vendor’s lime juice for Rs. 5. She vouches not only for its refreshing taste, but makes it sound like some elixir of immortality. I stoutly refuse to swim in unknown waters, but since the girls seem keen on lime juice I consider going to a restaurant. The only restaurant in the vicinity is unfortunately attached to a bar, and it seems properly improper to take young girls to a place where men might be mixing desi mojitos. We finally settle for a healthy option: tender coconut water.

Three of us share two coconuts. 10-year-old Ayesha refuses to have one for herself. Though it is technically my treat, the shy girl hesitates on hearing the price. One coconut for Rs. 30 is just too much. She says that her mother would never allow her to spend that much money on a drink and continues to sip from Farida’s.

The elder Farida then tells us about some of the things she eats when she finishes school. Her mother gives her Rs. 10 every day and that, she says, is enough to quell her after-school hunger-pangs. For Rs. 5 she gets either a small apple or a custard apple from the fruit-seller (images of shrivelled up custard-apples come to my jaundiced mind). For the remaining Rs. 5 she gets a sumptuous slice of watermelon or her favourite lime juice. Seeing my raised eyebrow, she quickly rescues herself by lying, “But I prefer watermelon, of course.” As Farida breaks down the economics of her food expenditure, you realise that those ten rupees are husbanded carefully. She thinks her choices are more nutritious that what other kids might be buying. And sometimes a friend pitches in her pocket-money and the girls are able to buy something more substantial.

Ayesha, on the other hand, comes from more impoverished circumstances and does not have the luxury of Rs. 10 every day. Farida confesses that Ayesha is in fact recovering from dengue, but her mother finds buying the medicines too expensive.

At the end of the shoot, I treat the girls to some chocolates. Ayesha didn’t want a Rs. 10 chocolate. She wanted one for just half that price.

Dharavi Pizza

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Old Akhtarunissa shared her story about pizza. She eats a slice every time the young ones in the family buy some pizza. She is not too fond of it; she finds it chewy, the cheese overbearing and while many of us relish the stringy happiness that is baked mozzarella, she finds it a lot like chewing gum. Still, she doesn’t mind a slice or two for this way the children are happy.

The pizza (born in Italy, raised in America) is as common as the vada pav and we have adopted it desi style. Who does not have a pizza memory?

At our latest comics workshop, Surekha and Priyanka drew their memories of pizza, conversations and friends. Surekha, a working mother and a college student, remembers a treat hosted by a friend at a pizzeria. They were four friends and the treat-giver easily spent a thousand bucks that day.

Akhtarunissa, Priyanka and Surekha hail from Dharavi.

People in Dharavi eat pizza. How obvious, you would think.

You see, because we all love pizza, we went to a popular pizza outlet in Sion to place an order for thirteen (vegetarian and non-vegetarian) pizzas for a little party with our comics workshop participants. We went drooling in visions of pizza heaven – melting cheese, tangy sauce, paneer tikkas and spicy chicken. We were refused an order and told, “We do not deliver in Dharavi. Nobody delivers over there.” So we tried the sympathy card (we are from an NGO in Chota Sion Hospital), the practicality card (it is on the main road), the policy card (we are well within your radius of delivery areas) and the blackmail card (we will tell our friends in the media). Still a negative answer. If we wanted those pizzas, we would have to personally pick them up.

So, we called up the Mahim branch of the same pizza guys. They don’t deliver in Dharavi either. They passed the buck back to the Sion outlet. We were in Dharavi, between the devil of a Mahim and the deep sea of Sion. Dharavi was an area of darkness.

In the end, we called up customer care which, after some tedious minutes of putting us on hold, promised to deliver pizzas. No we didn’t have to go pick it up ourselves.

Surely this was a joke. We checked with Kaushik, another of our participants. That’s right, he said. No one delivers pizzas in Dharavi. They say it’s difficult to navigate the roads. So any time he and his friends wish to have pizzas, they go to an outlet.

So yeah. In Dharavi, we eat, love and dream pizzas. How about some delivery services here? Or better still, how about a pizzeria here?

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