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.