I have swapped the posh Juhu life to move in with my friend Cheryl who lives in the slums of Jogeshwari, a former dairytown transformed into a giant slum, more or less, by the urban sprawl of Bombay megacity. Luckily the process occurred about thirty years ago, giving it immunity to government landgrabs, meaning sweet, sweet housing security for Cheryl, who has been having trouble finding a place. Her room is warm and cozy, but quite tiny with no running water, upstairs (which means unbearably hot) and with an asbestos covered tin roof (which makes it even hotter). For toilet accommodations there is a drain in the corner for urine and a bring-your-own-water shared toilet further down the slums for other business. Although it has been tight staying with her and my friend Rose, and my back is a little sore from sleeping on the concrete, I actually have preferred staying at her place over the Shreedar's bollywood beachside flat.
I really commend her for the bare bones lifestyle in which she lives and how she never complains about it. Although I do realize how difficult it is for any foreigner, especially a women, to live in India, it is refreshing to hear Cheryl lack of complaint about her living situation, especially after the group vent at the midpoint retreat last week.
The experience for me has broken many of my conceptions of the slum. For one, all slums are not utterly impoverished, there are varying levels of and within slums in terms of economic status. People get by, they work hard and don't have much materially, but few people go hungry. Compared to my experience in Juhu, with wealthy individual living in these castles cordoned off by barbwired walls and security guards, it is a nice change to live for a few days in a completely open and close knit community where everyone knows and for the most part, cares for each other, shares food. We have been able to meet so many warm hearted people in her neighborhood and all of her social activist neighbors (I actually got to spend Eid, a Muslim holiday eating delicious mutton and chicken, so long Ashram lifestyle).
Tonight should be fun, Cheryl's friends have started a library and student group in their slum and tonight we will sing some social activist songs that they have written and do some program with some kids I guess. Then Rose, Cheryl, some of her friends, and myself will have a gift swap. We are out Benjamin who is sadly stuck in Istanbul with visa troubles preventing his flight here this morning. Hopefully he can get it all sorted out soon and meet up with us in Kerala.
Hope everyone has a merry Christmas, and perhaps hope you all will open a present for you Bombay buddy.
All of you are in my thoughts.