Learning the lessons of the slums
By Danish Siddiqui
If you are flying into Mumbai, the first thing you’ll see from mid-air are the visually beautiful rows of slums. I have always treated the slums and their inhabitants with respect.
Every metropolitan city (at least in India) has slums, as more and more people travel to the cities for better opportunities. Unfortunately, not everyone is fortunate enough to live in a planned neighborhood.
Mumbai has a number of slums, the largest of which is called Dharavi. In fact, it is also one of Asia’s largest slums. I started photographing the slums of Dharavi when I moved to Mumbai two years ago. I tried to explore the slums block by block, lane by lane. I still haven’t finished half of it.
I have made a lot of friends in these slums, from screeching housewives to laborers in the recycling industry, to mafia men who control illegal businesses.
For me, photographing in slums is sometimes like getting lost in a space I have no inkling about. While wandering, I have sometimes discovered the most amazing places hidden in these rows of slums. One of my discoveries was Rubina Ali, the child actor from the Oscar-winning film “Slumdog Millionaire.” I stumbled upon her when I went to shoot her slum that caught fire last year. Luckily Rubina escaped unhurt and now lives in a planned colony with her family.
The thing I like most about people living in slums is that they always have a smile on their faces, whatever their conditions. As a photographer it is also much easier communicating with slum-dwellers, as they are very open and unguarded in their conversations. The most important lesson I have learned while photographing slums is the art of photographing its residents while ensuring their dignity is not hurt, since they live in slums and aren’t well off.
I know the lessons I learn while capturing moments in these slums are lessons for life. Each experience, each walk down those alleyways, will hold me in good stead in the future and by that I’m not just referring to photography.