As one begins to explore slums in the city, it becomes clear that certain areas have people from particular communities and professions.
For instance, slums near my schools in Malad have a Muslim majority and they do a lot of zari and jewelry making work from home. Often for as low a price as Rs 60 for a kg of pearls which they make into necklaces.
This slum in Versova that I was living in is dominated by four groups of people - two groups of fisherman or 'Kolis' that Bombay is famous for, daily wage labourers from UP and Bihar, and locals who mainly do housework or contractual work.
The Kolis in the area belonged to two very distinct categories -
One group was the rich Koli people who had been given land by the government to moor their boats. This land was the place they had converted into the illegal slum. Boats are moored at sea now, and most of these Koli people have enough land to have constructed about twenty 10x6 feet 'houses' which they have rented out for approximately Rs 2000 per month.
In addition to this income, they hire fisherman who take their boats out into the sea and catch fish which is then sold to the frozen food corporates at Dockyard. These Kolis are the big players - they are the ones who have the legal concrete houses in the slum, with the legit water connections.
And so they are the ones who control the resources. The jhopris, being illegal, have no real water or light connections. They have to pay Rs 100 per month to the Koli from whose house they want to get water in their kalsis. Or Rs 200 if they want it through a pipe. Timings are fixed as per the municipal water timings - which is 5pm to 9pm in this area.
Truth be told, access to water in this slum seemed to be far superior to the ones I saw in legal slums in Wadala or more illegal ones in Dahisar.
In Wadala, it sounded like the water mafia was in charge. Rs 500 a month for 10 minutes of water by pipe right into your house on alternate days. Fill as much as you can in those 10 minutes. Or wait till the day after if you miss your turn because you were not at home. (I found out about this much after I had downed almost half a bottle of cold water from one of the houses, where the people were generous enough to offer it to us while we were visiting with another NGO).
In Dahisar, again since it was an illegal slum, there was no water connection. One had to buy water by the can - about 20 liters for Rs 6. Or 35 liters for Rs 9. Bulk discount and all.
In comparison, the kalsis seemed like a privilege.
My questions about water and the jhopris weren't entertained by the Kolis in my area - they threw furtive glances sometimes when I would pass by because they were confused about my presence there. And a little alarmed by the questions about their illicit money making scheme. So I found a friendly dhobi from Uttar Pradesh who filled me in on these practices. During the conversation, one well-off Koli guy who hadn't rented out any illegal jhopris in the area started talking to me about the fish business and the dynamics of the land holdings. He had nothing to fear. He was a B.Com-second-year-fail guy, whose grandfather had been given a lot of land by the government. Good karma, I guess.
Electricity was another amusing aspect to observe. Bombay slums, by and large, aren't dunked into darkness as often as the village area I visited in Rajasthan or Indian villages I have heard of in general. The legal slums have electricity connections and pay regular monthly bills sent to their homes. Not so for the illegal slums. The one I visited in Dahisar is plunged into darkness when the sun goes down. I did see one very enterprising family that had installed a solar panel, and would get the batteries recharged on rainy days, but they were the exception not the norm. In Versova, illegal electricity pimps flourished. Rs 500 for the month. Or you could get a few quotes and compare on who was offering a better price.
The downside was that if your connection was pulled from someone's house, you were at their mercy. But some pimps knew how to pull directly from the electric poles in the area. You and your neighbours could split the cost of the wire that would be needed to supply it to your house. The discipline of wiring was another story of course. Random parallel connections with your neighbours meant that the speed of your fan depended on theirs. And if you switched off your light, your neighbour's fan would go off.
That was why I had to sleep with the light on for one whole month.
The entrance to my house was narrow enough to not be able to accommodate an open umbrella. And a gutter stood right in front of the door - home to the scary rats, who would DIG into your house if you kept the doors closed.
Once inside, one corner was the kitchen, one corner the mori and just enough space in the rest of the room for five of us to sleep side by side.
The yellow bedsheet on a waterproof plastic sheet below and an air pillow on top was my bed for the month. I carried my own. Rekha offered the single 'gaddi' in the house to me, which I politely refused. Sharing food, utensils, mori and space were all fine. Bedding is where I drew the line. Neelam and Rohit would take turns, and great pleasure, in inflating and deflating the pillow for me every day.
The most amusing discovery was the address on Poonam's Adhaar card. It read "XYZ(Name withheld here on purpose) building ke peeche wali jhopdi, Versova". And the census-count marks were visible on the jhopdis.