The Mobiustrip

The Mobiustrip

Sunday, 26 October 2014

Highs and Lows of the Slum Immersion program

With everything that I am learning in this new field of work, a lot of my opinions and perspectives have changed. When I went into the slum, my parents said two things - be safe. And don't come back a Communist.

Two weeks into the slum immersion, after I had observed some ways in which the people felt a sense of entitlement, I told my parents that I was scared I might come out a capitalist. That, coming from someone who has always hovered on the left side of the center, was quite something. But more about that later.

Some of the funniest, sweetest, and scariest moments of that one month are worth recollecting.

NOT Lalbaug cha Raja.
Going out to see Lalbaug cha Raja during Ganpati festival. Not realizing that we had seen the wrong Ganpati till the picture was put up on Facebook and pointed out as Mumbai cha Raja by a friend. The family still does not know of the mix-up. And it doesn't matter, because they believe they saw Lalbaug cha Raja. And faith is ultimately what matters.

Rekha and the kids riding the metro for the first time on our way to the Ganpati. They were ecstatic! At the same time , I was petrified because Rekha was a week away from her due date and walked over 2 kms on the way over and back. Every time she took a step, I panicked that she might deliver right there. 

This was Rekha a week before she gave birth. Obviously one can't tell that she was this far into the pregnancy. The baby girl born to her a week later was severely underweight.

Mee kothimbir kaapte”- the only grammatically correct Marathi sentence I fully learnt in my one month in the slum, despite Neelam’s best efforts. This kothimbir went into an experimental daal we made with jaljeera, which turned out to be very tasty. It was the second best thing I tasted after the sev-bhaji which I also learnt to make.

Getting the salt-filled modak that Rekha made, which as per tradition, is supposed to be lucky. I bit into it and didn't know exactly how to point out that it had salt instead of the sweet coconut filling. When I finally did frame it into a diplomatic sentence, everyone burst out laughing.

The innumerable attempts made to get Neelam to address my body lotion (that she loved and stuck out her palm for every day) as "cream" and not "kim"!

Lecturing Rekha on how unfair it was that 14-year old  Poonam was made to do all the chores while 12-year old Rohit spent all his time playing - because he was a boy and she was a girl. And seeing Rekha change that by the end of the month.

The scariest moment had to be when a rat jumped on me in the middle of the night. I used to sleep with my sheet covering me from head to toe, to make sure there was no contact with rats. That night, I nudged at what I thought was Neelam's hand on me. And found more movement instead of the usual withdrawal. I opened my eyes to a huge rat sitting ON me, near the waist. Irrational as my fear might be, that was the lowest low of the whole month. Had it not been for a policy to not cry in life unless I am watching a Shah Rukh Khan or Disney animal movie, I would have burst into tears that night. The thought of it still makes me shudder.

My fondest memory though, would have to be that of Rekha helping Neelam sing the national anthem. Rekha failed 5 times in class 2 and dropped out of school. There was not much that happened in school that she could 'teach' her kids. I could hear the pride in her voice when she was teaching the anthem to Neelam. That she too could teach something to her children. 
I didn't have the heart to tell her that many of the words were wrong.

1 comment:

  1. I LOVE kothimbir wadi man, absolute, bottom of my heart love. And, I had a rat incident at Aurangabad. Unlike you, who put up a brave front, I think I did shout. Just that it was the middle of the night, and thankfully no one heard the village's English teacher shout an elitist shout, when confronted with a rat. :)