Thursday, January 24, 2013

Book review: Poor Little Rich Slum

Poverty is nothing but a state of mind.

A couple of years ago I chanced to read 'Connect the dots' by Rashmi Bansal and it still adorns my book shelf amongst my favourite books column. Reading the book sparked a fire to achieve my full potential and that is still burning strong in me. But when I turned to read her first published work 'Stay Hungry Stay Foolish' I sighed "what a drag! why would such a talented writer waste her money and energy on writing about the same concept again and again? I get it. She loves to write on entrepreneurs but isn't she losing out on a wide audience?" My thoughts were that she should write on other fast-selling topics and make lots of money. In retrospect I am guilty of such a low thinking. She is a person who writes for a reason and not for money. She is contributing to the world by addressing the exacting task of lauding entrepreneurs. In yet another effort to bring into light the spirit of achievers, Rashmi Bansal in association with Deepak Gandhi has brought out the book "Poor Little Rich Slum" which celebrates the small but important success stories of Dharavi slum dwellers.

When atmosphere is ripe with discussions on redevelopment plans for one of the largest slums of the world Dharavi, Rashmi takes us through a tour of the slum to bring those proud heads to the foreground. There are entrepreneurs in those very areas of population explosion, filth, disease and poverty. While Jameel Shah is making a fortune out of making dancing shoes for the stars, Rani Nadar is happy supporting her daughters' education through a stitching shop. Rashmi has shown examples fro the slum to illustrate the fact that it is a multi-million  enterprise with no founder and neither a CEO. The businesses within the confines of stench and poverty are so developed that Dharavi with it's population of close to a million can form a special economic zone (SEZ). There are idli making lakhpatis, leather goods selling family fortunes, struggling women establishing social order within the violent slum and many local/national organizations striving to make lives better at Dharavi. The book celebrates human spirit in it's right form-embracing life with all it's faults. When slum dwellers can achieve so much in life, the author feels middle class men and women alike should take their own fate in hands and do something worthwhile with their lives too.

The tone of the book is not at all preachy but a small handbook of 189 pages and lots of pictures. The design of the book by ABD studio is one more appalling attraction of the book. Who wouldn't love to grab a book with ample illustrations, pictures and colors? The style of narration is conversational (characteristic of an engaging long essay) in that there is hardly any paragraph longer than 3 sentences. The book is generously  laden with Hindi language to give it an authentic aura. It can be ignored that the author hasn't used Marathi or Tamil, the two languages spoken by a majority of the population in Dharavi. I believe the purpose of any book or write up is to convey the author's message. When the obvious mistakes in the book  do not interfere with the purpose, those mistakes can well be overlooked and forgiven which is exactly what I choose to do with Poor Little Rich Slum.

The book raises questions on the effectiveness of the mega redevelopment project proposed by government. What's required by the residents of Dharavi is an inclusive plan that provides them residential as well as commercial opportunities to sustain their lives. The sloth which is evident in all governmental executions has entered this plan too but amidst all this dilly-dally of the government decisions, the life at Dharavi continues to throng with full enthusiasm. As Rashmi calls it, Dharavi is a city within a city with a village soul. People here do not grow exclusive of each other and as a result the development of various petty and big business owes an allegiance to the whole living spirit of Dharavi.

Life is too precious to sulk over failures and lost relationships. When a 10*10 room can inspire so many enterprises why can't the fortunate ones look beyond their discomforts and truly realize the marvels that a human mind can achieve? Dare to dream and brave the hardships to help others. Exercise the greatest human quality of compassion. Enjoy a worthy life!

The secret of happiness, you see, is not found in seeking more, but in developing the capacity to enjoy less.

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