Dharavi. A vibrant and sprawling mass of ramshackle buildings, heat, dust and on the outskirts of Mumbai, housing around a million people. Those in neighbouring slums call it five-star – whilst most slums are purely residential, Dharavi is completely self-sufficient: it has its own markets, hospitals, fire station, and even booming industry. Dharavi’s annual turnover is an unbelievable US$ 665 million – with recycling, pottery-making, embroidery, bakery, soap factory, leather tanning, poppadom-making and much more. As well as producing everything it needs within the city walls, it also finds ways to re-use its rubbish – so there’s very little going in and out.
Life here is not easy. The average life expectancy for those working in some of the more polluting factories (like those melting the paint off paint cans, so they can be recycled) is just 55.
But when the government built flats nearby in an effort to move people out of the slum, most declined. Rakesh, who inhabits a neighbouring slum, said they didn’t want to leave their supportive communities and businesses, into flats where your front door is always closed, you rarely saw your neighbour and you spent your time shut away on the sofa, watching TV. Sound familiar?
Dharavi, for all its problems, is an incredibly inspiring place. Life is palpable, it spills out of doorways and courses through the alleyways; delicious smells wind around unsavoury ones, cows idle around, poppadoms are made by the ton on the streets while hooting rickshaws scream past. Its ‘real’ life: the good, the bad and the ugly. In comparison, life in the UK feels a little sterile. We largely live very separate lives behind closed doors, behind social media gloss, choosing who we see and don’t see. We are detached from real, wild, life.
There has been ample research into the idea that community is a major contributing factor for happiness. Documentary ‘Happy’ visits Denmark, one of the world’s happiest populations, where community living is commonplace, and those communities share childcare, cooking duties and supporting one another.
And year after year, community is voted as one of the number one things you love about Shambala. We love being involved in the lives of our neighbours, cheering each other on, helping each other out and meeting other gangs of great people.
Forget closed doors, individualist mentality and Monsanto’s patented seeds. With more people in the world, high house prices and dwindling natural resources, the future has to be open-hearted, open-minded and open-sourced – that is to say, shared. We will be exploring this theme with some exciting bits and pieces at the festival, so stay tuned for more details over the coming weeks!