Hauz Khaz village and Dharavi experience: Study India Programme

I first fell in love with India when I was back home, through the novels of a great Romanian religion historian and philosopher, Mircea Eliade. In his novels he portrayed a magical land, India that he adored so much.

My journey to, through and from the Pearl of the British Empire does not begin in a port, like it did for the aforementioned author, but at an airport. As we arrived in Delhi I was greeted by a swirl of sensations and newly found emotions that shook me down to the core. In the monsoon heat of the first morning in India, we set out to see New Delhi for the first time and were greeted by a noisy, fast-paced and wonderful city.

One of the highlights of the Delhi leg of my stay was at the British Council for a session regarding their mission in India and a meeting with Sam Miller. From the latter I collected a couple of quotes (about his life in India) that will stay with me for the next years at university : “I write why I try to understand why I think what I think” and “I am for better or for worse, distinctive.

The next part of the journey was a visit to the Hauz Khas village. Watching the sun set, being the witness to the gold rays on the dusty red ruins of the fort overwhelmed me. Time came to a standstill and the world was in absolute equilibrium. It is there that I met an old Sikh with his grey beard, white turban and ebony staff. He approached me while my eyes were arrested by the scenic lake and his simple ways struck a chord deep within me. We were both looking out at the dusk and he just smiled and waved his hand across the landscape seeming to say “See, this is my home, see how beautiful it is!” I was moced to tears and the only thing I could say was “It is so beautiful, is it not”? Of this I’m sure that he didn’t know what I said, but he surely understood the instant connection. It is this that mad my tryst in India an extraordinary one.

This hectic day concluded with us getting lost on our way to a Hindu temple where we took part in a ritual where we were blessed by Brahmins (pandits), the entire experience having a calming effect on me.

It was a day full of excitement and new experiences on cultural, spiritual, historical levels.The effect of the mantras chanted by the priests lingered long after the ritual ended. We wandered around the surroundings as the sun set and the final bell rang for chants to begin.

Mumbai trip culminated with the most extraordinary visit to the largest slum in Asia, Dharavi. The experience left me speechless and during my time there I barely spoke a couple of words, except for questions to our tour guide from Reality, an NGO that uses 80 per cent of its profits to implement social programs in the slum.

Our visit coincided with the first day of the 10-day festival dedicated to lord Ganesh, the god with a head of an elephant and protector of all things. The tour of the slum is an experience I will never forget and it changed the way I look at the commodities of modern life back home. Strolling along the narrow and dark paths of the slum, taking sneak peeks through flowery curtains into the life of the people living there and watching through open doors how they work, live and love has been a most enlightening happening.

It was shattering to see the happiness of the children that we engaged with in small conversations on side streets and their eagerness to say a simple “Hello”. But what touched me the most was their perseverance, their genuine belief that if they work hard enough, not they, but their children or grandchildren will have the chance for a better life.

Dharavi cannot be described or truly depicted in words; it is a swirl of activity, joy, sadness and hope. It is so overwhelming for outsiders through the reality that it paints that you seem to be part of a story, not reality. A story where people can live and work in the same 4 square metre room, where the entire neighbourhood celebrate their God in unison, where children still know how to enjoy childhood games and where every couple of feet you are greeted with a warm smile.

Everyone has something to learn and take back home from Dharavi. It is here that you are stripped down to your soul and drawn into a whirlwind of emotions, sensations and ideas. Dharavi is where efficiency, entrepreneurship and empathy meet; it is a tightly knit community before it is anything else.

 Post by: MARIA-ALEXANDRA RADU

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