Mumbai has always held fascinating memories for me. It has been the land of dreams, the land of strength and if I may say so the land where I feel I belong. The whiff of the sea from my old quaint little house in Worli, to the dance classes at Colaba, the karaoke nights at the Marine drive, the theatre evenings at NCPA, Mumbai teaches me how to live. However, is that all that makes up Mumbai? Not really, there’s Bollywood which doesn’t attract me, the page 3 parties where I don’t fit in, the certain kind of money-making snobbery which I can never catch up with and then there’s the dark side which we choose to be unaware of.

Abode to 1 mn people and spread of a square area of 1.75 kilometers Mumbai houses the world’s largest slum at Dharavi. It also gives shelter to one of the biggest sex worker zones in the country at Kamathipura. The open air laundry at Dhobighat near Mahalaxmi is the biggest of its kind in the World, yet lesser known. And then there’s the rooftop view that will not show you the Arabian sea kissing the Queen’s necklace, instead from there no matter where you see, all that shall be visible are tin roofs, and garbage dumps – Welcome to the other side of Mumbai.

The year 2008 saw us showcase to the world Slumdog Millionaire and this resulted in another feather being added to our hats – from being the land of snake charmers to being the land of slums. If I say this to a slum resident he would refute me outright by saying that slum tourism existed from much before 2008, in fact it has now almost been a decade that their children have been taught to keep at bay from the prying eyes of the white skinned and a few colored ones like me.

Accompanied by two friends and a guide I set out on Sunday to discover this face of Mumbai, the one that had heightened my curiosity for a long time now. It would indeed also be the most dreaded tour of my life that I was sure of, for while there was excitement of discovering a lot of new things I was skeptical about whether these tours actually contributed to the never-ending slum cycle across the country.

I chose Realty Tours and Travels as my preferred guide and it was a decision indeed well taken. My guide Jitesh was helping people tour slums and educating them about the true lifestyle out there for about 3 years now. Having grown up in a slum environment himself, when asked these tours were the only opportunity where he could show the world that slums though dingy, dirty and dark are not places that you should abhor. The people living there are just like you and me, constrained definitely, but they still live, work, grow families and harbor dreams. For Jitesh, there was an urge to show the world that kids from the slums too can make a mark and are not all about being dirty rag pickers – thus he decided to tell the story of his own home to visitors and hopes that one day Mumbai is known to be the land of strong people who can survive any adversity instead of being referred to as the preferred slum tourism destination.

Realty Tours shocked me when they said that out of the 40-50 people who sign up with them for these tours everyday, only 1% are Indians. Rest, travel from all across the world and stop here to have a glimpse of the reality Danny Boyle made famous.

This is the introduction to the multi part series of the ‘other side’ of Mumbai that I discovered on a lazy Sunday over 6 hours of travel.

Next week I give you the first hand glimpse of the (in)famous red light area – Kamathipura. For now, a glimpse of the backdrop I set out to study…

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Mumbai Mondays is all about seeing Mumbai and its surroundings through my eyes. It’s my take to introduce you to a city and its surroundings which I love, as I see it – alone and often with friends (we call ourselves the Mumbai Mad Caps). It’s a thread that goes live every Monday. I cover places randomly and welcome suggestions too. You can find more posts about Mumbai Mondays here.

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