Everybody Loves a Useful Slum

When US President Barack Obama visited Mumbai in November 2010, his mission was clear: he wanted to strengthen trade ties between the US and India. His speech to Indian government officials and businessmen against the backdrop of the city’s iconic Gateway of India made that evident. He said that the US saw India as an emerging economic force and a strategic trade partner. Obama praised India’s commercial capital for being a “city of dreams” and singled out for special attention the residents of the “winding alleys of Dharavi”.

Only a few years ago, any reference by a visitor to the central Mumbai neighbourhood popularly thought to be Asia’s largest slum would have drawn gasps of horror from the upper-crust guests in Obama’s audience. India’s elite have always been prickly about Westerners drawing attention to their country’s poverty (even though the World Bank estimates that about 80 per cent of the nation’s population gets by on less than two dollars a day). Instead, Obama’s invocation of Dharavi drew enthusiastic applause.

Though Mumbai can’t begin to match the architectural marvels of Paris or London, the city’s elite have long been proud of the art deco buildings of the Marine Drive seaside promenade, the nineteenth-century neo-Gothic offices downtown and the Indo-Saracenic dome of the Victoria Terminus Railway station.  Curiously, to their list of Mumbai’s highlights, have they now added a 175-hectare area slum.
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Keywords: Dharavi, slum, Mumbai, romaniticisation, Domus



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