(A)ward(s) to the wise

The Oscars went slumming – one might even be tempted to call it a “slum dunk”. Down and out in Hollywood, the celluloid elite shared the red carpet with the dwellers of the streets of Mumbai. After Slum Dog Millionaire won eight Oscars including for Best Picture and Best Director, Danny Boyle, the film’s British director was understandably elated – the film has raked in millions of dollars and will ensure that Danny Boyle is recession-proof and out of the slums, unless he decides to make a sequel.

What is the forecast for the numerous cast of characters who constitute the cast away extras of Slum Dog Millionaire? Millions of slum dwellers in Mumbai doggedly waited the return of the few fortunate cast members who temporarily took flight on a pilgrimage to the altar of “make believe” in the land of [fading] dreams.

From the heads of political parties, from cultural and civic leaders to the general public and down to the marginalized millions residing in slums, this has been a time of pride and recognition. When all the pride and recognition eventually dies down, as the bright glare of the reel camera fades away, one recognizes that the rude reality is far from an appealing vision.

Very few persons would willingly choose to live in squalid tenements that are crammed in close proximity with precious little privacy and filled with all the sensory experiences of congested human and animal existence. Along with lack of any if not most civic amenities, the escalating effluence is a frontal assault on all the senses while the teeming evidence of growing generations must be a daunting challenge for officials responsible for the census.

In the mad rush to unbridled market capitalism, the proliferating slums are a growth industry. The area of Dharavi, burdened with the questionable (questionable not as a matter of fact but rather of taste) moniker of the “largest slum in Asia”, has temporarily morphed from an unwelcome civic blight to a reigning celebrity delight.

Dharavi, besides being the setting for “Slum Dog Millionaire” is a thriving market place with revenues estimated at close to a billion dollars. This huge investment is music to the ears of politicians and special interest backers who stand to benefit from the status quo. The unhealthy political-economic combination makes it all the more difficult for civic-minded detractors to push for the denizens of the slums to be relocated to other areas with better standards of habitation and for the demolishing of the urban blight to make for greener public spaces for an enhanced quality of life.

In a related story, the residents of slums in order to supplement their meager existence and to cash in on the interest sparked by the Oscar winning film are offering tourists tours through their neighborhoods. The only way that this could be viewed in a favorable light is if the slum dwellers were showing the tourists a disappearing way of existence.

India is currently making preparations to host the 2010 Commonwealth Games. New Delhi, the venue of the games, has the same problems as Mumbai in terms of slums. Now is the time for the government of India to take decisive action in relocating slum dwellers to better and permanent housing in all urban areas. The removal of the abandoned slums and the conversion of the slum land to urban parks will enhance the quality of living of all Indians.

India will continue to be a nation grounded in its aspirations for a higher standard of living unless its soaring population is kept under strict control by a disciplined national population strategy. India can only become a superpower of the people when the proverbial man on the street neither lives on the street as a “slum dog” nor as a “millionaire” in a personal ivory tower. Indians can lead the way in under-populating and under-polluting their region as they live healthy, frugal, sustainable and productive middle-class lives.


(www.embar.net – for additional articles)


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