part time recycler, full time rockstar


I quickly wandered down the stairs into the gully. I could see Sajid just ahead but was quickly losing sight of him. The path was narrow and this place was teeming with life, and stuff! Children running around. People sitting on their door steps drinking chai. Pipes. Tarpaulins. Bags and bags of junk. Wood. And the odd cat or dog or goat! After a solid 10 minutes of following him through the maze of alley ways and paths, we stepped into his home. His mother handed me a tumbler of water and I took a seat on the floor. His home was about half, possibly a third of the size of my bedroom. A room that contained a kitchen, ‘living space’, one bed, and housed his family. His family of 9.

One of the (widest) alleyways in Dharavi!

In my last post I had written about the glimpse into an under resourced community we got through staying with Ghani’s family. (You can see a video we made about his life here!) Farmers are some of the poorest people around the world and that experience was a huge eye opener into the realities of his life, but these past few days were next level! Despite having studied global development and economics, and having volunteered in this sector before, upon walking into Sajid’s home, I realised I knew nothing.

How does everyone fit in here? Why do I have such a big bedroom? Does space even matter? What does matter? Where are the nearest toilets? There were none in or near this home that I could see. Where is the nearest source of clean water? Do I need to use the amount of clean water that I do? What happens during the crazy Mumbai monsoon season? Would these homes be totally flooded and destroyed? Is there much crime or violence in the area? A sense of community? What is needed to foster connections amongst humans and build communities? What do we as humans actually need? Do we really need all that we think we need?

Spending a few days with Sajid provided some answers, but I felt like I left with more questions!

Sajid with his best friend Afsar
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Sajid and his mates playing Carrom

Sajid is an interesting guy. He lives in Dharavi, the biggest recycling hub in India and also where Slumdog Millionaire was shot! Like many of his friends, he spends his days as a ‘rag picker’ – essentially buying waste, sorting out different types of plastic and selling it off again. It’s a tough, dangerous job but Sajid has this awesome half jokey half determined can-do attitude and just gets stuck in.

The contrasts of Sajid’s work environment
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Sajid at work

The real excitement however is in the evenings though when he heads to band practice. A friend of ours, Abhijit started an incredible music group here by the name Dharavi Rocks. Picture 15-30 kids holding percussive instruments they made themselves from waste they picked up in the area and drumming in incredible harmony. Everything from a beautiful bass on a big plastic barrel, to various layers of improv beats, to a chime on a glass bottle and shakers made of plastic bottles filled with sand. It is an incredible sight and experience to hear these boys get lost in their music.

Some of the band!
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Hand painted drums!

The group was started to give these boys a way to develop their confidence, character, concentration, give them something productive to do and to nurture their musical talents. These guys have collaborated with some of the biggest artists and celebs around India and the world too – Salman Khan, AR Rahman and currently with Skrillex even! They are super energetic and it is an inspiring sight to see them unleash themselves.

To get an insight into Sajid’s life and a band practice, check this video out.

All in all I came away from the experience with mixed emotions and reactions. A huge part of me is still a little shocked at the (obvious) reality of the lives of so many people that I was, and am still so naïve to. I’ve realised how much more narrow my perception of the world is than I thought, and reminded of just how much there is to learn. And I am moved too, by the boys we met. Moved by their confidence, their hope and the big dreams they have set for themselves.

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