I have passed by slums ever since I was born. The hired help who came from the nearby slum massaged me when I was an infant. Shantabai as she was called also moped the floor, washed the vessels and clothes. On Christmas and diwali my mother gave her bakshish -“extra” wages along with her regular ones. She came 6 days a week, 365 days of the year barring the usual vacation when she wanted to go to the village. She didn’t have young ones and she rarely fell sick. She was lean and healthy. When my mother gave her the extra rotis (flat bread ) or chawal ( cooked rice ) that was made for the day shantabai would ask it to be packed up for her son . Shantabai didn’t live in a slum all her life. She came from a family of modest means in the village and was married to a rich landlord.
Shantabai was the second wife of this rich landlord. In addition to renting out shops and some residences ( read chawls ) they also owned a roadside temple and celebrated ganesh ustav with pomp. When the landlord decided to take the third wife, Shantabai was thrown out with her 15 year old son on the streets. No alimony and no children expenses. And no place to rest her head. Shantabai now turned to a slumdweller who was paying rents to her husband landlord. When they were hesitant she took her bundle of clothes and borrowed some vessels to cook in an open playground at night. At night she slept under the skies and in the morning she sat around. Initially everybody in the neighborhood was afraid to offer her work because she was a rich landlord’s wife who also had a political clout in the area.
Few months later a woman was courageous enough to offer her work – washing, cleaning etc. After that she got steady work – at least she cleaned and moped 4-6 houses and had enough money to rent a place in the slum. Yes, she was paying money to her husband for her dwelling in the slum. She had money to pay for groceries and that was it. But it was not sufficient to keep her son in school. He dropped out. Walked around the streets, befriended the boys in the slum and turned to ways that bought an extra income through any means possible. He landed in jail a few times , but his father did not bail him out. The mother would take advance from her employers and go to the police station to pay bail once she collected sufficient amounts.
Shantabai never dreamt that she would live in a slum one day. She did not even think that her son will turn to wrong ways because they lived very well by all means ( not American of course).
The people living in the slums in Bombay are people who cannot afford even the modest means of dwelling in one of the priciest real estate places in the world. They are peons, household help, vendors, cooks, construction laborers, janitors, and tailors. They are the waiters that you see in the five star hotel working as waiters and sous chefs, They are also cooks in the glamorous houses in the sky scrapers of South Bombay. They polish your shoes and wash your clothes and also take care of your children when you are dressed in a suit and a tie and go to make business deals.
Many did not choose to be in the Slums. They live in a slum because they were forced out by adversities of life from their villages, forced out by the unemployment in small towns and even mid size towns .
They are the majority of the population of Bombay – resilient by force, and not by choice. They are the reason why there are chauffeur driven cars and south Bombay employs them for cheap. Ever wonder why the imports from India that you buy at Banana Republic and Anthropologie and Ann Taylor is cheap ? Because these exploited tailors do not get sufficient wages to get out of the slums and move into a decent place try hard they might.
The money they earn are shared with the extended family members in the village they migrated from years ago escaping hunger. They have a sense of community than you and me. Infuriate one and you infuriate many. Successes, joys and pains are shared. And festivals celebrated amidst with the little that they have. Some become like Shantabai’s son but not all. Some go on to become doctors and engineers and one whom I personally know even studied at IIT for his master’s program. But these are exceptions and eventually get out of the slum while many others continue to stay in the slum generations after generations. slum dogs are not the term for them, not even slum gods. The society has lost a sense of respect for fellow human beings if they have started to name people by the kind of dwelling they live in. it is a movie, but it is also a reflection of society. Doesn't artists express and expose society in their art? Yes, but they also edit it and the audience is left with what they have not "Cut".
A Quick Note to Mr Boyle, the director of the movie Slum dog millionaire.
Mr Boyle, As for the title “slum dog millionaire” your artistic mind copied the hindi translation of the phrase “gali ka kutta ( street dog , when literally translated and is used as a curse word in India.) metaphorically meant as a scum dog into a movie calling out for many discussions and accolades. Cheers to poverty as a source of inspiration, is it ?
Your kaleidoscopic western lens has brought tales of poverty to the living rooms of Hollywood and for those who wonder if such conditions really exist. This movie has brought a buzz to evening cocktail parties where wall street conversations leave a sour taste. Will you title a movie a foul prince- Prince charles. Run before the palace dogs hounds you.It is disdain to feel entitled to name the lesser known with an abusive catchy title. The people who live in the slums are not proud of their state.