Past or Future?

Past or Future?

A conflicting conversation with Ankush and Sultaan, both residents of Dharavi. 


We were lucky to catch hold of the very busy Ankush outside the snack shop. While his ancestral home is in Shirdi, he has spent all his 31 years in Dharavi. His father is a coolie at Bombay Central Station. He works at an MNC in Powai and takes on electrical contracts too, leaving him with no time for leisure. 

Snack shopSnack Shop

He told us what he thought about the redevelopment with conviction and clarity, like something he had the chance to rehearse in past conversations with others. ‘It is very, very necessary. The built environment that we live in promotes crime. There are so many nooks to hide from the eye of the police here, the impossibility of surveillance increases the possibility of illegal activity, anyone can do anything to women in these streets,’ says Ankush. ‘These thugs threaten most business owners to give them money if they want to run their businesses in peace,’ he adds disdainfully. 

He thinks that the organisation that will come with redevelopment will promote less crime, the structure will be such that surveillance will be easier. He is newly married and doesn’t want to raise his children in Dharavi. He worries that they will get into crime. ‘A lot of my friends are into this dirty business, I really had to stand my ground to not give in. Who knows how my children will be? They might want quick cash, they might think I am stupid to have taken so long to buy a house. I don’t want to take this unnecessary risk.’ 

Ankush is a hardworking man who is a respected member of the community, which was evident by the number of passerby's that greeted him during our short conversation. He believes in order and taking responsibility. His fervour against criminality drove me to ask him if he had personally faced problems because of it. ‘There is no space to park bikes and cars here and if you do find some, the dadas do their dadagiri and threaten to burn your car if you don’t move it. Sometimes they slash the tyres. It has happened with people who have come to see me from outside Dharavi. Why would you come to my house again if it’s costing you so much of your time and money? Killings and kidnappings as a means to gain power and respect are rampant. Becoming a criminal is also a path to becoming a politician here. You’ll find addicts creating chaos in places which are supposed to be safe. I would like to live with some safety and security.’ 

He doesn’t think there’s anything worth preserving here. ‘You might think I have very negative views but I am just telling you as it is. I want to live a positive life, be around positive people doing productive things,’ he says. 

Ankush has his eyes on the future, he wants to leave his past behind while Sultaan Amir Khan, 32, wants to rewind 10 years, back to the times before Modi Sarkar. He runs a paan shop right next to where we were speaking to Ankush. He loves the access to goods and services Dharavi gives him and also the thriving public life it has. ‘There’s someone to laugh with from the minute I wake up,’ says Sultaan. He doesn’t have particularly strong views about the development but vehemently wants a change in leadership and justice for himself and his community, which has been pushed further into the margins since the rise of the current government. 

Sultaan's paan shopSultaan's Paan Shop

The future seems to favour some while others use the past as a sanctuary. Ankush and Sultaan’s desires are not only a reflection of their inner landscapes but also the realities they inhabit. It is deeply telling of who can hold space in this new world order.