You may term it Asia’s biggest slum or term it Asia’s biggest informal recycling hub, but my walk and learn visit through the by-lanes of ‘Dharavi’ in Mumbai were my baby-steps into the field of ‘Waste Management’ before I, along with my brother, Vivek launched Jaagruti Waste Paper Recycling Services
I had connected with a local boy Hashim to give me a walking tour of Dharavi before I arrived at the Mahim junction that morning after deboarding from my Train from Vapi in Gujarat.
Hashim was there to receive me.
Once out of the station, we crossed over a bridge and Dharavi, there it was, with wall art done to welcome travellers intrigued to see the place where Hollywood blockbuster ‘Slumdog Millionaire’, was shot.
There are 4 main industrial units in Dharavi-Recycling, Tanneries, Cloth (Dyeing and computerized embroidery) and Leather Tanneries) and many smaller units are scattered amidst the bigger ones.
Dharavi is divided into 13 compounds. Compound 13 which I visited first was the main hub of plastic recycling. I could see all plastic items we use and throw scattered around- from caps of ball pens to broken helmets, toothbrushes, bottle caps and chairs. Labourers work on them manually to segregate them according to their shapes and sizes and then it’s all shredded and sun-dried on the rooftops of shanties, before being remoulded into plastic again!
Hungry as I ought to be after walking in the sultry heat of Mumbai through the Plastic Recycling units, I landed at a ‘Puff making unit’, which was baking hot like the hot oven inside, where puffs were being made and packed to be sold to units making ‘patties’. My drooling got the puff-makers to give a very grateful me a couple of pups to taste.
There is also a ‘Refurbishing Industry’ in here- in which labourers work hard to remove old paint from metal and plastic barrels and then remove the dents in them, repaint them and sell them again.
The sight was not so pleasing, so I just braved myself to see the first bit of the Tannery segment – whhere goat skins after being drenched in ‘sendha namak’ (for preserving them) were being loaded on to a truck and further being sent to the tanneries in Chennai and or Kanpur.
My last stopover was in the Pottery Industry, run majorly by Saurashtrians from Gujarat, who don’t like being clicked.
An enthralling visit to Dharavi that day is what enthused me to begin our foray into setting up our work, which about six years down the line is going strong!