I first spent a considerable amount of time in a Delhi slum in 1986. The slum, known as Yamuna Pushta, started at ITO in Delhi and extended far into the east, along the river Yamuna. It was around the ITO part of the slum that my journalism class spent a few days and nights. The idea was to report from reality – both the good and the bad that comes with life in a crowded neighbourhood without too many basic amenities. Or cleanliness. Or natural light. Or air.
In 2017, I went back to a slum, this time in east Delhi. Kanti Nagar is both vast and narrow. It is a sprawling area, tightly packed with small flats and shops, and fringed by high piles of garbage because this is where the raddiwalas (Hindi for junkmen or scrap-collectors) live.
Kanti Nagar is conceptually narrow, in terms of the extreme degradation of the human spirit.
Its narrow streets are bustling and dark, the buildings – blocks of single-room flats for whole families – rising high and ugly into the sky.
The buildings swallow the sun. There is little natural light or air inside the flats (of course, they’re not really flats, being no more than one room with a landing that is used as a kitchen).
The buildings have high stairs without bannisters – a child, an older person, a mildly inebriated individual could easily fall to a terrible death.
The dirt is thick and many-layered. There is no chance of a clean-up, unless there is a clean sweep.
I went to Kanti Nagar to find Naresh, the man who looked after my parents before their deaths. (Click here for my previous blog on Naresh.)
I did find Naresh. In Kachhi (Hindi for temporary) Kanti Nagar.
I also found out that Delhi’s slums hadn’t changed very much in the years since India went from rather gloomy prospects to economic vibrance.