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Impressions by Karola Koerber
India – always look twice.
I have been to India so many times in the past 10 years, it always felt like a second home to me. Nothing would really surprise me anymore – at least that’s what I thought, when starting my experience as Indo-German media ambassador. But perceiving the country through different eyes, the journalist’s eyes for that matter, brought me to reconsider and re-evaluate everything.
The memory that stuck most with me throughout the entire time, was our visit at Dharavi, one of Asia’s biggest “slums” in the heart of my most favorite Indian city Mumbai, or Bombay, like residents say. It’s funny, that I would still describe Dharavi as a part of the city which doesn’t seem to belong to Mumbai. Actually, this is already the gist of a love-hate relationship, I came to understand. On my numerous journeys to India I never visited a slum before, for the simple reason of disliking the idea of me being a “slum-tourist”- it’s a kind of curiosity that I learned to be ashamed of, I wouldn’t want tourists to stand in my front yard and comment on me and my life either. So, visiting Dharavi with tour-guides who actually come from and still live in Dharavi, was an exception and great opportunity to let down my very german fear of intruding.
What impressed me the most, is Dharavi’s total lack of being a cliché of a slum. Of course, there were narrow paths, with water running through them, I tried to keep my feet dry by jumping from one floor-plate to another. But there also was the industrial area, where Dharavi produces what we wear (Prada, Gucci, you name it...) and what Mumbai-desis (locals) eat, sleep on, or even drive in. And there was the posh and more well-situated housing area. It looked like any other area to me in Mumbai, or maybe even more quiet, cleaner and just not like I imagined any area in a slum. I also learned, that the term “slum” actually doesn’t even describe the condition of its houses or the situation in which the people live in, it’s rather a description of “illegal” housing, houses illegally erupted on land owned by the government.
So, after all, Dharavi reminded me of one of my first lessons India taught me: To always look twice and constantly re-evaluate your perception of the obvious. Simple as that, isn’t it?