Mumbai, the Mayanagari of India, is truly a place of dreams and illusions. A city which is known for its magic and its ability to change dreams into reality. While dreams have no boundaries, they sure have many dimensions. Some dream of fame and success while others dream of a house over their head and food on their plates. Some dream of making their talent known to the world while others dream of making their little world a better place for their loved ones. One such story is that of Asha, a girl who came to this magical city leaving behind everything she had ever known with the dream of a better life for herself and her family. When I first came across her story, one late afternoon on a local train in Mumbai, I did not know that my perspective about life was going to change forever.
A visit to her place, the following day, brought my biggest nightmares to reality. Everything I had heard or read about this place did not seem to do any justice to what I was now witnessing. Asha – a teenager from a small village somewhere in Northern parts of India is till date, the strongest person I have come across.
She looked almost the same age as I, only she had three more dependent on her; three mouths to feed, three innocent lives to look after. In a place where nearly a million people lived in a total space that could be accommodated by merely a thousand, each human was fighting his own battle. Asha was one among them; fighting for survival. She has spent all her life in this slum, oblivious to the life people lived in the real world. Real world, I am no longer sure which side of the world is real.
We complain about the trivial problems in our daily life- a bigger house, a better car, a higher salary- the list is endless and here I was seeing a herd of more than a million caught in the rooster coop. Seven hundred thousand people who came here, away from everything they have ever known, in hopes of a better life. A better life, I silently laughed at the irony.
Her story and my nightmare does not end here. Now that her family’s breadwinner had lost his job, she had only one way to continue her battle for survival. She said she worked for a few hours every night in a brothel down the road next to her “home”, for a bare minimum of 100 each time. I shuddered at the thought. As I looked into those cold dead eyes, I saw the ill fate of thousands of girls like her. Suddenly a low paying job and less leisure time to spend did not seem like a horrible life. Realization struck hard; a small change in God’s plan and I could be one of them.