Living in a home just 3m2

Mumbai is home to some of the most densely packed living conditions I have ever seen. I imagine it to be something like the favela’s of Brazil or shanty towns in Mexico city where an entire family (6+ people) are living in one room houses packed together with only a covered gutterway seperating the buildings. Without someone to lead you through you would get totally lost, squeezing under the little metal stairways which lead to the upstairs houses, stepping over small children peeing in the drains, and passing women slapping soapy washing on the scarce flat paving stones, blaring TV’s and industrious window shops selling long colourful sachet strips of shampoo, sweets and crisps.

Having visited a very busy school in Worli (housing 6 schools in the same building) and met the Academic Support Centre staff who had just started the afternoon session for the Nanhi Kali’s and boys supported by Naandi, we set off (with the local Community Activist who lives in the slums behind the school, and knows the children and parents) to meet some of the mothers in their homes.

As you might know I am not a tall person (just 5’ 4”) but weaving through the tiny alleyways and heading deep into the houses you realise just how cramped the living conditions are. There is really very little sense of personal space in Indian cities, something which coming from London even I have found hard to get used to.

Climbing sideways up the narrow staircases, we took our shoes off at the door (I was visiting with Sheetal Mehta – Director of KC Mahindra Education Trust, James Robey our Group CSR lead, and Karsten Eskelund who is working in the Capgemini office here for Capgemini Norway and always keen to see the other side of Mumbai) and stood/sat in the tiny one room house amongst the immaculate stacks of clothes, metal cooking pots and containers of dried snacks to talk with the mother of a Nanhi Kali attending the school. Her husband was out working as a stonemason (quite a common job for this area I realised) which brings a fairly good (upto Rs.6000 a month) but very inconsistent wage to cover the staggering Rs. 3000 rent of the house each month. In most of the homes we visited the women had taken garment making jobs, trimming the loose threads off machine made trousers for half a rupee each (I can’t equate this to pence – 1 rupee is just over 1p).

Even I have noticed the difference in the cost of living in Mumbai. In Hyderabad, a fresh coconut water off the street costs Rs. 10 (if you manage to ask in Hindi ;)) and here the going rate is Rs.25!

At each home, having been told we were from Capgemini and supported Nanhi Kali’s like their daughters, the mothers became quite emotional, offering us water, biscuits and thanking us for supporting their daughters to get an education, something they all believed was one of the most important reasons for coming to the city.

Rajasekhar, managing Project Nanhi Kali for the state of Maharashtra and our host on this visit, animatedly chatted with the Nanhi Kali’s asking them about their favourite subjects and why they liked going to school, giggling that they would now be able to come home and teach their mothers what they had learnt. And as you see the growing confidence in these little girls, you realise that these first generation learners really do stand a chance of achieving something more in life.

25th November 2011