Mumbai, 2007: The dirty gully leading onto the entrance of the SSP complex near Filmcity is strewn on all sides with the worst kind of garbage. In the ocean of plastic, paper and decomposing fruits, vegetables and cooked food a man cannot be blamed for feeling like Dante’s alter ego. As i walk across the compound which in some engineers plan at sometime was supposed to be a play area for the children, a bunch of 4-5 year olds dart from behind me and dive into a heap of garbage tussling with each other with the frivolity of country bumpkins rolling in hay. I’ve heard that in the dark ages Europe was this way, but then again it couldn’t have been this bad, after all the population of the whole world back then would probably have been lesser than that of Mumbai today.

The days when we had a quasi welfare state are over, so now there are no convenient targets for the blame. But having no one to blame doesn’t improve the situation, just makes it easier for the minority to ignore the miserable majority of the population. This class of people have been stricken off from the consideration of the business conglomerates, the govermental organizations and the media. Having said that, its important to point out that there are still a few NGOs and semi-governmental projects which are actively burrowing away in mole-like fashion at the misery and pain in people’s lives. But most of these initiatives generate more publicity than social change or financial empowerment. Ultimately the fact still remains that for all practical purposes 80% of the our population are as good as extinct in any kind of policy making that concerns the populace, be it governmental or non-governmental. Even for themselves these people only exist in a vague future that seems all the more brighter for its vagueness. I see the shining India nestled in this garbage dump. Its funny; in the city the biggest number of people occupy the smallest part of the land for accommodation.

I walk around in the corridors of one of the buildings of SSP, just to remind myself that if I don’t behave and make enough money to afford a one bed-room-kitchen flat, i may have to end up here, there’s a very realistic chance that this might happen. It would be impossible for me to remain the person i am and live in a place like this. What i call basic necessities of life like a place to egest my feces, water for ablutions and cleaning, drinking water, a little cleanliness etc. are luxuries here. Much as i sympathize with humanity the horror of SSP is something i will not be able to deal with, I imagine ghettos during the holocaust to look similar. A friend of mine once toured the place with me and vomited at the end of it. He didn’t know what to say, the only thing he could do was abuse people living in such conditions profusely. In his opinion people who acquiesce to such human rights violation are more to blame than anybody else. His argument in some sense seems good, but somehow I don’t quiet agree with it.

The walls have grime in nice swirling patterns, it looks quiet interesting if you don’t try to imagine what caused them. I can wax eloquent poetically about the life that brushes against these walls, about the people who strive in such extremities and yet seem to have a normal life, people who dream of getting out this dump, people who still have enough spunk in them to survive and work and pay bills and keep at it, its spectacular, but the existence of such a place is for a reason. Its this reason that we should think about. As a society we have allowed such monstrosities to arise, its not one person who did it, its a whole culture that has allowed this condition to arise. Our selfishness, naivety and ostrich-ism is to blame.

I can rant all i want and i know that other than a few NGO types who have made a career in developmental activities might resonate my sentiments, most everybody else who gets a kick out of watching Rang De Basanti would just turn the page and yawn. Its a fair reaction. I wont complain about it, after all I myself cant think of one thing i can do to change anything. Why should anyone think about such a place? Who has asked these people to stay in this dump, most of them have villages to go back to, why do they have to lump themselves into this crummy seedy place?

Answers to these questions are quiet complicated and long winded socio-economic surveys have to be used to explain everything convincingly. Even after such heavy research and reading and much thesis writing nothing can be conclusively proved’ primarily because the villages of India are as different and peculiar in their reactions to globalization and all of the rest jingbang that its difficult to quantify the nations troubles in any comprehensive manner.

But a walk through SSP can do wonders to anybody who feels that this whole thing is guilt mongering.

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