Slumdog for a week

July 5, 2014 9:50 am

A Life Changing Experience

As a first world society there are so many things we consider necessities rather than luxuries; a four bedroom house, en suite bathrooms, back gardens, clean running water. Even though we work hard and accumulate these things we still want more. Why is it that we are still unable to be happy? Let’s travel 4511 miles south east of England to the third largest city in the world, Mumbai.

Mumbai has been listed first by Forbes in the average wealth of its many billionaires yet the city suffers from widespread poverty, poor public health and pitiable living standards for a large portion of the population; with over a million of who are currently living in makeshift slums. During my time travelling I was fortunate enough to visit a slum called Annawadi; located on a patch of land next to Mumbai’s International airport, the slum is home to around 3000 people.

There was a strange sensation in my stomach as I walked through a maze of single room accommodations; the passageways just about had enough space for two, with open gutters flowing down one side. The smell of sewage and cooking flooded my nose as I made my way past the numerous so called ‘houses’ until I reached the home of Pratik, the art seller. Learn more here about their household.

The family consisted of Pratik, his wife and his two children. Their living space was a single 10ft by 12ft room which doubled as a kitchen, with a small washroom in one corner and single bed below a grate covered window. In order to use the toilet Pratik and his family had to walk 5 minutes through their vastly crowded neighbourhood to a dingy foul smelling set of public toilets. There would always be a queue to use these, especially in the morning, and due to lack of running water everybody had to bring their own buckets.

I was well out of my comfort zone already, my initial thoughts were: how on earth is it possible to share such a small space with 3 other people? But here they were doing what I deemed impossible. They welcomed me happily into their already crowded home and granted me the privilege of staying with them for a few days. That night I helped Pratik’s wife prepare a meal in their little kitchen corner and everybody ate together as a family, sitting cross legged on the floor. Being a guest, they told me to sleep on the single bed while they lay out blankets and pillows on the floor for themselves.

The next morning is where my change in thinking started; as I filled up a bucket and headed out towards the public toilets, I caught glimpses of the lives of other neighbours in their dwellings. They all had more or less the same living conditions which I described yet I did not see a single face that did not smile at me as I walked past. Some invited me to share breakfast with them while others sparked up conversations asking where I was from and what I do for a living. This is when it hit me like a bullet; all of these people have so little and yet they seem so content with life whereas I have so much and still find reasons to complain.

I lived like the locals for the whole week and I can honestly say that it changed my perspective on life. When I questioned Pratik about how he felt about his home he replied, “I have a beautiful, loving family. My wife and I work hard to be able to provide our children with an education. To me this is more important than any materialistic thing we could have. A bigger home would be nice but funding our children’s futures is what really matters. We don’t want anything else; we already have what we need. We are happy!”

After my week as a slum dweller I finally realised the biggest mistake in life we all make; we take too much for granted. How could we possibly feel as content as Pratik and his family when we don’t value what we already have? It’s our belief that materialistic things provide us with happiness but this common misconception is what stops us from being truly happy. Yes, a new pair of shoes or a games console will initially make us joyful but this is just a temporary joy we feel, a short lived happiness. As a society we need to stop and take a look at what we already have. The moment we stop wanting and start being more grateful for life is the moment we will finally acquire true happiness.

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