Dharavi, the heart of Mumbai, India, has often been called the largest slum in Asia. It is one of the most dense areas in the world and between 300 000 and 1 million people share an area no bigger than 2 square kilometers. This is a density of at least 150 000 people/km2 (compare that to central Stockholm: 9000 people/km2!) in buildings rarely taller than three stories high. Dharavi is a microcosmos of India where hindu live out their life next to muslims and christians. The lack of space make the streets shift their purpose and like chameleons they are in constant change.    We each buy a sprite to have an excuse to sit down on a bench opposite the mosque on Mahatma Gandhi Road. We feel like intruders. Like we don’t belong here. (white) (women)
  Men start rolling out their prayer mats while the calm voice of prayer are heard from the loudspeakers. People are watching (us). Children are shouting. The life in the street slows down. Doesn’t halt completely. Slowly the street is filled. One mat - two mats - three mats.    A man approches me and asks for money. He points to a cut in his arm. ”Money, please” ”No” I shake my head. Someone chases him away. (Will someone chase us away?)
  Four rows of mats now. Still people can pass. How many are here now? 300? There are space for more.    A man hands Rebecka a scarf. Cover your hair. It is pink with golden dots. Consideration. (So we are welcome)
  ”Calligraphy?” ”No Swedish” We try to blend into the background. To no use. Men chase away kids and their questions. They are interrupting the prayers. (We can feel eyes upon us)    Suddenly something happens. Everyone stands up. A fifth row of mats are put out . Will the street be filled? Only a meter still allows people to pass. Everyone bends forward in prayer. Silence. Down on their knees, stand up and down again. They stand with there necks bent, murmuring prayers. Behind them women in colorful saris are passing. Hindu. A parallell reality.
  You could touch the silence. There are no cars honking their horns, no talking, no children laughing. Just silence. From our place opposite the mosque the field of prayers have spread over the street. There is no way of telling where it starts and where it ends. How many? - More than 500? - Maybe 1000    A melodic, beautiful prayer is heard from the speakers. What is he saying? A final mat is put in front of us and now the street has vanished. Five straight lines of people, in some places seven. It continues into the shops. Suddenly the street erupts in a common prayer. They kiss their fingers. Everyone rises. Hundreds of backs of heads are facing me. In from of them: Mecka. (What mosque could house the praying people of Dharavi?)
  When the praying man catches his breath we can hear others in the distance. Everyone touches the ground with their forehead. Up on their knees. Down again. Like a wave. It is a flood of prayers. A murmur of prayers are spreading.
  Suddenly is is over. The mats are rolled together. Dharavi starts moving again. (the spell is broken)    We are surrounded by men. The observers are being observed.
prev / next