I don’t possess very many handbags. And ironically, the one I use the most is also the least expensive one. It is a small, black, sling bag, which I wear across my body, when I go for my evening walks, or to the nearby ATM, or to fetch my son from the bus. I carry in it the essentials – keys, phone, some cash, sometimes, my credit card.
But the truth is, the bag is never confined only to these items. Over several days, it ends up accumulating much, much, more. At any point, I can put my hand in and find things which I don’t really recall putting in. So today I found some Vicks ki goli, a small piece of smooth, glittering, white stone gifted by my son, and Rs.500 in cash (which is a large amount for this unpretentious bag). On previous occasions I have found a tube of my favourite lipstick for which I had been hunting high and low, a tiny notepad in which I had scribbled some ideas as they occurred and then forgotten promptly about, and of all things, a lemon! For the life of me I can’t remember why I would have a lemon in my bag. And almost always, a pack of tissues.
Every few weeks, when I find I can no longer absent-mindedly slide my phone into the bag, I empty it. And these little ‘treasures’ roll out. And I am bemused at what I find.
This bag is no Gucci or Kors. Oh, far from it. Can you even begin to guess where it was sourced from? It proudly dons the moniker of ‘Dharavi’. When my niece was visiting from Singapore, the enterprising girl, who loves India with a passion I sometimes can’t fathom, insisted on doing the ‘Slum Tour’ of Dharavi. She wanted to write about it for the magazine she was interning with. So we booked the tour conducted by the ‘Slum Gods’, which turned out to be three hours of pure, unadulterated, education.
Dharavi, if you look at it purely as an outsider, is a hellhole. There is no other word to describe it. There are open, stinking, stagnant, sewers, highest density of population in so small a space, and an absence of civic amenities which doesn’t point to a derelict municipality, but an absentee municipality. When you enter Dharavi and take the tour, your opinion does change. Not about the government, and not about the living conditions, but about its inhabitants. Dharavi teaches the abject lesson of survival at any cost. We were stunned by the enterprise of the small entrepreneurs there, (from leather processing units, to housewives rolling out papads in a central courtyard), and the will to live and survive amid dire poverty and squalor. Our ‘Slum Gods’ tour guide was a homegrown boy, who not only held his own in speaking English (he conducts these tours for firangs too), but was so very proud of the enterprise of his neighbours, and spoke with justifiable pride about the hip-hop band his friends and he had formed. I checked it to out on Youtube later, and it was quite creditable.
As part of the tour, he took us to a leather outlet, where on display were bags of various hues and sizes. Among them, the ‘Dharavi’ brand too. This particular bag called out to me as the perfect go-to bag for the many errands I have to run every day. It’s just big enough for me to carry the essentials, and small enough to ensure I don’t fill it up with rubbish. Notwithstanding the odd lemon and lipstick, of course! The very ease of wearing it, has endeared this bag to me. Now, you may scoff at the look of my bag. It perhaps lacks the design sensibilities that the Europeans so easily impart to bags. But there can’t be an iota of doubt that the quality of leather is among the best. Dharavi is known for its outlets selling quality leather products, if you are adventurous enough to venture there. So I was most happy to buy my sling on this tour. I loved the fact that the manufacturer had decided to launch brand ‘Dharavi’. It spoke of a certain amount of pride, and self-assurance, which I found oddly touching, and very impressive.
I am glad my little sling isn’t a high-value one. I would then be most reluctant to haul it everywhere. The Dharavi sling has been carried to all places and put to much rough use, and it’s weathered all the ill-usage with smooth equanimity. The leather has just got more soft with time, and I have no doubt it will last me for many, many, more moons to come.
Yet, I have to confess, I am getting a bit tired of its colour. I crave a change. Is it time to go back and find a twin of this bag, maybe in tan, or green, or blue, perhaps? I will keep you posted…Meanwhile, if you find the brand Dharavi anywhere, do patronise it:-)