Our senses were overwhelmed at every level. Multiple smells filled the air – air we could almost taste. All around were noises; people shouting and noises from machinery, and animals. We were jostled along the narrow streets – no place for the agrophobic. We could feel the mud squelch under our feet. Poverty and degradation dominated. We were being shown around the largest slum in Bombay (Now known as Mumbai).
And yet we were told that people like bank managers lived here. Decent property is so expensive in Mumbai that many prefer to live here, rather than commute from distant suburbs into the city centre. First perceptions are deceiving. It is not all poverty and deprivation. The slums are vibrant places. There is a sense of community that is missing among the modern apartment blocks.
What do you do when you’re in a car and suddenly four lorries are heading towards you? We were driving from Delhi in India, towards Dehradun in the foothills of the Himalayas. In the distance a very slow, overladen lorry was being overtaken gradually by another lorry on our side of the road. Now we were on a normal highway with one lane in each direction but at the sides of the road there was packed earth. As the two lorries got nearer to us, a third lorry getting impatient with the other two started to overtake on the earth at the other side of the road. Then a fourth lorry appeared, and started to overtake on the hard earth on our side of the road. So we were in a situation where all four lorries were heading towards us, and we had nowhere to go. The driver pulled to the side and somehow, all four lorries passed us!
We were heading for Atak farm in the village of Selakui where Yip and Frieda McRae ran a farm, boy’s home, school and training centre.
Note to self: if you ever go snorkelling again, remember that the sun can still scorch your back even though it is underwater and cool. I had arrived in Indonesia to spend a day or two with our friends Chuck and Angela Shelton. By the time I reached India my back was really red and painful. I was on the overnight train from Madras (Chennai) to Andhra Pradesh with Sagar to visit a work amongst disabled children. Sleeping on the bunk bed on the train was virtually impossible and anyway I needed to keep an eye on my suitcase.
Gandhi is one of my heroes. I use the word “heroes” with caution. No one is perfect and we can be tempted to idolise. But there can be no doubt that Mahatma Gandhi was a remarkable man. People have written books about him, many films have been made about him including the well-known film directed by Richard Attenborough.
In many developing countries, raw materials are costly but labour is comparatively inexpensive. In India, for example, recycling is the key. Nearly everything that can be recycled is collected and re-used. This reduces dependence on costly raw materials which may have to be imported.
Appropriate paper technology provides the means for poorer communities to add value by turning waste paper and cardboard into furniture and other useful items. The only costs are flour to make paste and varnish to make the product more sale-able.