The Rich Slum


She walks like the wind and speaks like a bird. She looks timid and physically challenged, but to her she is the queen of her slums. She passes along the huts that are dripping with water from the rain last night. Ladies are sitting outside their huts on the wet ground to get some fresh air. Black smoke from some huts fills the air indicating the preparation of lunch. Everyone recognizes her and pass her an occasional greeting. Her parents named her ‘Shehzadi’ , which means ‘the queen’. She loves to play with the little plastic bag that she carries around wherever she goes. Her little frock has innumerable patches and her hands are full of broken stuff that some rich kid had thrown away in trash. Her eyes are full of hope for a better future; her heart tells her that these days won’t last long. One day she will be able to see the ‘blue sky’ above which is a dirty shade of grey always. Some people of her locality blame the nearby factory for this mayhem but mostly and also Shehzadi know that it’s an indication from god that they are doomed in this lifetime for a sin committed in their previous birth.
Shehzadi doesn’t understand a lot of rituals that are practiced in the slums but she blindly follows them because they are passed on for generations together, of course she sneaks and fulfills some of her wishes., one of them being, owning a pair of footwear. Her grandfather tells her that it is a family ritual that doesn’t allow them to wear footwear, not knowing the real reason behind such obnoxious rituals-poverty. The people living in the slums have convinced themselves of living in the dirt and follow practices that provide them escape from the harsh reality. Shehzadi’s mother is a talented woman, she weaves excellent charpais and makes beautiful pottery products but the men in the house don’t permit her to do something that could earn two square meals for the family. Apparently if a women works for money, the whole family is condemned and doomed for the next 7 births. The slum is rich and prospering with cultures that were both prodigal and unacceptable. Of course Shehzadi is ambitious, but that is it. Even she doesn’t know the way out of this ash filled envelope that surrounds her. Every day she sees someone or the other die of coughing and spilling blood from their mouth. She gets scared but she has no choice.
Her father promised her to send her to school, but as his health deteriorated he couldn’t fulfill his duties of providing two square meals, so there was no question of any school for her. Her mother blew into the small pipe each day to light up the chulah to make food, the ash from the wood and coal was making her asthmatic and Shehzadi sensed something foul.  She tried to find something in the garbage that could make her mother better. Each day she rummaged the garbage to find something to eat, to find some medicine for her mother. She had no knowledge of any medicine, but she had heard that eating those little pills improves people’s health. In that quest to find something pragmatic she found a pair of slippers that had two large holes in it. They were like ‘gold’ to her. She wore them and jumped around, she couldn’t feel the rough ground, she was wearing a pair of footwear. How amazing the feeling was. She kept it in the plastic bag she carried .
One afternoon a girl came in the slums. She looked like an angel. She was educated with curious eyes that looked and inspected every hut that she passed. She jumped around the water that was coagulated everywhere. The filth and the squalid environment made her sad. She talked to everyone around. Some people were apprehensive, they thought she had come to tell them to empty their houses and leave. This was turning into a regular trend in the area where large slums were converted into big industries. But she meant no harm. She came with a smile on her face and talked to them about their problems. After some time they understood that she was from a NGO and wanted to help them. Shehzadi flocked around the girl and demanded opening of a school for the children. She listened patiently and left.
Everyone is still waiting for her to come, she promised a better future, a school, some jobs and some happiness that could save them from this hell on Earth or as Shehzadi always called it  “The Rich Slum”, the slum which is culturally rich and prosperous!

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35 thoughts on “The Rich Slum

  1. Tanushree, this is beautifully written, and I agree with malt monkey. Poignant. You have a lot of talent. I find it sad that the lies and deceptions they tell themselves to use to make their situation tolerable have become the things that have imprisoned them and keep the cycle of poverty going. It is truth that will set all people free if they are willing to accept it and live in it’s light. Great writing once again. Enjoyed this.

      • Excellent. Nonfiction about a child trash sorter, Abdul, and his trials and tribulations in, Annawadi, one of the Mumbai slums near the airport. Reading your post I immediately thought of “Behind the Beautiful Forevers.” Note the corrected title.

  2. All the things we take for granted…Never mind if the story is fictional, such things are reality and we all are in desperate need of some reality check. It is so sad how greedy people actually are (including myself) and how our greediness changes our perspective, makes us blind about the things that really matter…Thanks for sharing:). Every now and then I need such reminder how lucky I actually am.

    • HI Buchardt
      I am delighted to notice that my story had such an impact on you!
      I am glad it could be of some help to someone’s life..
      Also I agree with you that we are very greedy and selfish!

  3. I try to teach my children. To appreciate education and opportunity. People who have too much. Can’t see the value of true wealth and gifts. Thank you for the story of a young girl trying to survive and be successful.

    • I agree. We often take too many things for granted. If they are old enough then make them read it,they will appreciate what you have to give them!

      Thanks for reading!

  4. “…know that it’s an indication from god that they are doomed in this lifetime for a sin committed in their previous birth.”

    Such a wonderful, simple line that was both clear and poignant. The best part was that you had scores of similar lines scattered throughout your prose.

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