That Dharavi is a better slum than Greater Kailash is incontrovertible. The difference between the two is the difference between a good and a bad slum. While great densities of people live in relative harmony in Dharavi, sharing room, toilet and cooking platform, lesser densities in Greater Kailash shoot each other over space and parking rights. Though both places are reasonable measures of social values, Dharavi is by far the more cohesive example.
After Slumdog Millionaire and Shantaram, now comes a book by students of the Royal University College of Fine Arts in Sweden. Architects, artists and writers made several trips to a place that had an existence only as distant storybook sociology; approaching Dharavi not as a disease to be set right, but a human condition, with family struggles, work routines and other forms of survival. The documentation took many forms: living conditions were mapped, streets and alleys drawn, people sketched, the structure of space and working habitat drafted. What became apparent was the extraordinary freedom in a culture where opportunity and space was shared like food and water. To see Dharavi as a self-renewing organism that is changing, upgrading its own structure of accommodation, is the great gift of the book. Its unfortunate relationship with a city obsessed with real estate, FDI and builder lobbies makes it a serious contender for an alternative approach to urban values. And the best reason to stop marketing land as a disposable commodity.