The 16-building central cluster at Lallubhai Compound in Mankhurd—a far-flung suburb just within Mumbai’s eastern city limits—rises ominously, each building separated from the other by a few feet. Dominos in a hellish mass of concrete, only four buildings have access to direct sunlight, and on one facade each. Housed in this large-scale resettlement project are slum dwellers from all over Mumbai.
Click here to view a slideshow of Mumbai’s slum resettlement projects
Poverty seems to be an unacceptable reality in the city’s Shanghai dream. Every successive development scheme brings more refugees: People who lived near the central suburbs of Chembur and Matunga; generations who once had dwellings along P D’Mello Road near Victoria Terminus (now Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus). People still come. They come from slums that are demolished to clear the path for new flyovers and airports.
No one moves to Lallubhai Compound because they choose to; they move because their homes have been razed by the claw of a bulldozer. But a visit to the compound teaches you that rehabilitation means very little here. All one finds is a concrete slum—one with its own set of dangerous social ramifications.
Far from the nearest local train station, these projects are in close proximity to one of the city’s few open garbage dumping grounds. Mumbai’s municipal slaughterhouse at Deonar is rather close too.
The streets are like a mock copy of many failed housing projects of the West. Lallubhai Compound is a ghetto, home to victims of the city’s new urban realities. Moved away from their original place of work or study, the inhabitants find themselves compelled to find new ways of livelihood. Some convert their street-level houses into shops, beauty parlours and STD-PCO booths. But most of these businesses fail under the pressures of growing unemployment and crime. To make ends meet, residents often rent their 225 sq. ft cells for income and begin to live in the neighbouring slum.
In a 225 sq. ft room on the ground floor of C-Block in Lalubhai Compound, a 15-year-old swaggers past the shop curtain. His face burns red with teenage defiance. The room is filled with seven cupboard-sized video game machines, each laminated in worn-out red plywood. The boy jostles through the crowd of other teenage boys, pushing and pulling in a show of assertiveness. For those who don’t move, he shouts out crude sentences in Marathi that end with profanities chewed up and spat just like the red gutka that stains the walls. The air is filled with the jumbled sound of rap music, car crashes, gun shots, and more profanity. The boy toggles the joystick of a video game console, taking control of his character in the game. The three-dimensional figure on the screen shoots at a bunch of people and then proceeds to steal a car. One rupee gets you 60 seconds of game play and many coins are exchanged for more screen violence.
On being asked whether he goes to school, he says he does sometimes. He cannot pay for school supplies because his father does not have a regular income any more. What does he want to do when he grows up, I ask. He points to the screen, laughs and says, “Boss, don banna itna asaan hai (It’s so easy to be a gang leader).
Akshay Mahajan is a photojournalist and a member of the online photography forum Blindboys.org. These photographs were taken as part of a personal project to explore urbanism on the streets of Mumbai, “to study how the city’s cleared slums and ribboned roadways have led to urban desolation”.