Holi Days In The Slums Of Kolkata
on Cowboys and Indians (India), 25/Mar/2011 06:03, 34 days ago
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Normal0falsefalsefalseMicrosoftInternetExplorer4st1\:*{behavior:url(#ieooui) }/* Style Definitions */ table.MsoNormalTable {mso-style-name:"Table Normal"; mso-tstyle-rowband-size:0; mso-tstyle-colband-size:0; mso-style-noshow:yes; mso-style-parent:""; mso-padding-alt:0cm 5.4pt 0cm 5.4pt; mso-para-margin:0cm; mso-para-margin-bottom:.0001pt; mso-pagination:widow-orphan; font-size:10.0pt; font-family:"Times New Roman"; mso-ansi-language:#0400; mso-fareast-language:#0400; mso-bidi-language:#0400;}I’m walking towards a taxi rank in Kolkata when a driver accosts me and starts haggling. He’s probably asking too much for the journey I want to take, but it’s difficult to negotiate with a man who’s painted bright pink from head to toe. Then again, aside from a few patches of blue around thecheeks, so am I.Today has been Holi, India’s festival of colours, and as he tells me a few minutes later when I’m safely ensconced in the back of his cab, it’s a festival that levels everyone – no matter your caste, class or everyday skin colour, nobody is safe from the powders, paints and water bombs and everyone looks the same when you’re covered in colours.Kolkata is a city that really embraces Holi and with it the opportunity to come together for a shared party. It was here in Bengal that the tradition of playing with colours started, when worshippers would visit Krishna temples and cover themselves with red powder to signify the passion with which they would work to honour Krishna and struggle to improve society.In Kolkata, that struggle is still great. In a city of 15 million people, the third largest in India, some3 million people live in slums. According to UN-Habitat’s‘Global Report on Human Settlements’there are 5,500 slums here, of which around 2,011 are registered slums known as‘bustees’. The other 3,500 unregistered slums have grown up by the side of canals, large drains, garbage dumps, railway tracks and roads. Space in the slums is hard to come by, and on average each small room is shared by 13 people.Many of the authorised slums date back to the days of British colonialism, when middlemen let out huts on landowners’ land to migrant workers. These migrants needed a place to live and had no alternative but to accept accommodation without basic amenities. Today, the situation is much the same as workers come from states such as Orissa, Jharkhand and Bihar to seek work in Kolkata.Dr. Nitai Kundu interviewed Kolkata slum dwellers for theUN-Habitat report. One man he spoke to, Safi Ahmed, lives in a Kolkata slum called Narkeldanga and works laminating paper. As a child he lived in a slum in Park Circus with his parents but after his marriage moved to Narkeldanga to live with his family. He earns Rs 300 (just over£4) per week with which he supports seven family members, and he pays Rs 300 a month in rent for their shared home.Another man, Rajan, is 70 and has works in a slum in ward 38. He is employed rolling bidis: small, leaf-rolled cigarettes tied with string. He makes 500-600bidisevery day and is paid Rs 70, less than£1. All the members of his family share a single room so it’s normal for the male members to sleep outside on the pavement, a common sight on Kolkata’s streets.Stories like these highlight the industriousness of the slums and how long and hard their inhabitants work for such a paltry reward. But on days like Holi, when Kolkata forgets its divisions and comes together in celebration, its true colours shine through.