Mumbai is a city of paradoxes. The city houses the country’s wealthiest and most impoverished, and in many instances, both live a few kilometres from each other. For every towering and glistening skyscraper, there is a humble house in the slum, which struggles with basic needs like electricity and food.
While many citizens try and help slum dwellers, the initiatives are not always sustainable. However, Misaal Mumbai, an initiative started by Rouble Nagi, a Mumbai-based artist, uses art as a medium to alleviate the misery of slum dwellers and provide them with some semblance of comfort, in this harsh world.
Rouble has been working in and around Mumbai’s slums for the past decade or so. Under the Misaal Mumbai initiative, she started a project called ‘Paint Dharavi’ in 2012 and carried this forward to other areas like Jaffer Baba Colony and Mount Mary in Bandra West.
“To see a slum from a distance, and think of beautifying it is one thing, and actually going there, is quite another,” says Rouble, who went around the slums, meeting people and learning more about its ecosystem.
Initially, the slum dwellers were apprehensive—they didn’t understand the initiative. However, as they got used to seeing the artist on a regular basis, they got curious and came forward to volunteer. As the project progressed, the people got happier and more involved with the process.
“We were hesitant to call guests home, but now, we are proud of our homes and look forward to having visitors,” said one inhabitant, to Rouble.
Rouble’s work had a significant impact on the slums and people living in them. People were delighted with the change of scenery when their tenements got painted. One individual, in Dhobi Ghat, who washes, irons and delivers around 350 clothes every day, exclaimed how he feels more energetic and motivated to work, owing to the bright colours.
Rouble also wanted to provide the slum dwellers with some relief, especially during the monsoons, when water levels reach waist-height, forcing inhabitants to take water in buckets and throw it out.
Rolling up her sleeves, the artist, along with a couple of volunteers, got to work. There was painting to be done, as well as waterproofing, to protect people during the monsoons.
Rouble also realised that just external painting and beautification were not enough to improve the living conditions of the slum dwellers.
Keeping this in mind, Rouble started to conduct workshops for the inhabitants of the slum. She taught them the nuances of hygiene, gave directions as to how to keep the neighbourhood clean, and spoke to them about how vital it was for them to empower the women, both young and old, living in the slum.
This way, Rouble’s artistic efforts opened the windows of discussion for pertinent issues, and her project went on to extend beyond just art and became a 360-degree developmental program.
When asked about her future plans, the artist explains that it is sustainability that forms the core of the project. She wishes to take the project to other parts of India, so people living in slums elsewhere, can benefit from an initiative.
“People living in these small houses, are content and happy. These guys sit together in the evening and sing and dance,” says Rouble.
She signs off by saying that Misaal Mumbai is mainly about creating interventions, which ignite change. Which means that the while the focus of the project is about beautifying the slums, it is also about keeping them clean. She mentions that the houses may be small and cramped, but the living conditions need not necessarily be unhygienic.
Through her project, Rouble has tried to instil a sense of cleanliness and well-being amongst the slum-dwellers so that they might have a small semblance of happiness and relief, in their otherwise tough lives.