A guided tour through the Kathpuli Slum in New Delhi. A public showing of poor families living in cardboard houses and who’s toilet is a trickle next to a dirt track and people who have no idea about happiness and beauty? We definitely got a very different perspective as soon as we visited one of the poorest parts of Delhi. The money coming from the guided tours through the slums is used for a local charity which uses this money to create jobs and provides education in this area. And all of a sudden you’re in their midst.
From afar we can already hear cheering and music. We’re getting closer to the entrance. While holding our bags tight and having no idea what’s going to happen now, we follow our guide Johan. Being prepared for the worst, we’re now able to see the first few houses and spot the first kids which came together to play. The music we’ve been hearing comes from a little radio which the older kids have in their possession! As we come in we’re overwhelmed with all the singing, dancing and shaking hands. At least 15 kids surround us, laughing and shoving and asking us for our names “What’s my name?” “One photo, one photo!” Remembering all their names? No chance, but we’re trying our best to at least be able to pronounce them all right!
They invite us to dance with them and all of a sudden we find ourselves in the middle swinging our hips to indian pop music. Way to early Johan tells us to hurry so we can finally visit the kindergarten. A paved pathway leads us past colourful, croocked houses and curious eyes which secretly follow us from inside the houses, snotty babies wrapped in scarfs and held by their mothers. It smells like indian food and freshly baked bread.
We’ve arrived at a nondescript house with a rusty, old door! We’re in the kindergarten and we can already hear loud and happy singing. We enter a 3m x 3m room with around 20 very active kids and a motivated teacher. The kids give us a show of songs and poems they know – in Hindi and English. After standing ovations for the little ones we wander on to the beauty school. For that we leave the paved road and turn on to a path where we stumble over holes in the ground and lots of cables and hoses. The little ones follow us yelling our names and holding our hands.
The slum is a maze in which we would be desperately lost without our guide. Through the open doors we can see into the everyday life of the people living here. Some of the men in there have day-jobs or drive rickshaws. Some of the women work as housemaids or clean their own house and wash the clothes on the street. One bed sometimes only a mattress for the whole family, a picture of Shiva or Ganesha and a bucket for their hygiene – that’s basically everything they have.
One big step over the sewer and we arrive in the beauty school. In this small room, the women are being taught in English, sewing and stitching and beauty-treatments. Teachers are women from the slums as well as international volunteers. A local charity foundation works for better education and gives jobs to the locals – this system has been working very well. The girls, most of them in our age, ask us to come in. So we take off our shoes and sit down on a big carpet on the floor. We’re being invited to drink Chai with them and luckily enough our guide Johan translates all the questions we get and everything we ask the girls. After we explained where we’re from and how long we’re staying they ask us if we want Henna! Oh yes we want Henna. Only 30 minutes later our hands are beautifully decorated with this indian art of temporary tattoos. And although all their tools for doing the offered treatments (threading, hairstyles, make-up, …) we don’t hesitate being guinea pigs for them! Very enthusiastic the girls get to work; brushing our hair, make-up, manicure and pedicure. We leave completely changed and happy!
Those beautiful women, most of them already mothers themselves proudly walk around in colourful saris and seem to be happier then any woman in Europe could ever be. They know how important education is and ask many questions and they absorb the knowledge we try to give them.
Soon we’re all best friends and it gets very lively in this tiny room with conversations in German, English or Hindi. After another Chai we decided to buy new tools and products and even to give one or two lessons in how to give facial treatments and assist in manicures and pedicures.
We’re looking forward to doing all this and the girls are very excited too! Then it’s almost time to go! But not before some drummer boys show us their skills and we have another dance off. Bollywood style vs. well … Austrian disco style! To make it short – we embarrass ourselves whereas the others are simply awesome.
The girls have to go home now to prepare dinner for their families and we head back home as well. As it gets dark you quickly realise again where you are and under what conditions people have to live here. On our way out we pass by even poorer areas of the slums. Crying kids, hardly clothed standing around in front of card bard houses and plastic canopies looking like tents. Johan gives one of the kids a piece of chocolate and smiles at him and gets a little smile back as a thank you!
It gets cold. We take out our scarfs and put them around our neck and ears, hop into a rickshaw. On our way back we hardly talk as both of us have to process what we experienced today. What we saw, most tourists are not even interested in.
By now we lost our shy for poverty. We found friends who want so much more than money – your time, your stories and your love. We had a very interesting day here in Delhi, which we’ll never ever forget. It was beautiful in a very different and very positive way.