A New Look at Poverty

For today’s Good News Wednesday, I would like to share something written by my friend, Deepa Krishnan.

Deepa runs the tour company Mumbai Magic, an excellent visitor tour service that shows the real India, led by insiders and locals of the city with a great cultural immersion and respect for the traditions and culture of India. In addition, Deepa donates a percentage of her profits to social organizations that work with at-risk children living in the streets and slums.

Deepa with a woman entrepreneur on our visit to Dharavi, 2007

Deepa with a woman entrepreneur on our visit to Dharavi, 2007

Deepa showed me around Mumbai when I visited in 2007 – most particularly, the Dharavi area, widely considered the largest slum in Asia and where much of the movie Slumdog Millionaire was filmed. You can read my article about my experience in Dharavi with Deepa, where I discovered that besides the two Indias of affluence and poverty, there was a third India of the hard-working class. What I found in Dharavi surprised me, and Deepa gave me entirely new eyes with which to see parts of Mumbai that I would have never otherwise seen.

Recently, writer Mara Gorman featured a review of The Weight of Silence on her site, The Mother of All Trips. Mara was so inspired by the children’s stories in the book, that she amazingly made a pledge to donate $5 for every comment left on the article, to The Miracle Foundation! Deepa Krishnan was one of those who left a comment – and I loved what she had to say.

It was a whole new way of looking at someone who is poor, and I’d like to share her comments here:

“Poverty” is a much misunderstood word. Here’s an anecdote from my personal experience – I run a sightseeing tour company called Mumbai Magic, and we had an American lady on one of our city tours.

From Mumbai Magic

From Mumbai Magic

On the tour went to Sassoon Docks where the day’s fish catch comes in. The fishing community in Mumbai has a culture where the women take the fish to the market and are therefore the ones with the money. Our fisherwomen are very fierce, they have a sharp tongue and an equally sharp fish knife, and nobody messes with them, all locals know they are independent and proud.

Now at the docks, there was a fisherwoman sitting on the ground with a basket of fish, and next to her was her young girl child. My American visitor saw them and started weeping. Oh god, she wept, why do people have to be so poor? Why does that woman have to sit on the ground like this? Why is that child not in school and playing? The lady was inconsolable and retired to her palatial hotel room.

Whereas I looked at the fisherwoman and was proud of her financial independence, of the fact that she was supporting her family, that nobody in their right minds would ever mess with her, that the tradesmen treated her as an equal and haggled as hard with her as they could. As for her child, that child would always have a full belly, she would learn the fish trade and be as smart as a button soon. The docks are open early in the morning, that child probably went to school later as well, but I don’t know that. After the fish were sold, she would most certainly go home and play.

Now this is not a perfect scenario – their home is a tiny village without amenities – but the thing is, my visitor and I looked at them and saw two entirely different realities. To me this was not a scenario with a deprived mother or child. This was a happy family, and I strongly felt that the sympathies of my weepy tourist were entirely misplaced.

Shelley is not a weepy tourist. She has immersed herself in the country she is writing about. She has invested time, effort and – I know this is really basic – but she has invested sweat. In the heat and dust, she has given of her body and mind to be with the children she writes about. Shelley’s kids – orphaned and homeless – are truly deserving of our attention. Shelley is tireless in her campaign to ensure they get what they deserve. I wish her luck.

Thank you Deepa – for your support of The Weight of Silence, your donations to help further children’s educations through Mumbai Magic, and your ability to give us a new way of looking at the world. Namaste.

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Deepa at Shaar Harahamin, The Gate of Mercy.

Deepa at Shaar Harahamin, The Gate of Mercy.


About Shelley Seale

I'm Shelley, a journeyer and learner of the world, freelance journalist and author, yoga chick and dog lover. I pound the keyboard from home barefoot every day, and while my boss is demanding she also occasionally lets me have the early afternoon cocktail. I think not going into an office or collecting corporate paychecks are very good ideas, though not always profitable. I have written for National Geographic, USA Today, The Guardian, Texas Monthly and CNN, among others. Neither the New York Times nor Johnny Depp have answered my letters yet. I love yoga, indie movies, wine, and books, though not necessarily in that order. I believe in karma. Mean people suck. If I could have any dream job I would like to be a superhero. I have performed a catch on the flying trapeze, boarded down a live volcano and was once robbed by a monkey in Nepal. But, I don't know how to whistle. My mantra is "travel with a purpose."

Posted on October 21, 2009, in India, inspiration, poverty, shelley seale, travel and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. nice! one thing I learned on my first trip was don’t judge with my western eyes. while it’s true what you and others have written about child labor (I’m thinking of the beautiful embroidered scarves that are sold here and say “made in India”), I think that for every little girl embroidering that scarf, maybe that’s one less for the sex trade. some hells are worse than others…..

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