The other day we spent about an hour outside the Rahman concert in the cold waiting for our tickets to arrive. So the discussion turned to leather jackets. Mythili said that on her recent visit to Mumbai she bought very nice, incredibly low priced leather jackets in Dharavi. Dharavi is Asia's largest slum. So the prospect of going into Dharavi to buy leather goods is quite surprising. We made jokes about this and moved on to other topics.
Imagine my surprise a few days later while reading the Freakonomics blog when I encountered an article on the thriving enterprise in Dharavi:
But strip away its squalid veneer and Dharavi bares a unique entrepreneurial spirit, and multi-million dollar micro-businesses, that breaks all the stereotypes of a slum.
Every home in Dharavi is a little cottage industry ranging from recycling plastic to selling pickles.
Dharavi has about 5,000 single-room factories and hundreds of cottage industries that together have a turnover of around $1 billion.
That's one billion dollars! And, yes:
In Dharavi, leather is the main product, much of which is exported to the Middle East.
So Mythili went to exactly the right place for her jackets. Of course, Dharavi has lots of infrastruture problems:
Residents are only too aware of the basic lack of necessities: health care, sanitation, education and even a lack of toilets...
So Dharavi's economic engine chugs along in spite of a complete lack of very basic infrastructure. This makes it a microcosm of what is happening in many parts of India; Bangalore's vibrant software industry, set in the midst of Bangalore's crumbling infrastructure, is perhaps the most visible example of this. I hope the Indian government has the political will to address the infrastructure challenges facing India.