Pushpa's Pulse

Pushpa's Pulse

Pushpa has been living in Dharavi since she was born. Our day starts with her bright smile as she sells pulses right outside the urbz office. We recently had a little chat with her.

‘You know that Shammi Kapoor song? Sometimes I just listen to that and think about my past…’ says Pushpa, as she hums away, staring longingly into the distance. ‘I was so boisterous growing up, always playing with the boys, causing trouble… My mother wouldn’t give me food for days sometimes,’ she adds, playfully chuckling like a little girl. I was sitting on the steps beside her basket full of pulses to sell, as she unveiled herself and her life to us as someone confident about having truly lived.

Pushpa gave us jumbled glimpses of her 62-year-long saga – sleeping on the streets of Mumbai with her three children during the 1992 riots, being around the shootout of 26/11, battling chronic illness, dealing with an alcoholic father and then getting married to her alcoholic husband. On occasion, she would sprinkle some more spice into this already hot dish by telling us stories of her youth. ‘I used to drink and smoke so much, go out with my girlfriends, openly beat the men who harassed us in trains while the police chased me… I’m sure they were just after me because I was doing their job better than them.’ We all laughed.

 She talked intensely, her eyes spelling out what her words didn’t. They’d be oozing frenzy one minute while talking about her abusive husband, welling up the next as she was thrust into the world of her illness. ‘I’d sit and cry to Yeshu (Jesus) for hours on end… and then he cured me. My Yeshu… He always listens.’ Pushpa converted to Christianity about 30 years ago. 

 Her routine is rigorous, with days starting at 4 am and ending at 10 pm. Whatever time she gets to herself she spends praying, going to Dadar or Churchgate for weddings or simply relaxing with her friends. ‘My kids never let me leave Dharavi alone because I can’t read, I only leave with them or my friends.’ She speaks of her friends and neighbours with love and pride.

Pushpa and her daughterPushpa and her daughter

 ‘I have as many relatives as hair on my head but no one showed up even once in all my years of sickness,’ she says, ‘it was only those who lived around me who assisted. My two neighbours would walk me, a paralysed person, to the hospital every day for treatment. They also helped me leave my husband and stand on my feet. Where else in this city will I find benevolence like this? They didn’t have to do anything but still showed me so much kindness. They gave me their time.’ Time, one of the most valuable commodities in this busy megapolis. ‘Relatives later, neighbours first,’ added her older daughter who is married with one child, ‘this is what we’ve learnt over the years.’  ‘We were fed even when we had nothing, you can come here and fill your stomach up in as little as 10 rupees. No one sleeps hungry in Dharavi,’ they both say, proud of their place. 

They said they would change nothing about Dharavi itself – it is all matters of governance. ‘They announce all these redevelopment schemes but no one carries out surveys supervising their implementation. This is all just for the spectacle around the elections,’ says her daughter, ‘Whatever they do is so useless because they don’t ask us before doing it and that is the case with this redevelopment too. The school fees are soaring, my rent is already 12,000 rupees, no politician really does anything. How much should we suppress our wants and dreams and wishes for necessity? We aren’t asking for handouts; we’re hardworking people, but I have only so many hours in a day.’ In between these laments, she nonchalantly added that her husband is missing, a fact very well concealed by her cheerful demeanour.

I could see the mischief of Pushpa’s past alive in her alive eyes. They resist through their laughter, refusing to let the storm destroy their kohl.