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An "Other" India

Mala Pandurang

By Mukunda Rao
Penguin Books, New Delhi, India, 2003, pp. 274, Rs. 295.00


Chinnamani is eleven years old and lives in Indira Slum, one of the five hundred slums in the growing cyber-city of Bangalore. A large number of the slum dwellers in Indira Slum are migrant labourers from Tamil Nadu and work as construction labourers at rapidly expanding middle-class-housing layouts. Chinnamani reluctantly attends a nearby corporation school. He is passionate about cricket, and worships the Tamil ‘superstar’ Rajnikanth. His father (Tharkari Thangamani) is a multi-lingual vegetable vendor filled with remorse at his inability to break his habit of drinking. His mother (Parvati) does backbreaking construction work to ensure the family does not go hungry. It is Parvati’s determination to give Chinnamani an ‘English medium’ education that keeps him at a school he detests attending.   Childhood as an age of innocence is short lived for Chinnamani and his friends Velu, Perumal and Shiva. Chinnamani finds himself short of companions when Velu is compelled to take up a job as a cleaner in a hotel and Perumal is married off to a ‘small’ girl from the village. Shiva tired of being abused by his father runs away from home. His heart cringes at thoughts of Shiva working so hard to earn money, Velu always rooting for scraps of food ‘like a hungry street dog’ and his mother ‘lifting sand, cement and bricks at the construction site’ (p. 85). As Chinnamani watches the world of adults of the Tamil speaking slum dwellers fight a daily battle against hunger, his anger grows at life for being so unfair and unjust—‘there was something so unnatural, so wrong with their lives’ (p. 85). He watches boys from the layout play cricket in white pants and white shoes and broods over wide disparities between the life of those in the slum, and those who live in the layout: “What fascinated him most about these boys were their clean, well-stitched clothes, their fine skin and their easy, happy manners. ….How wonderful it might be to feel the power of wealth and freedom, to eat meals that would fill his stomach!” ( p. 56).   Life in Indira Slum changes when ‘Sumathi Madam’ who works with a Non-Governmental Organization is able to convince the slum dwellers that they should organize themselves into a Slum Development Committee, and fight for a right to the land on which they live. Poverty alleviation schemes, she explains, cannot be introduced until the land issue is settled. Chinnamani notices ...

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