Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Slum Tourism

Travel and tourism seem to among the predominant themes of Web2.0 starts up in India. Everyone and their grandmother is mapping the place out so that we you can fathom driving directions to something as vague as 132B Rajaji Road, Upendra Nagar, Opposite Ganesh Mandir, 3rd Floor, 5th Door . But for the India-savvy foreign tourist, mapped or unmapped, the backwaters of Kerala, the Mount Abu - Khajuraho circuit are yesterday's news.

They would prefer to see underbelly of urban India instead. To that end, a
guided tour of Dharavi is now offered by Reality Tours and Travels. The instinctive reaction to this idea is one of horror and disbelief. How inhumane and shameful to turn the plight of these miserable people into a spectacle. Amelia Gentleman asks the right question in her article on slum tourism : A new travel experience gives visitors a glimpse into the harsh lives of Delhi's street children. But is it a worthy initiative or just an example of voyeuristic 'poorism',

Yet, those of us who have liked reading Rohinton Mistry's A Fine Balance or Dominique Lapierre's A City Of Joy , can't claim to be any superior to the "voyeuristic" western tourists. We have visited the same places, heard (even if not actually seen) horrendous tales of poverty, death and decay. From the comfort our our couches, we have been moved by the starkly realistic stories of pain that is beyond our capacity to understand or feel. We have moved on with our lives after returning the book to its place on the shelf not unlike the tourist who returns to the comfort of her five star hotel after checking out Dharavi.

It is all too easy for us to pass judgment.

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