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He gets paid only 10 paise per shoe

January 19, 2009

Slumdog Millionaire has received tremendous international recognition and highlighted Mumbai's [Images] underbelly. While some hail it as a grand endorsement for the city, others think of it as a sorry stereotype. correspondents met children in Mumbai's slums to find out what life really means for them.

Faheem Khan, Dharavi

Faheem and his family, natives of Bijnore, Uttar Pradesh [Images], have lived in Mumbai for 15 years. Faheem came to the city when he was just one year old.

The family of eight lives in Dharavi, often described as Asia's largest slum.

Faheem is 16, he is in Class X at the R C Mahim School. He also sews soles for shoes at one of the slum's many leather businesses.

His father works as a carpenter on daily wages. "He works if someone comes with work. He is jobless and has nothing to do if there is no carpentry work," says Faheem.

"I go to school in the morning and work in the evening. My brother fixes television cables and that again is on a daily wage. I get a very small amount from what I do. I put wooden heels on sandals and for every pair I get paid only 10 paise. I have another brother who studies in Class VIII and two sisters in Class X and IV," continues Faheem.

Amidst this financial constraint, Faheem forgets to mention his mother. "She is immobile," he says when this correspondent probes him. "She has calcium deficiency and cannot move. We cannot afford medication for her. We are just counting her days."

The government doctors provide free consultancy, but the family has to pay for the medication. "She needs to be medicated with an injection that costs us Rs 1,500 per injection. She needs this continuously for a month. That is going to cost us Rs 45,000. Where do we get this kind of money? We have left things to fate," he says with moist eyes.

"There have been days when none of us get money. We live in rented kholis (huts). We have to pay a rent of Rs 1,500. With no money coming in, we have starved for days. It happens quite often that we starve for more than 10 days a month. My father hasn't got any work for the past six months now."

Faheem goes to school from 7 am to 1 pm, he then goes for tuition after school and works from 4 pm to 11 pm. "I love to play like other kids, but I can't because of my schedule," he says.

"I want to study further and become a computer engineer," he says, confiding his dreams. "I know it is very difficult, but I will study hard. My brother has promised me that he will make me study as much as I want come what may. My sister wants to become a teacher and my dream is to be able to help my brother support my family."

Text and photograph: Nithya Ramani

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