For Richard (my best mate) and I to spend that blazing hot Saturday afternoon in the November of 2007 kicking a football around with some of the slum kids in Bombay’s Dharavi commune was one of the most unforgettable experiences of my life.
It’s an experience I’ve mentioned on my own Facebook page several times over the years. We were on holiday in Goa at the time, but decided to make the 14-hour train journey on the Mandovi Express to spend a long weekend in Bombay. We’d booked a cheap hotel (the Hotel Fortune) just a stone’s throw away from the famous Art Deco Metro Cinema.
Having arrived at 10pm on Friday, there was little we could do that first night. So we pledged that we would cover as much of the city as we could over the following two whole days. On Saturday, we walked from the hotel down to the Gateway to India, then back along Marine Drive to the district of Worli (where we had dinner at the Hard Rock Cafe). From there we continued northwards into the sprawling suburbs of Bombay. We arrived in Dharavi at around 2:30pm as I recall.
Dharavi is huge – the largest slum in the whole of Asia. As many people live in its 1.5 square miles as live in the whole of Birmingham (104 square miles). We were trepidatious abut entering as we had no idea as to the whether the slum was dangerous or not. It was one hell of an eye-opener: exposed drains, children of five or six working by the sides of the paths, slum housing piled two or three floors high. It was so disease-ridden, we were amazed the walls weren’t coming out in boils!
As we made our way through, we came across a small gap in the houses. There around seven or eight kids aged between, say, 8 and 12 were playing football. When they saw us, they literally ran towards us and asked if we could play football with them. For a lot of Indian children, having the opportunity to mix with Westerners is a great privilege and honour. As a tourist there, don’t be surprised if you’re swamped by schoolchildren asking you to appear in a selfie with them. And it’s all ‘Sir this’ and Sir that’. There’s none of this ‘Got the time on yer, mate?!’ from the precocious little swines you find in this benighted land.
We spent over three hours kicking that ball around with those lads. They literally had next to nothing in terms of worldly possessions, but not once did they ever exhibit anything except appreciation and contentment…and they relished the opportunity to talk to us and find out more about us. It’s not hyperbolic to say that afternoon was one of the real life-changing events for us. For you cannot emerge from something as touching as that to have the same perspectives as you did before you went in.
Why am I retelling this story? Because of the shame I feel at having to live in a society where so many (already in receipt of a panoply of welfare payments) are encouraged to abandon what little financial support they provide for their own children and instead seek to grasp still more from weak politicians, attention-seeking celebrities and agenda-ridden news outlets. No child in Britain will ever come anywhere near to enduring the levels of hardship my mate and I saw that Saturday. They haven’t the slightest clue what poverty is all about. Oh yes they throw the word around like broken plates at a Greek wedding, yet simultaneously have about as much appreciation of the realities of the term as I do. Probably less, actually, because they’ll never see or feel what Richard and I saw and felt that weekend 13 years ago.
So each time I see Marcus Rashford on the telly, with platitudes echoed by so-called Conservatives who wouldn’t know how to be a Conservative if an instruction booklet containing simple steps landing on their door mats, I’m going to switch off. Because to see so many Britons abandon the sacred principles of self-reliance and self-respect that saw our predecessors through the suffering of the war years and their immediate aftermath, is about as vomit-inducing to me as a wicked bout of gastroenteritis.
Reference Video Here
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