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Author’s Corner: With Rashmi Bansal

Posted: July 9, 2012

In this Author’s Corner interview, we talk with Rashmi Bansal about her latest book Poor Little Rich Slum.

Rashmi Bansal is a well-known author of several popular books such as I Have A Dream, Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish and Connect The Dots. Her latest book Poor Little Rich Slum which she has co-authored with Deepak Gandhi, deals with the spirit of entrepreneurship in India’s famous slum, Dharavi. 

From your previous books that have explored a different kind of entrepreneurship, mostly of individuals with some level of education and middle-class backgrounds, what drove you to look at Dharavi? 

The idea for this book came from my co-author Deepak Gandhi. It all started when out of curiosity we went for a Dharavi slum tour. Instead of poverty and depression, we were surprised to see vibrant, enterprising people engaged in a variety of interesting occupations.

We felt compelled to go back and learn more as well as share what we found with others.

Did you notice any traits or aspects that were similar to entrepreneurs, whether in a slum like Dharavi or from affluent backgrounds? 

Yes, I think the ability to see things others cannot. Entrepreneurs can visualize a future and are powered by positive thinking.

Second, a determination to keep doing something until it succeeds. For example, Jameel Shah made many, many pairs of shoes which were horrible, useless and unwearable; but he kept trying to learn from those mistakes. Ultimately, he succeeded and today his shoes are worn by Bollywood stars.

You’ve highlighted a few success stories from Dharavi like Shah Shoes; do you believe that these were rare stories of exceptional individuals who beat the system, or does an ecosystem like Dharavi have a role to play in enabling such stories?

Not everyone can achieve the same level of success but certainly Dharavi is a very conducive environment for small businesses. This is not a place where people sit idle, complain and expect help from the outside. Rather, it is a place where one is inspired to rise above the circumstances.

A young boy from UP or Bihar can come to Dharavi, get a job and roof over his head. He can learn a trade and also dream of becoming the owner of a small factory employing others. There are several success stories of this kind, making Dharavi an informal ‘incubator’ of micro-entrepreneurs.

What was the hardest thing about writing this book? 

The contrast between Dharavi and our own lives. To go there, see and experience the realities and come back to the comfort of your own home makes one feel guilty. What have I done to deserve this and what have they done to deserve that?

First Shantaram; then Katherine Boo’s Behind the Beautiful Forevers; and now Poor Little Rich Slum. How would you explain the increased interest in this aspect of India? 

Foreigners have always been fascinated by slums. Poor Little Rich Slum is written by Indians, for Indians. Even today, slums are a ‘blind spot’ for us, something we would rather ignore or wish away. We hope this book changes the perspective of People Like Us.

What is your outlook on the entrepreneurs of Dharavi? Given the politico-real estate nexus and the grand plans for redevelopment in a land-starved city like Mumbai, what do you foresee? 

Dharavi residents know their rights and cannot be simply pushed out or bought over. Any redevelopment plan will fail unless it has the involvement of the local people and takes into account their needs. We can only hope for the best!

*Photo credit: Rashmi Bansal (From left to right Dee Gandhi (photographer), Rashmi Bansal and Deepak Gandhi (co-authors))

Now dear readers, a book giveaway for you!
Answer this question: What do you think makes a poor slum rich?

Just leave your answer as a comment below – and two winners will get a signed copy of Poor Little Rich Slum!

Please note: Only 1 comment per person. The book can only be sent to a valid address in India. Giveaway closes on 9 AM IST 16th July 2012.

So what are you waiting for? Comment away!

Update: Giveaway Closed.

The winners are Meghna Dangi and Aditi Gaur. Congrats! 

Previous Interviews in Author’s Corner:

Meghna Pant of One & A Half Wife

Eowyn Ivey of The Snow Child

Shakti Salgaokar of Imperfect Mr.Right

Himani Vashishta of Princess of Falcons

Lata Gwalani of Incognito

Nina Godiwalla of Suits

Urvashi Gulia of My Way Is The Highway

Kiran Manral of The Reluctant Detective

Ameera Al Hakawati of Desperate In Dubai

Judy Balan of Two Fates

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