Author’s Corner: With Rashmi Bansal

Posted: July 9, 2012

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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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  1. The attitude that shapes up in the face of adversity; the attitude of not cribbing “only if” but what what you do “in spite of”!! This is what according to me make a poor slum rich.

  2. Lack of too much of unwanted worldly information, and focus on the skills to make a name in their own tiny world – makes a poor slum rich!

    Loved the color photos of the slum in the book when i browsed in a bookstore. Makes the book more attractive.

  3. i think the book talks about the simple yet great,common people who have explored some special ways of dealing with their hardships of life,n who choose to be happy instead of cribbing their obstacles even in an area like slum ,of which a normal human being can only think of ….so it just talks of energy,happiness n their miraculous ways of dealing n ACTUALLY LIVING THE the people residing in a slum.

  4. I think it is the ability to sense what can drag you down and what can take you from darkness to light. And the deep insight to choose the latter, follow it up with determination and true grit, no matter what. It is to never look down into the gorges below, but to keep your head level with the mountainside, battling with the now. It is to look up at the mountain top from time to time and exult at your progress, anchored securely to a rope called hope.

  5. Namrata Sadhvani -

    What makes a poor slum rich- The very fact that people living in the slums show a contradictory nature, at once being self-fulfilled and happy in the environment they are spending their life in, and at the same time depicting attributes that make an non-slum dweller admire them, most specifically the ability to rise beyond ones misfortune, and develop and use their talents, skills and hardworking nature and make something out of their lives which will lead to their progress and the progress for their future generations.

    It is the people who visit the slums who have to get “used” to the idea of people living in squalor like conditions, the people residing in the slums are thankful of at least having a space to call their own.

    Also, I think that slum dwellers are one of the biggest proponents of environmental sustainability, the most prominent example of this being Dharavi’s own 13th Compound, where the recycling industry flourishes and collectively employs about 200,000 people, mostly day labourers, women and children. In a developing world like Mumbai, a scavenger mentality, grass roots recycling and sheer necessity has led to imaginative leaps in redeploying waste, a process which since has been replicated, on much smaller scales in various slum areas around the country.

  6. I think right mix of the burning desire to achieve,passion,persevearance,gut,grit & fortune makes poor slum rich.

  7. When the poor slum does not pay heed to his current status of being poor slum, where the only target is realizing their dream and focuses all efforts to leap higher, regardless of risks. When the poor slum does not feel a victim of fate and find the adversity an opportunity!

  8. Its inhabitants….

  9. Education can do wonders in the slum.if we could create the urge in the slum people to know the world beyond their area,then it could create a huge revolution.

  10. Never-ending hunger for knowledge.
    Because, If you remain hungry for knowledge ( for lifetime )
    1) perseverance automatically comes.
    2) you’ll want to know what happens after achieving this, so you’ll try to achieve everything to know what is beyond that limit.
    3) you’ll try to learn from every moment in your life, so you’ll never waste your time, because you know how much worth it is.
    4) you’ll never take a bad decision, because you’ll apply your knowledge to decide what should be done.
    and many more benefits …

  11. Slum dwellers can give away their life’s savings without a thought to help another inhabitant in need. Those of us who are much better off would think ten times before parting with a penny. We would perhaps calculate the benefits that would come our way for every investment made whether as time or cash. It is always the question of investment and returns. Those who ‘have’ are in perpetual fear of losing what they have. The slum dwellers who can teach us valuable lessons of caing and sharing are definitely much richer than us.

  12. A poor slum is never poor in it’s existence. It’s densely populated, has huge number of kids, huge number of problems,huge number of deaths and diseases and huge number of shanties with huge family size in each shanty. Basically abundance of everything-makes richness of everything [pun intended]

    On the other hand richness comes from strength of people put together, the attitude towards life even when things are going haywire like literally and hoping for a better tomorrow….richness of hope..they are rich in their mind!

  13. Congrats Meghna and Aditi! well deserved.

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