In Mumbai you can see the slums from the airplane even after it has landed. I can see them right now while waiting for my flight to Dubai..
My host offered to show me around some of the more productive slums in Mumbai – I opted for that as opposed to the organized tour. The ones I visited house a cottage industry of various small scale mechanical and electrical engineering production runs. Each business consists of one or two machine tools in a cramped room, so any complex project involves cooordination of several businesses. The tools they are using (mills, lathes etc) appear to be 30-50 years old. However, they have figured out how to use these old tools to precisely machine complex items that are hard to do wihtout modern CNC tools. Since the tools are cheap and labor is extremely cheap, they can effectively compete with more well-funded companies with better tools. I got the chance to talk (via my host, who interpreted) with several of the owners and understand how their businesses wotk.
These small shops were intermixed with people's homes, open drainage ditches, and shared community bathrooms. The spacee between buildings was very narrow, and I had to duck through several doorways.
It was all fascinating, and there's no way I could have seen any of it without the help of my hosts.
In less than four hours, I'll be in the gleaming urban canyons of Dubai. Contrasts are interesting.
- [travel] Mumbai slum tour