If Mumbai had to be described in a single word, that word would be “contrast.” Being a local, I experience this aspect of the city every day, and each train I take to work is filled with instances that showcase the duality that the city offers. On one side of the railway track, I see people going about their days in their hand-made shanties. On the other, I am met with some of the highest skyscrapers in the whole of India.
At the risk of romanticizing the shortcomings of my home city, I must confess that if it wasn’t for this disparity, the mystique that makes Mumbai what it is would be lost. Although this contrast is an insistent reminder that the city has a lot to change, this change can be orchestrated in a way that highlights the juxtaposition that the city is known for. Asalpha slum is one such story of change.
Asalpha slum was once a drab hilltop slum in the Ghatkopar area of Mumbai. But one day, Dedeepya Reddy, the co-founder of a local design studio, noticed the dire state of what could be the “Positano of Mumbai,” and set out to revamp the entire area with a bit of paint. Armed with dozens of cans and brushes, Dedeepya and a team of about 700 volunteers covered the walls and alleyways of the hilltop slum with murals, musings, and colorful bouts of creativity. It took just two weekends to completely transform the area.
Now, when you near the Asalpha metro station, you’re greeted by a cheerful and vibrant sight. And, what’s more, it’s now a destination for many riding the train. The five-minute walk down the station road, which runs parallel to Dhobi Ghat, leads onlookers to the steps of the hilltop of color — a far from dreary sight to behold.
But what makes the art in Asalpha slum so special is that each mural reflects the beat of the city. Whether it’s a painting of rickshaw or a child holding hands with their grandmother (or, aaji), every piece is quintessentially “Mumbai.” With each step toward the hill, visitors’ imaginations are matched with a colorful reality.
While exploring Asalpha myself, I couldn’t help but see how this newly transformed place is exemplary of my generation’s vision for India — a world filled with color, community, and change. And those who live on the multi-hued hilltop of Asalpha are also hopeful. In fact, they often share their stories with those who venture to their colorful neighborhood.
It is often said that the “Spirit of Mumbai” makes this restless city one of the most exciting to survive in. This means that the people and their will to help each other in the bleakest of times are what makes Mumbai such a beautiful place to live. Although I’m not a big believer in the term, I can’t help but notice community efforts such as the revamping of Asalpha slum, efforts that were undertaken with the sole intention of adding cheer to someone else’s home. It is then that I chide my cynicism.
If you need one reason to visit Asalpha the next time you’re in Mumbai, let it be for the people who made this happen, and the people who needed a positive contrast in their lives.