Tuesday's (May 5) early rise brought with it eager anticipation and excitement as we set out for our first initiation round at SPARC's headquarters. Greeted warmly by all, we were introduced to Sundar Burra and Sheela Patel (founder) who gave a glimpse into the context of our visit and the history of SPARC and its role in the re-shaping of lives in Mumbai. The sureness of Sundar and charisma of Sheela is as immediately apparent as the sweat dripping from my brow and I for one feel priviledged to be in the company of such strongly convicted individuals who have weathered the complexities of Mumbai for so long. After their introduction we were joined by Sitaram Kunte, Secretary of the Housing Department who guided us faitfully and choicely through the Maharashtra State Housing Policy. Our questions that followed revealed and acknowleged the different viewpoints and agendas of a particular key actor along with the obvious bureaucratic process that stem from such complex issues. Interesting to see Mr. Kunte seeking Sundar and Sheela's assistance with certain responses, which for me illustrated a strange, but rather clear understanding of the interplay and influences certain characters can have. After lunch, the entire DPU group, along with our Indian "liasons", including Lopez and Lopez, hit the city to visit the Byculla district where the UDP slum-dwellers group would be conducting their fieldwork.
For all but a few, this was our first experience with these realities and despite the numerous video, photographs, and writings, a mind check rushed forth. Just a quick taste of the lives of the poorest of the poor and one gets the pessimistic feeling of 'what can we really do here that they haven't figured out for themselves.' But I still can't help but feel fortunate for the opportunity and optimistic in the fact that being here can only enrich our own conscious reality on a personal and professional level. And based on some of the people we were able to meet this first day and the pride in their smiles and stories of resiliance and transformation, I feel we may also, for at least the time we are here, give an added value, in the purest dual nature, to their lives as we greatly benefit from the time they share with us. - William 05.05.09