Subject Material

Vertical Slum

Published: 05.12.2012, Updated: 04.03.2017

Millions of people in the world live in slum areas on the outskirts of big cities like Rio de Janeiro, Johannesburg and Mumbai. To outsiders the motley buildings in the shanty towns are an eye-sore, and the authorities want to clear the areas altogether and remove the inhabitants. Usually we pity the poor people who end up in the slum maybe never to get out of it; it looks unhygienic, filthy and overcrowded. But seen from the inside the slum may look a little different. And if the alternative is a flat on a council estate or a tower block the “slumlums” may in fact prefer the slum.

Vertical Slum

Dharawi -
Some say you are ugly
View of the Dharawi Slum Area outside Mumbai, IndiaView of the Dharawi Slum Area
Fotograf: STR
But they don’t see that the
Corrugated iron
Shelters our babies,
They don’t see the
Human beauty among the shanties and
makeshift sheds.
And now they will come
Like lizards and geckos in the night and
Tear down our homes
And move us to tower blocks
That are big and ugly
And the elevator out of order.

We are slumlums and we take care of
One another;
We live side by side by side
So close
So close because it is safe.
Safer than a tower block;
There will be blood on the stairs
Of our vertical slum
Blood on the stairs

                                  Jamalik Singh

(Note: Dharawi is a big slum-area in the suburbs of Mumbai, one of the biggest cities in India.)

A Closer Look at the Text:

  1. What is the general message in the text?
  2. Comment on the title.
  3. Who are "they" in the poem?
  4. What is the effect of the line structure?
  5. Can you point out some poetic elements in the text? (E.g. simile, repetition, alliteration, emphasis, metaphors, symbols.)
  6. How does the writer present the slum and what it is like to live there?
  7. What is a “slumlum”?
  8. Go on the net and find out about Dharawi and other slum areas in Mumbai. Is there an official policy to tear down the slums and replace them with tower blocks?

(Note: The Dharawi slum was made famous as the location of the film "Slumdog Millionaire".)