A day at the Delhi slums

A day at the Delhi slums

    Track spinning | Is Pal, Aaja Nachle

I remember passing by the slum areas often while gazing out the taxi window on the streets of Mumbai. At the tender age of thirteen I was bewildered, fascinated and intimidated all at once. I wondered what happened behind those straw doors and wooven roofs that I so frequently witnessed as a tourist.

My curiosity continued to grow after that short first trip to India and so I delved into Rohinton Mistry’s A Fine BalanceThrity Umrigar’s The Space Between Us and Gregory David Roberts Shantaram to feed my fascination. Although I knew they were fictional stories, I was intrigued by the characters and their lives. There was this peculiar sense of familiarity, like I was reading about a distant relative or neighbour; I hurt when they hurt and wept in the emptiness of their hardships.

Although I didn’t know if I would ever have the capacity to help or change the reality it was based on, I never seemed to take my mind off of it. I yearned to learn more and followed in the direction of intuition until then.


Twelve years later I found myself packing my bags one day. I was getting ready to uproot my life for six months to lust after a burning curiosity, a long time dream to explore the country that was supposed to be akin to me.

I arrived in India with a thirst for knowledge and a quest for change, but in that first month there I was very quickly confronted with a cold reality of struggle. I battled day in and day out as I chased for answers to understand the things that made me me. No matter how many times I fell, I got back up and kept going, but India kept testing my patience, pushing my limits… angering and dissapointing me in every possible way.

The unwanted attention, pestering and disrespect stained my insides with deep resentment. I was mad at the people, mad at myself, mad for everything I had given up to be there. I felt like I was drowning in deep water, desperately gasping for air with no rescue team in sight. I ached for comfort and wondered how to reconcile my wavering spirit.


It was the end of January when I returned to sister’s home in Delhi after spending a few weeks with my parents (who had been visiting) in the South. After three months of India and a little dose of home I was feeling calmer about the upcoming weeks of exploration.

A few days before leaving to travel Rajasthan on my own I received an email from a google group I had signed up for – a network of young professionals in India sharing resources. An organization called WASH United was seeking photographers to document sanitation in the Delhi slums. I wrote back immediately disclosing my interest in the opportunity, using my blog as a resume.

The next thing I knew I was meeting up with a group of young talented Indians, ready to explore the Delhi slums….


Four months after the fact and I still find myself in awe. Visiting the slums was one of the most fascinating, eye opening, heart wrenching and heart warming experiences I’ve had in my life. Even after reading extensively about slum life in India, it didn’t all sink in until I found myself walking through the sewage filled nooks and crannies, interacting with the locals; visiting my distance relatives.

They offered seats along their ledges and piping hot chai as they relished in fascination of our fancy gadgets. The children giggled and jumped, excited to pose for the camera. They brought us into their world forgetting the hardness their own and filling it with the joys of human connection. And even if temporarily, I began to forget my anger and frustration as I watched them carry through the day; smiling and scrubbing, laughing and limping. It was then that I started to recognize a new reality; why I love India.

I battled with myself about whether to post these pictures. Something about exposing their lives with nothing to return to made me feel empty inside; as much as I love the art of photography, human compassion trumps all. After much contemplation however, I share these with you in hopes for us to humble one another, sometimes we need a reminder of how fortunate we really are.

As you go through my work, I hope you make it a thoughtful experience. One in which you ponder why you’re thankful for what you have, and consider what you could do to spread the joys of your life, far beyond your own reach.

For now I am working away on a few new projects I hope to spread your way soon.




Welcome to the Delhi slums, we love pictures!
Watch your step along the way.
Starting the days laundry load
Starting the days laundry load
....drying out in the hot Delhi sun
….drying out in the hot Delhi sun
Cooking up some meat and roti for dinner
Cooking up some meat and roti for dinner
The local store in the slums, for all your snacking needs.
The local store in the slums, for all your snacking needs.
Cha cha posing for the camera - very excited we've come to visit.
Cha cha posing for the camera – very excited we’ve come to visit.
The local puppeteer. Shows on the rooftop for only 5 rupees.
The local puppeteer. Shows on the rooftop for only 5 rupees.
Look whose came out to play.
Look whose come out to play.
It must be bath time!
It must be bath time.
Oh hey there gorgeous.
Keep smiling gorgeous…until we meet again.

13 thoughts on “A day at the Delhi slums

Add yours

  1. Wow Sonal, another great piece! ……What strikes me most is the smile on each persons face. Everyday you see people who have comforts who have money, but very few have that smile. This really is food for thought

    1. Julie – oh wow, thank you so much for tuning into my work and your kind words. I whole heartedly agree on it being food for thought, I find myself still torn on an answer and have been for the last few months, but will definitely continue to ponder a plan of action.

      As for the smiles, yes you wouldn’t believe, the kids really are magical in person, filled with so much joy. Stay tuned for more xx!

  2. An excellent piece. I enjoy reading of your inner journey in India. I’ve been there many times and know how confronting it can be. Beautiful photos.

    1. Hi Kundan – thank you for your kind words and taking the time to tune into my work, always glad to hear feedback of all kinds. Confronting – couldn’t agree more, I think I’m still being confronted everyday even after returning, one day at a time! Stay tuned for more!

  3. hello, sovia… this is a great post. i ilke the straight telling method you employed to narrate your experience, your exposure in the slum areas… btw, India’s slum conditions have many similarities with the housing condition in my country… i hope many will be touched by your story. warm regards. 🙂 ~ san

    1. San, thank you for tuning into my world and for your kind words. I hope so too, its such an important message and so close to me, and now hopefully many others. Stay tuned for more!

    1. Thanks for all your support T, I appreciate it beyond words, and it is absolutely part and parcel of what has allowed me to make it this far! Stay tuned for more!

  4. Thank you very much for the beautiful presentation. It is a good reminder to all who are truly more fortunate but then on the other hand you have also elevated and honoured the people you have presented. To us who feel like we have so much and hardly can always appreciated it, we do not necessarily understand how possibly some can live in conditions less desirable than ours. But look at their faces. Look at their smiles. Feel their strength of being. Wonder at their joy!! They are surviving. They love; they argue; they cry; they bleed but they are alive. I really doubt that they think themselves to be poor, downtrodden or any less human than any other. They are human!! They are soulful! They may never express their “pride” as we think of pride but they are a proud bunch. They know who they are. They know life. They know life. They are alive in every sense of the word.
    Like every word in any language, the interpretation or meaning of that word is known by all but only understood by the person who uses it. What is poverty? Whose definition is being used and why? We all make our own lives as best we can but in the final analysis who we are inside, how we protect or even view our soul and how we express our humanity is what really counts and what truly makes us a fine and noble human being!
    That more than anything is what your pictures show!! Thank you very much. Mari

  5. I don’t even know how I ended up here, but I thought this post was great. I don’t know who you are
    but definitely you are going to a famous blogger if you
    are not already 😉 Cheers!

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