slumming it out

There is a new reality show in town. I read about it quite by accident in a leading news paper.The show website defines the show in the following way: Prepare yourself to witness a life-changing experience, as 10 seriously rich spoilt youngsters are plucked from their lavish lifestyles and dropped into the claustrophobic confines of a Mumbai slum… with cameras focused on their every move 24 hours a day! The rich contestants are paired with a slum buddy who guides them through the pitfalls and opportunities within the slum. Each week the contestants have to complete a task - the teams that perform the worst face the possibility of elimination from the show. Up for grabs is the big prize – the chance for the rich contestant to help fulfill their slum buddy's dream.

The whole idea is perplexing. It sort of falls short of something and leaves me uncomfortable. The tasks that the contestant are expected to perform are push a cart across the street, sell trinkets, polish shoes, pick rags, wash clothes etc. While the show is being canned it is being visited by a string of celebs, all adding their glam quotient. The rick kids are expected to live in a slum for 14 days and the one who stays on the longest and manages all tasks earn a whopping amount to fulfill the dream of the slum buddy her or she is paired with.

On the surface the show seems to be worthy and even honourable. The contestant earn nothing, the celebs are coming for free and the winner is a slum kid who sees his or her dream fulfilled. But the more I look at the site and articles the more uncomfortable I feel.

For the slum kids it is a string of dreams come true: being on a TV show, meeting Bollywood celebrities, and perhaps getting a lot of money to fulfill some unfulfilled desire. Their excitement is almost palpable as they embark on a journey that can be life changing. Their thrill is touching as each plans a new morrow.

It is the coming together of the two Indias and I for one should be thrilled. Is it not what I have always wanted. Am I not the one who carps about the fact that we see too few volunteers from the rich end our own city at project why. And yet all this done been done in the public glare makes me thoroughly uneasy. An article states that the inspiration of the show is Slumdog Millionaire. I have shared my views on the film more than once. I have felt riled at the way the SM children were used by all and sundry. I would have preferred to see them safely locked in a good boarding school so that they could one day transform their lives. This show somehow seems to rob slum lives of their reality and turn them into some sort of joke. The kids are meant to live in a created slum and not truly share the lives of their buddies. Would have like to see that happen! A set a la Big Boss has been created with mosquitoes et al. The tasks seem more like fun challenges rather than real survival situations. A person who sells ware at a red light does it to survive. If he does not make it there may be no food at night. Pushing a cart is harrowing and back breaking and not fun. The same goes for polishing shoes or washing clothes.

As I said I would have liked the show to have each contestant live for 14 days in the home of his or her buddy and experience the life of many millions. This pasty slum experience is all wrong. Life in a slum is filled with dignity and courage, values that are strangely absent in this show. Choices are few and needs many. Try coming to work every day in spotless clothes when you live on the roadside like the Lohars do. I see it everyday. Try surviving with brittle bone disease in a hole and never loose your smile even if you loose your flimsy shelter and land on the street. Slumming it out in a created set is an insult to all those who dwell in slums.

Of the 10 slum kids, one will have his or her dream come true and the others will go back to their lives with a starry story to tell. Where are we going....