Screw Slumdog Millionaire; Meet a Real ‘Slumdog’ – Sunil

In all the euphoria about the success of Oscar winner Slumdog Millionaire (a fairytale rags-to-riches love story of a Mumbai slumdweller Jamal), we tend to forget the real ‘slumdogs’ of India.

In the latest issue of the New Yorker (February 23, 2009, p.22-29), Katherine Boo has a must-read piece about 13-year-old Sunil, a real ‘slumdog’ living in the fetid Gautam Nagar slum of Mumbai (near the airport and abutting the five-star hotels where the wealthy in 10 minutes consume rare scotches that cost what Sunil earns in 700 14-hour days picking up trash like aluminum cans and tampon applicators).

Sunil is a scavenger, now turning into a petty metal-thief at the Mumbai international airport since the crisis in the global economy has depresssed prices for the trash he collects.

A heartrending account written in a calm, dispassionate style by a fine journalist, Boo’s piece titled Opening Night is a depressing read on the state of India today (the title of the piece Opening Night is a reference to the Indian premiere of Slumdog Millionaire).

Sunil is the face of Mumbai, the face of modern India where income inequalities are now so vast that some moghuls build billion-dollar homes while millions live in miserable hovels amidst rats, feral pigs, buffaloes and dogs, and without electricity or water.

School? Don’t even ask because that’s not an option for youngsters like Sunil struggling to survive.

Since a lot of desis take pride in not buying or subscribing to newspapers/magazines (these SOBs want everything free), we are providing an excerpt here from the New Yorker piece:

Sunil had entered the garbage business when he was seven or so, after his mother died of tuberculosis. His father did roadwork when it was available, then drank his wages. Sunil’s sister, Sunita, was two years younger; when he was small, he’d lost her for a week, but he’d been careful not to misplace her after that. He’d shared with her the money he made roaming the airport roads with a sack, retrieving and examining the stuff that other people tossed away. An older boy, odd and constantly blinking, had been his preferred companion, and Sunil even now viewed the dustbins in the cargo area with a proprietary eye, as they had been the boys’ most profitable target.

Sunil still did not feel much like a thief. When he took a bath in an abandoned pit at the concrete-mixing plant, he pushed away the algae to inspect his reflection. The change in his profession didn’t yet show on his face: same big mouth, wide nose, problem torso. He was too small all over. Even Sunita was taller now, though he bested her in hair. While both of them got bitten by rats, and the rat bites sometimes turned into head boils, she’d recently become a baldie like Anna, because her boils had erupted with worms. [New Yorker, February 23, 2009 p.23-24]

Mera Bharat Mahaan.

17 Responses to "Screw Slumdog Millionaire; Meet a Real ‘Slumdog’ – Sunil"

  1. joeantony   February 24, 2009 at 5:45 am

    India, ah.. a country is talking about 8% fiscal growth next year… the government and its policies are screwing lives of these millions like sunil. Soon there’s going to be a great outbreak of these people and no law enforcement can stop them… they will take what they want because ‘no one gonna give it to them’ 🙁 Responds:

    You write above: Soon there’s going to be a great outbreak of these people and no law enforcement can stop them

    We doubt it. Revolutions don’t happen that easily. You need the support of middle class, which is busy trying to get H1B visas or call center jobs or watching Aegan or Drona.

  2. the gora   February 24, 2009 at 8:17 am

    “Screw Slumdog Millionaire”

    The Bachchan family has hijacked the SI and is holding the site hostage. What do we do? Responds:

    You write above: The Bachchan family has hijacked the SI and is holding the site hostage. What do we do?

    Dear GoraJi,

    My name is Amitabh Bachchan, better known these days as the father of the Kala Bandar in Delhi 6.

    When my cousin-brother Idi Amin widely known lately as Forest Whitaker and uncle Che a.k.a Benicio del Toro left this world, they left all their worldly possessions to their families but some words of wordly wisdom for me. Having ingested and digested these pearls of wisdom, I have decided to kidnap SI.

    We need money urgently for humanitarian reasons that I’ll explain momentarily. Although we may be big stars in Bollywood, we also have a humanitarian weltanschauung just like your compassionate conservative (remember the Texan dodo who was reading My Pet Goat when the terrorists were running the planes into your twin towers).

    Coming to to our humanitarian crisis, please send $500,000 immediately by Western Union so that we can send our in-house Oliver Hardy a.k.a. Abhishek Bachchan to the NYU Film School.

    If sending Abhishek Bachchan to film school does not count as an urgent humanitarian crisis on par with Darfur and Gaza, I don’t know what else qualifies.

    If you do not send the money as we say, we’ll not hesitate to retaliate with more Dronas, Dostanas and Delhi6s. Ha, scared you na?

    In Bollywood, we do not make idle threats. As I said (almost) some three decades back in my biggest shit film oops hit film Deewar, Tera paas car hai, bungalow hai, bank-balance hai, magar mera-pas SI hai.

    You may have your Mafia. Rest assured, we have our own Mumbai policemen, who with their lathis do double-duty as cops by day and dacoits by night. So, do not try anything funny. Rukjao! kanoon ko apne haath mein mat lo (do not take the law into your hands).

    What did Gabbar say in SholayTeen goli hain, ek SI hain (three bulllets, one SI). Ha ha ha.

    If you send an extra $500,000, we’ll admit the Stan Laurel of our family, our beloved bahu-rani, daughter-in-law Aishwarya Rai, the Pink Panty starlet oops Pink Panther starlet also to the same acting school.

    Think twice before saying No. Do you really want Ms.Green Eyes to inflict another Jodhaa Akbar or Umrao Jaan on you.

    BTW, we have a Buy 2, Get 1 at 1/2 price promotion running currently – For an extra $250,000, I will remove my wig and join NYU Film School with my family’s Laurel and Hardy. After all, Hum Kisi Se Kum Nahin in bad acting, Gora beta.

    I regret my Anamika bibi Jaya cannot join the NYC Film School because she’s just discovered that Slumdog Millionaire is directed by a Britisher and excitedly sharing that discovery with the Indian people via the local badmash media.

    However, I may be able to prevail upon old friends like RekhaJi (the real Umrao Jaan) to accompany us to NYC. Do not fail to staple another $250,000 so that RekhaJi can join the NYC Film School as a visiting professor.

    You say you are not interested? Do you want me to join hands with that terror-tourist Ram Gopal Varma and make a sequel to Ram Gopal Varma Ki Aag.

    Kaminay, Mujhse bura koi na hoga.

    Mujse Dosti Karoge is a better option compared to Mujse Dushman Karoge. In any case, it’s a hobson’s choice for you in my Sarkar Raj.

    Should you fail to send the $$ by Western Union, SI will remain in our custody. Agar tumhare yaar ko zinda dekhna chahti ho, to nachna shuru karo oops jaldi Western Union karo.

    To play on what the villain Suman says in the Tamil movie Shivaji, Panam namma veetaku-varati, ponum SI veetaku-pogum (if the money doesn’t come to our house, the corpse will go to their house).

    Bas ek baat dyan mein rakhnaNo Western Union, SI kutte ki maut marega (SI will die a dog’s death).

    GoraJi, as my Kaalia Marathi bus-conductor ‘actor’ friend and savior Rajinikanth would say, Naan oru thadava sonna nooru thadava sonna mathiri (if I say it once, it’s like saying a 100-times).

    I’ll have to take leave now to take care of my Kala Bandar, who is sinking at the box office.

    After I receive your Western Union humanitarian ‘donation,’ I will write a post on my blog BigChaddi on where you can find SI.

    Mrityudaata Amitabh Bachchan, the Wigged-one.

    P.S: SI is being kept on a diet of Lassi, churned in one of our new LG washing machines.

    (Folks, if you really believe that Amitabh Bachchan wrote the above response, time you too changed your name to Kala Bandar) 😉

  3. Vivek   February 24, 2009 at 8:57 am

    You write, meet a real slumdog. they r not dogs they r also humans living in slums. Dont b too harsh on them. Responds:

    We were not harsh on them. read the piece again.

  4. navaraj   February 24, 2009 at 10:21 am

    Watch this video.I admire the confidence of this guy snd his grasping power. Responds:

    Look at the same kid, a few years earlier.

  5. coolfrog_20   February 24, 2009 at 1:05 pm

    @ joeantony:”government policies…”

    You know, you are not any different from all the other hypocritical cynicists our country has to put up with.

    If anything the government policies of the last 18 years has been instrumental in pulling MILLIONS out of poverty, building a reasonably large middle class and setting the base for future growth. No doubt, the rich grew richer but the classical poor also grew poorer argument I find great difficulty in believing. There has ALWAYS been poor people. Has their numbers increased? Probably yes but so also the numbers of the rich. When I say “rich” I mean all those who aren’t poor. What I believe is that the condition of the poor was infinitely worse before. Their problems were not merely concerned with money. They had to put up with social stigma as well (correlation between caste and money being stronger then).

    @SI Revolution in India?? Never gonna happen. Absolutely positively never. If the opressed people had any dignity, a revolution would have taken place 1000 years ago or maybe even before that. India has always been a land of extremes. Money, Climate you name it. One can only imagine the suffering of the poor when they weren’t even considered human enough to touch. Responds:

    1. You write above: One can only imagine the suffering of the poor when they weren’t even considered human enough to touch

    Very true.

    Among the many scumbags populating this planet, Brahmins easily count among the worst (though other castes were also involved in perpetuation of untouchability for several centuries).

    We’ve watched the asinine antics of these Brahmin swines at close quarters for several decades – nonsense like Po*lu cross-threads sorry Poonal cross-threads, the numerous silly rituals like women sitting ‘outside during the dirty five days of the month’ et al.

    Periyar was right when he said If you see a Brahmin and a snake, kill the Brahmin first.

    2. You write above: Revolution in India?? Never gonna happen. Absolutely positively never

    Hard to say definitively.

    This is what our favorite political scientist Samuel Huntington had to say on revolutions in his classic work Political Order in Changing Societies:

    [Revolution] is not something which can occur in any type of society at any period in its history. It is not a universal category but rather an historically limited phenomenon. It will not occur in highly traditional society with very low levels of socieal and economic complexity. Nor will it occur in highly modern societies. Like other forms of violence and instability, it is most likely to occur in socieites which have experienced some social and economic development and where the precesses of politidal modernization and politcal development have lagged behind the processes of social and economic change.

    Political modernization involves the extension of polical consciousness to new social groups and the mobilization of these groups into politics. Political development involves the creation of political institutions sufficiently adaptable, complex, autonomous, and coherent to absorb and to order the participation of these new groups and to promote social and economic change in society. The political essence of revolutions is the rapid expansion of political consciousness and the rapid mobilization of new groups into politics at a speed which makes it impossible for existing political institutions to assimilate them. Revolution is the extreme case of the explosion of political participation. Without this explosion there is no revolution. A complete revolution, however, also involves a second phase: the creation and institutionalization of a new political order. The successful revolution combines rapid political mobilization and rapid political institutionalization. Not all revolutions produce a new political order. The measure of how revolutionary a revolution is is the rapidity and the scope of the expansion of political participation. The measure of how successful a revolution is is the authority and stability of the institutions to which it gives birth.

    A full scale revolution thus involves the rapid and violent destruction of existing political institutions, the mobilization of new groups into politics, and the creation of new political institutions. The sequence and the relations among these three aspects may vary from one revolution to another. Two general patterns can be identified. In the “Western” pattern, the political institutions of the old regime collapse; this is followed by the mobilization of new groups into politics and then by the creation of new political institutions. The “Eastern” revolution, in contrast, begins with the mobilization of new groups into politics and the creation of new political institutions and ends with violent overthrow of the political institutions of the old order.

    [Political Order in Changing Societies, P.265-266 Yale University Press, 1968]

  6. the gora   February 24, 2009 at 2:49 pm

    Harry Butt/Amy G. Dala, Asha Tampa, Aditya, et al: Did you read those threats? We can’t have another Umrao Jaan, Sarkar Raj, Drona, etc. We need to come up with the money, not for SI’s sake, but for our own!

  7. Amy G. Dala   February 24, 2009 at 5:09 pm

    Gora, Seems like someone had a lot of time in their hands today.. but was funny to read.

    I am immune to those movies.. don’t watch them.. not even on DVD.

    You are almost as masochistic as SI.. I have noticed that you watch most of these movies in theater.

    Being the nosy bastard that I am, may I ask about your desi connection? How did you get so involved in desi movies?

  8. joeantony   February 25, 2009 at 12:55 am

    frog : You know, you are not any different from all the other hypocritical cynicists our country has to put up with.

    I’m talking facts here… ( the majority of the indian population in under poverty line, NOTHING … absolutely nothing has helped these people’s lives .. none of your 8% economical growth and nuke power stations … nothing is making their lives better … Mumbai and Delhi and few other cities is NOT india, there are places in india where the situation is as worse as africa.

    frog : What I believe is that the condition of the poor was infinitely worse before.

    you are comparing a age of slavery and an age of democracy… makes no sense… we are a country a democracy for 60 years, and we still have 80% of our people staying below poverty line? thats a shame…

    frog : One can only imagine the suffering of the poor when they weren’t even considered human enough to touch

    Do you think all these are gone? They are still there.. even in a metropolitan city like chennai, one of my neighbour is a Brahmin, and he has a back door for the servant to enter into his apartment…

  9. the gora   February 25, 2009 at 2:31 am

    @ Amy G. Dala

    Hmmmm… Well, in general I try to see movies in the cinema vs. television or DVD. I never used to be that way, and got most of my movie education growing up thanks to the glory of HBO. In high school though, I took a cinema course and the professor was the finest professor I’ve ever had in high school or university. He stressed the importance of watching a movie in the theater, particularly a sweeping epic like Lawrence of Arabia or Saving Private Ryan, because the filmmaker’s vision is for the film to be seen on a giant canvas in order to appreciate some of the epic shots, which 90% of the time don’t translate to a 27 inch television. Also, up until the last decade or so, the literal vision in cinemas was vastly different to the one at home because the left and right sides of the film reel would be chopped off to fit the vision into a tv box. With the advent of widescreen DVDs and widescreen televisions, this has largely been erased so nowadays you do get the complete vision of the director, although not on the same scope of the cinema projection vs. television.

    As for the initial spark for Hindi cinema… Well, I could go into a long rambling story here, but it is much easier if you go here. It is spelled out quite clearly in the 6th paragraph.

    As for the continuation from the initial spark? Too many reasons to name, most of them absurd. I’ll write a book about it one day though, or at the very least, a lengthy chapter. Responds:

    Wow, Bollywood movies in Omaha. What’s the world coming to.

  10. Asha Tampa   February 25, 2009 at 7:16 am

    I’ve not watched any of those movies, and I dont think Indian producers r gonna make another Umrao Jaan or Drona… maybe yes, but atleast not with the same people…

    Coming to the topic of poverty, I admit I am not familiar with such extreme poverty… I come from a small town, too… and when I was younger, I saw people living in small mud huts, with thatched roofs… the same huts have now been changed to cement houses, their children go to schools, blah blah blah. Even rickshaw pullers (not autos, but those three tyred rickshaws of yore) and house maids carry mobiles.

    Maybe the poverty streak is very strong in India, but I dont agree with the fact that nothing’s changed.

    As per my knowledge, the people who’ve grown richer are those whose children have gone on to study higher studies, and bagged cool jobs… in fact, there are a few instances in a nearby village where the mom and dad used to work as farmers and maids, and their sons and daughters went on to become techies, and they r now in US or smthn… Feels nice! Responds:

    You write above: Coming to the topic of poverty, I admit I am not familiar with such extreme poverty

    We’ve witnessed a fair bit of poverty and ignorance in some of India’s villages.

    There must be at least 100 million in India without a concept of state or nation, people whose idea of the world don’t go beyond the nearest big town. Largely a function of poverty.

    (Sorry for the delay in processing your comment …we had some technical issues to handle. With a blog, there’s often many behind the scene issues to tackle.)

  11. Amy G. Dala   February 25, 2009 at 10:04 am

    Thanks Gora.. Oh you love cricket too.. Great! During the Ind-Aus games, who do you root for? I am guessing Australia.. as you didn’t write about the 5th day of the 4th test match.
    there is a
    but no
    Will keep watching for your columns!

    SI, maybe it is time for you to open a cricket section.. especially now that Indian cricket is at its highest point.

    Agree about your theater logic, I am sure that I would loved Slumdog as much as SI, if I had watched it in a theater rather than a DVD screener.. Now with the advent of big screen TVs, and great sounding surround systems and blu-ray technology. at very affordable prices, the disparity isn’t as bad as it was before.

    Most of the bollywood movies are not worth the 10$ admission fees..

    I don’t know if you had watched the Tamil movie called Sivaji.. it was the biggest blockbuster of 2007 .. I loved it more than I should have because I watched it in theater.. ARR’s background music is awesome in that movie too.

    Have you watched any Rajinikanth movies? Guy is 5’6″ , dark-skinned, skinny, bald and 59 years old.. but is luckier than Danny Boyle.. arguably the biggest movie star India has ever seen. You can probably watch him in his next movie, where he will be gyrating with Ash Rai-Bitchhen in Chile. Responds:

    You write above: SI, maybe it is time for you to open a cricket section..

    As Kamaraj used to say, Parkalam. Was it Kamaraj?

    (Sorry for the delay in processing your comment …we had some technical issues to handle. With a blog, there’s often many behind the scene issues to tackle.)

  12. Asha Tampa   February 25, 2009 at 12:06 pm

    Uhhh… what happened to my comment? Dint u receive it? 🙁 Responds:

    Sorry for the delay in processing your comment …we had some technical issues to handle. (With a blog, there’s often many behind the scene issues to tackle as well.)

    Has the site been loading slowly?

  13. the gora   February 25, 2009 at 1:16 pm

    @ Amy G. Dala

    Semi funny story with the fourth vs. fifth day of that. I wasn’t able to watch most of the fifth day as I was struck down and became violently ill. I took it as a sign that I was not meant to write anything about day five because it was not a positive result for Australia.

    Two big series about to begin, India vs. NZ and Australia vs. South Africa.

    As for Sivaji, in Omaha there is a separate theater that shows Tamil movies which is wildly popular. There is a sizable south Indian population in Omaha. Lots of IT jobs in the last few years with PayPal and Yahoo among others building huge complexes on the outskirts of the city and ConAgra and TD Ameritrade bringing in a lot of workers to their headquarters. Anyway, for some bizarre reason, the Tamil film reels they receive are not subtitled. I found out the hard way when one of my friends brought me to ATD. My friends would go on and on and on about Rajini, how he is 10 times bigger than Amitabh Bachchan, that I need to see Baasha because it’s the greatest movie of all time, etc. etc. I remember Sivaji was sold out a week in advance of the opening shows, but never saw it. My friends were kind of half and half on Sivaji. Still haven’t seen one of his films. But I will sooner or later. Responds:

    1. $25 for a Matinee Ticket for Sivaji at Cineplaza North Bergen a.k.a. Columbia Park Cinemas 12 (NJ) just outside Lincoln Tunnel…the highest we’ve paid for a movie ticket in the U.S.

    2. We’ve never seen a Tamil movie in a U.S. theatre with subtitles. On DVDs, yes.

  14. Amy G. Dala   February 25, 2009 at 1:36 pm

    And Gora.. Sony has introduced a new product.. that will totally revolutionize the home theater. Responds:


  15. Asha Tampa   February 25, 2009 at 1:55 pm

    Yeah, the site’s been slow, but I thought something was wrong with the server at my side. Responds:

    Thanks. We’ll try to fix it as soon as we can.

  16. SJ2009   February 25, 2009 at 5:05 pm

    Govt. is of Indians too. So, there is no point in blaming it. People need to help the other ones. Simple. Only when every one does well, we’ll do good. That must be understood by everyone. We got to do something…

  17. coolfrog_20   February 26, 2009 at 12:31 pm

    When I said you were hypocritical, what I meant was the same government policies which you accuse of “screwing” the lives of the poor probably helped 1000s of joeantonys and frogs like u and me reach where they are today. Can you deny that? Centuries of exploitation and plunder cannot be undone in six decades. When the colonialists left, India didn’t even have the industrial infrastructure to manufacture a needle. I’m NOT EXAGGERATING. This led to the protectionist policies of pre-90s which resulted in emergence of almost all the non-IT companies that you see today. Post-liberalisation the condition of the poorest of poor hasn’t improved but it has for a LOT of people.
    You say”Mumbai and Delhi are not India” Who said they were?

    When I said conditions were worse before I didn’t mean before christ. I was talking more like 30 years. I have no idea how old you are but you should have heard your father say how tough it was for him and how easy it is for us-from walking 10 miles barefoot to school to having no TV, no power even or no hospitals. I know there is somebody somewhere in rural UP who has the same today but then you are missing the point which is progress has been made but it isn’t ENOUGH by any measure. You say”80% below poverty line is a shame”
    Only 26% is below poverty line. 80%earns below half a dollar a day. Whether its a shame or not depends on how you look at it. All I ask is “Is it better than before or worse?” Responds:

    You write above: When I said conditions were worse before I didn’t mean before christ.

    Funny. 🙂

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