Jameel Shah (35) came to Mumbai as a 12-year-old from Bihar, with next to nothing.
Over the years, when he worked at a leather wallet manufacturing unit and then as a watchman, he kept trying to learn how to dance.
“For a kid from Darbhanga, to dance the jive with a girl was a dream,” he says now. But when he finally joined Sandip Soparrkar’s dance classes, it was a chance conversation about a Rs 12,000 pair of ballet shoes that got him thinking. “It said ‘Made in England’. I wanted to know why it couldn’t be ‘Made in India’.”
Using his connections in the leather industry and his early lessons as a dancer, he kept improvising on manufacturing dancing shoes through 2003 and 2004, until he finally set up Shah Shoes in Dharavi in 2007.
Top choreographers and artists across the world now wear the shoes that he makes. “Success is all around you. Everything you need is in front of you. Just keep your eyes open,” Shah tells The Indian Express, days before his scheduled lecture at TedX Dharavi, an independently organised TED event.
Raghuveer Surupa, one of the organisers of TEDx Dharavi, is an IIM alumnus who has organised previous TEDx talks, including at IIM Ranchi and BITS Hyderabad.
“The idea is to find inspiration in Dharavi’s innovations,” he says. Having organised TedX Dharavi for the first time in 2017, Surupa and his team have drawn up a list of more innovators from the 24-hectare shanty town for a second edition this Sunday in Mumbai.
Among those scheduled to speak is Megha Gupta, who set up online platform Dharavimarket.com for Dharavi’s artisans.
Having struck upon the idea of an online market for the wallets, bags, purses, clutches, jackets, shoes, luggage tags, wine bottle covers and accessory boxes manufactured in the leather units of the slum, Gupta also works in skill development and training of nearly 100 artisans.
“While Dharavimarket.com is about livelihoods and jobs and opportunities, it also gives the people of Dharavi an identity beyond being seen as encroachers or as a liability to the city,” Gupta says. Her e-commerce initiatives have led to more value for slum-dwellers’ products, especially in the international market. “And once we get more dollars into the area, then they will also have a greater say in decisions regarding their housing rights,” she adds.
Unusual performance is on the cards too — a ‘cypher’ act by hip-hop crew Slumgods, based in Dharavi and featuring rappers, break dancers or B-Boys, emcees, DJs and graffiti artists, all from in or around Dharavi.
Akash Dhangar (27), who leads Slumgods and has spent years teaching youngsters in Dharavi and exploring his own art, says the cypher will be freestyle, a non-choreographed act featuring multiple artists. “It’s a process of positivity, creating something, going from nothing to something.”
The TedX talk will help him share his experiences of exploring reality through art. Dhangar, who worked as an Uber driver briefly, will talk about the process of learning every day, the near-addiction to practising and pushing his physical boundaries to create a new step or flow. “All you need is to know what you want to do,” he says.
The youngest speaker at Sunday’s event will be Gulafsha Ansari (23), whose NGO Dreaming In A Slum looks to bring daughters of single mothers or from other difficult backgrounds in Dharavi to the playground where she provides football coaching. Belonging to a conservative household herself where wearing shorts was a taboo, Gulafsha says the small battles for freedom that girls continue to fight even in Mumbai are surprising.
“It’s so common even today that expenditure on education or sports for a girl is seen as an investment without a return. Girls in poor households end up joining their mother as household help. What I wanted to do was spread the word that there are opportunities for girls beyond marriage and housekeeping.”
Gulafsha got a chance in 2010 to visit the FIFA World Cup and later take part in a ‘Football for Hope’ campaign involving worldwide NGOs working on empowerment through sport.
She also made it to the Junior Nationals, under-15 category. In 2011, she attended a leadership camp in the US, organised by Olympic gold medalist Julie Foudy. She is now pursuing an MBA in sports management. “Wearing shorts cannot be a boundary for girls,” she smiles.
Other speakers include Baburao Laad, the well-known Dharavi-based acting school teacher who also provides film artistes to casting directors; Bhau Katdare from Chiplun, who works on the conservation of Olive Ridley turtles, and Venkat Iyer, a techie who lives on his organic farm in Dahanu.
Around 600 people have signed up to attend the talks at Shanmukhananda auditorium.