View Slideshow




Slum Joy

by Reshma Kirpalani

In 2006, I visited the birthplace of my mother: Kolkata, India. What I noticed most about the impoverished people of Kolkata was their unified coexistence with each other - working together almost as if a magnificent machine whose sweaty muscles lifted the city from the depths of its own refuse. Children hung from the bony limbs of elders.  Mothers gripped sari edges over the contours of their faces. The Bengali language flew in all directions and warmth, as unrelated to the oppressive heat, swelled throughout a citywide vein. Most mouths of this city were upturned and framed by crinkling laugh lines, even as they remained indefinitely empty. While walking throughout this city, I slowly fell in love with how unapologetic it was for its glaring imperfections: the litter of homeless children running havoc throughout the streets, the slew of adults lathering up soap and sewage water for their daily baths, the odd contrast of putrid markets and the soft, beautiful rose petals which they sold. By no means was Kolkata shiny on the outside. But, it was joyful. 

What stayed with me most about these slum dwellings was not only the sea of corrugated tin roofs and mud huts from which they were derived, but also, the open affection of their inhabitants.  In particular, one family welcomed me into their small home, where a string of children bounced against each other, each one reaching up for a turn with my camera. My time with them was too cursory of a glance to estimate their “happiness,” but their energy seemed remarkably high for that of a sprawling family living in a tiny, flat, mud house.

Upon my return to this country from recent travels, I have been deeply impacted by America’s unrelenting consumerism – a country driven forth by larger than life needs and wants. In comparison, the United Nations Human Settlements reports, “with average monthly earnings of between 500 and 1700 rupees and a household size of five to six persons, some three-quarters of the Kolkata slum population are below the poverty line”.

This series of photographs is intended to peel back the layers of American pathos – the insatiable “want” that has pervaded our society, and encourage viewers to investigate what it means to “lack.”  If Kolkata’s slum population can crinkle with laugh lines, amidst the dearth that has been their lives, “for two generations or longer,” what do we, as one of the richest countries in the world, want for in our lives? 

Reshma Kirpalani
2298 NW 56 Street
Boca Raton, Fl 33496

561 704.0911