“We Didn’t Start the Fire”


“We Didn’t Start the Fire”

Illustration: Namaah/ Arré


y colleagues have been arrested. I really can’t talk to you, I’m still in a meeting,” Shalini tells me, finally answering her phone the third time I ring her.

I’d met Shalini Kamble and her group of recycle workers in Deonar’s Shivaji Nagar a few days earlier, when news of them being banned from the dumping ground had surfaced. After multiple fires broke out in the area earlier this year, much of the Indian and international media’s coverage, barring a few exceptions, had tended to skew toward Mumbai’s middle- and upper-middle-class residents and how they were affected by the poor air quality, even though they lived nowhere close to the site of the fire. There was barely any information on the people who reside in this dense, interlinking grid of shanties that are bisected from the Deonar dumping ground by a low, broken wall, and for whom this 326-acre festering mess of Mumbai’s refuse was the only source of livelihood.