PILKHANA SLUM IN KOLKATA
BY DOMINIQUE LAPIERRE
DOMINIQUE LAPIERRE WAS BORN IN FRANCE. AT THE AGE OF 13, HE TRAVELLED TO AMERICA WITH HIS FATHER WHO WAS A DIPLOMAT. HIS NOVEL, THE CITY OF JOY, IS ABOUT THE UNSUNG HEROES OF THE PILKHANA SLUM IN KOLKATA. THE 1992 FILM ADAPTION WAS DIRECTED BY ROLAND JOFFÉ STARRING PATRICK SWAYZE, OM PURI AND SHABANA AZMI
During frequent stays in Calcutta, I was fortunate enough to meet some exceptional human beings. They have given me so much, and have had such an impact on my life, that I decided I wanted to tell a story about their lives.
Most of these people stay in slums. A slum is not exactly a shanty-town. It is mostly inhabited by refugees from rural areas who come to Calcutta to seek jobs and have no place to stay. There is a total lack of privacy and sometimes ten people have to share a room. Yet the miracle of these slums is that all the accumulation of disastrous elements are counter-balanced by other factors that allow them to retain their sanity and even to transcend their condition and become models of humanity.
In these slums, people actually put love and mutual support into practice. They know how to be tolerant of all creeds and caste, how to give respect to a stranger, how to show charity towards beggars, cripples, lepers and even the insane. Here, the weak are helped, not trampled upon. Orphans are instantly adopted by their neighbours and old people are cared for and revered by their children.
The people in these slums share in a communal world and respect its social and religious values, maintaining their ancestral traditions and beliefs. Ultimately – and this is of primary importance – they know that if they are poor it is not their fault, but the fault of the cyclical or permanent maledictions that beset the places where they come from. They also know that one day this gap will be ﬁlled.