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Stories from Mumbai's forgotten M-Ward

Note: M-Ward, Mumbai has one of the lowest Human Development Indices in the country and an infant mortality rate that is as poor as Sub-Saharan Africa. This article is part of a larger initiative undertaken by the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) known as Transforming M-Ward. The project is trying to make visible those who live in M-Ward and works at trying to understand effective solutions to the various problems of health, water, sanitation and education in the area.

Sarika Koli: Captain, Maharashtra under-19 women's cricket team

by Shruti Ravi 

Her idol is JP Duminy and she smiles when you pretend to be affronted at no mention of Sachin. Sarika Koli (17) is a resident of the Trombay Koliwada fishermen's village and the recently appointed captain of the Maharashtra under-19 women's cricket team.

Sarika with Sachin Tendulkar. Image courtesy: TISS

An avid sportsperson since school, Sarika only tried out for the Mumbai cricket association (MHA) team in class 10. A student of the Nootan Vidya Mandir, it was at the behest of her sports teacher, Mr Adve, that she went for the MHA cricket trials. Since then, it's been cricket all the way for her.

Currently she's a student of the GN Khalsa College, Matunga, and has played for her college team and competed at the Maharashtra State Divisions level. Her cumulative score in the last three matches is a remarkable 215 runs. This statistic was instrumental in her selection as captain of the under-19 women's cricket team.

For Sarika, the road doesn't stop at playing for MHA. Currently in the thick of a practice camp in Jammu that began on 7 December, she will soon play her first national-level tournament while representing the Maharashtra Cricket Association.

Supported by her father, she tells me of the family's initial skepticism and reluctance that soon turned into proud backing after she began to perform and play in matches.

Pre-tournament practise follows more or less the same rigorous routine devised by her Mumbai Cricket Association coach, Sanjay Gaitonde, at the Bandra Kurla Complex. For five days in a week, the team practises on the field from 1 to 4 pm and have slots for endurance training in the gym on Mondays and Fridays. Additionally, they also have practise matches over the weekend.

Sarika credits her bowling and fielding prowess to playing with a Trombay local cricket team, Kiran 11, of which her older brother and very many people of all ages in the village are a part of. All set to celebrate its 25th anniversary since inception this year, Kiran 11 consists of various sub-teams such as Ganesh 11, Harichandar 1, Master Blaster 11 (Sarika's loyalty lies with them), Rocklapster 11 and Chereshwar 11 to name a few.

Competition among the sub-teams forms an integral part of the annually held Koli festival. Sarika speaks of initially being cold-shouldered by the boys and being asked to 'go play at home'; this, of course, changed once they let her play and saw how good she was.

She admits to a sense of pride in doing what she does, but does wish for some form of support from the community aside from her family. This, she says, hasn't been forthcoming. But she is inspired, by Indian cricketer Poonam Raut apart from Duminy, and hopes to play for India one day.

Baiganwadi's parlour economy

by Shweta Radhakrishnan

A turn at the Govandi-Mankhurd highway will lead you into a bustling street. Baiganwadi is a crowded locality in Mumbai's M-East Ward. When we first ventured into Baiganwadi, what we noticed was the number of beauty parlours in the area. Many interviews later, we realised that a lot of these parlours were being run by women. Women in Baiganwadi have turned beauty into a thriving business. These beauty parlours seem to be a popular, viable occupational choice for women here. Apart from the regular beauty treatments, these parlours also offer beautician courses. Several women from the community enroll themselves in these classes that teach beauty basics like hair styling, make-up, mehndi and facials.

Women in Baiganwadi have turned beauty into a thriving business. Image courtesy: TISS

Sheikh Mehjabeen Tabreez who runs Sana Beauty Parlour says she began running the beauty parlour to supplement her husband's income. She studied till the ninth grade in an Urdu medium school before doing a beautician's course from a local parlour. She rents the place where she runs her parlour with the help of another friend. "What good is it if I just sit at home all day and do nothing? We could use two incomes in our house and it greatly helps our finances if I bring in money as well." Tasleem, a student at Mehjabeen's parlour concurs, saying the reason she enrolled for the course was because she felt the need to have a commercially viable skill.

Another woman who owns a parlour in the area is Salma Khan. She began Muskaan Beauty parlour after her husband deserted her and her two children. Encouraged by support from NGOs like Apnalay and women from the community, she took a loan and started the beauty parlour. From the money, she made from the classes and from her job as a beautician, she was able to repay the loan within a year. "The need to be self-sufficient really hit me when my husband left me and I was forced to fend for myself. Women need to stand on their own two feet, irrespective of their husbands. And only a job helps you achieve that. I had never really engaged with the world outside and I felt very lost when my husband left me. Now I realise how important it is for women to be acquainted with the ways of the world outside the home."

Both women have managed to keep their businesses alive despite the infrastructural issues in the area. Water has always been a problem in Baiganwadi. For a beauty parlour, lack of water can be somewhat crippling. While Mehjabeen has never had a major problem with water, Salma has seen days when she had to walk a great distance to get water for her beauty parlour. Fortunately, after their nagar sevak established water tanks in the area, the situation has improved considerably.

Beauty parlours are not merely about make-up and facials in Baiganawdi. They are offering women in the area, a chance to stand on their own feet and supplement household incomes. And it is an opportunity women are making the most of. As Salma puts it, "Somebody's desire to be beautiful is what puts the food on my table."

The authors are MA Media and Cultural Studies students at TISS.