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Slumdog McCloud finds joy in hellhole

Designer and TV presenter Kevin McCloud is in the Mumbai slum of Dharavi, sitting with several generations of the same family and watching some familiar, western-made television. It's Mr Bean. Everyone in India, young or old, McCloud learns, loves Rowan Atkinson's bumbling idiot. It's an interesting nugget but still the least interesting nugget in Slumming It, a fascinating and compelling two-part travelogue studded with interesting nuggets.

Dharavi is Mumbai's largest, foulest slum: one million people crowded into a squalid square mile filled with rubbish, rats and open sewers. Yet town planners claim Dharavi has a lot to teach us about urban living and community.

The people living in this hellhole, they say, are happier than we are. McCloud is going to live here for two weeks, to find out if there's any truth in it. He's appalled at first, especially when he sees a man defecating on the street.

"The smell is awful," he says, contemplating the half-metre deep stream of sludge, a mixture of human excrement and toxic chemicals, which runs through the middle of Dharavi. Improvised fresh water pipes run through the sludge, but sometimes they crack and the filth seeps in, leading to illness and disease.

McCloud's head is not in the clouds; he's no romantic, patronisingly viewing a different culture through rose-tinted glasses. Yet when he reaches the centre of Dharavi, he's amazed to find organised streets, solid buildings, shops and market stalls, schools and restaurants. He's impressed by the ingenious use of limited space and by the warm, enveloping sense of community, something we in the west have lost.

Smiling women in brightly coloured saris and school students in impeccable uniforms bustle through the narrow alleyways. "I'm finding this place a paradox," says McCloud. "Disgust is followed by delight."

The bribe of a TV set for the community elders gains him entry to the oldest part of Dharavi, established 70 years ago, from which outsiders are usually barred. He discovers that 85pc of the slum population have jobs. Some are even rich; like the millionaire who manufactures suitcase trolleys but chooses to stay living in the slum.

There are 15,000 one-room factories, including 300 bakeries, with an annual turnover of $1bn -- though they're illegal, unregulated and untaxed, and there's no age restriction on workers. "It's a shitheap, really," says McCloud, "yet people seem to be happy." But probably not for much longer. Big business smells money as well as sewage, and wants to bulldoze Dharavi. McCloud contemplates this tonight.

Happy birthday to the The Simpsons, 20 years on air. The first episode of the 21st series, co-written by guest star Seth Rogan, saw Comic Book Guy creating his own superhero, Everyman, and Homer taking the lead in the disastrous movie version.

It wasn't vintage stuff; 10 brilliant opening minutes gave way to a flat tale. But tell me this: how many series actually get better after 20 years? How many even last 20 years?

TOMORROW: Pat reviews White Boy, Black Nanny (C4) and covers his ears during Pop Star to Opera Star (ITV, where else?)

STACEY'S STARS

Slumming It ****

The Simpsons **


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