Feb 122016
 

Sometimes, in the middle of the hustle and bustle of a city like Mumbai, you come across a scene like this. It makes you stop and pause.

boatman 1

Shot on a one plus one. It just was a golden hue, at sunrise …

The last few days i have been hearing this song, almost on a loop

Rashid Khan at his mellow best. Raga Todi. And, here is a variant of the same composition by Naseeruddin Saami

Every time i see a boat set out, the song comes unbidden to mind.

Feb 112016
 

This morning’s amusement was Amol Rajan, editor of the British Paper, Independent, stating that his paper was going to refer to Mumbai as Bombay, to prevent “Hindu Nationalists” from getting their way

“The whole point of Bombay is of an open, cosmopolitan port city, the gateway of India that’s open to the world. If you call it what Hindu nationalists want you to call it, you essentially do their work for them.”

Obviously, it caused a storm (also known as an outrage) in the twitter teacup.

The Independent, is owned by the Russian Oligarch Alexander Lebedev, and has been struggling for mindspace and audiences, since it launched in 1986.

Given that they are reacting to an even that took place over 2 decades ago – Bombay officially became Mumbai in 1995, and a few generations of Indians (at least 3 by my reckoning) have grown up knowing Bombay as Mumbai, one can’t but help wonder about the timing of this. I can understand, if they took this stand in 1995. But, 2016, is late reaction even by print standards.

But, given that one believes in the Freedom of Expression, and the right of people to behave in inexplicable ways, i have some suggestions for Mr.Rajan, in terms of nomenclature

  • Refer to the USA as The Colonies or The New World– that should be the simplest. The first lot of colonies to go independent. Post that there was the genocide on the native Americans, mass colonisation and violation of human rights and the rest. modern history (post world war) has 2 nuclear bombings, the devastation of south east Asia, the cock up in the middle east, the screw up in South America. And, these are just things that i can rattle off without too much research. there are a lot more, and the Brits should stand up for human rights and freedoms by reverting to the British name for America. Also it will cock a snook at Mr.Trump #justsaying
  • Caledonia – was the ancient name for Scotland. And, since we live in a post colonial world, it is time that we reverted to ancient names, and not allow the colonial apologists to win 🙂 It will also, confuse the Scottish National Party.
  • Eire – well Northern Eire, sounds a lot nicer than Northern Ireland
  • Chai – well, chai is much nicer than Tea. Besides, Tea is a term associated with bonded labour, forced plantations, and environmental degeneration. Time to change that too.
  • Arabia – dudes, the ‘Middle East’ is to the west for most of the world’s population. Stop using geographically inaccurate terms, and those that  are intrinsically wrong. Revert to Arabia, or the Arabian peninsula.
  • Bedouins – before Saudi Arabia came to be, and it’s citizens were called Saudi Arabians, they were the Bedu’s – tribes that ruled the Arabian peninsula. They seemed a lot nicer than modern Saudi Arabia. Atleast they didn’t export Wahabism and Salafism, and set the world on fire. Can we please revert to that too.

I could go on and on, but you get the drift. Besides, in a start up mode, i cannot afford the time to be too snarky about the silliness of the world.

Sufficient to say, Mumbai is neither intolerant, nor is it non inclusive, and it is cosmopolitan – except not in a western, elitist definition of cosmopolitan. It just is a name for the city – an ancient name based on an ancient goddess who is the guardian of the place.

Before i sign off, a cynical theory. Why is a British newspaper taking a stand on Indian city names. The answer is quite simple. India is a major source of web traffic. The Guardian has 7.5% of it’s total web audience from India, and this does not include the Indian diaspora (so if you were wondering, why the Guardian carries so much content on India, you have your answer). And, the best way to attract audiences, is to cause a controversy in a twitter tea cup. Outrage drives pageviews (but, those don’t last).

 

guardian

(Guardian, source Alexa)

Similarly, the Independent has a sizable chunk of it’s audience coming in from India

independent(The Independent : Source Alexa)

If i were trying to increase traffic numbers, i hopefully will desist doing something this inane, and try and improve the quality of content 🙂 And, to the team at independent, if you want to get a better insight into targeting Indian audiences, call me 🙂

 

Dec 132015
 

i went to Damu Nagar yesterday. One of my team mates wanted me to document this. I haven’t done this (documentation) since i took on my corporate role, and at a very basic level, i needed that reality check of being back to see ground level realities.

There are things that we know as broad level approximations – the price of privilege, i am guessing – and there is ground level reality. usually there is a wide chasm between the two.  Controlled interactions reveal less than organic ones.

As someone whose grounding is in the documentary form, factual narratives which are not in my voice, but the voice of the people i am shooting, i have learnt to go silent, use the camera as a barrier between the world and me, and i have learnt to observe. Talking is less important, questioning for expected answers is an exercise in futility , and therefore what is left is to observe. i have spent a day or two just rolling the camera in different places, absolutely sure that i will get unusable footage, because people tell you what you want to hear. The trick is to observe unseen. To shoot unseen. For, the camera rarely lies.You need to go beyond the obvious to pick that up.

Damu-Nagar---despairWhat you will see, whenever you to the site of a disaster is the seeming cheer. People trying to use an emotional defense mechanism to cope. It is when you see their eyes, you know the truth – and that truth is despair mixed with despondency. All those lofty things we discuss in the comfort of our air conditioned, and air purified drawing rooms, and offices have little or no bearing on the reality in these situations. Theoretical constructs are easy. Practical intervention is more long term.

And, the starting point is leaving behind all your preconceived notions, or even what your eyes see and your ears hear. Often, both are a product of your optimism. I have been doing this for a fairly long time, and one of the things i have learned not to do is self project my ‘ideal’ solutions – often brought about by complete lack of knowledge on the subject, on the situation. I used to do enough of this, and more — an eager beaver ready to solve all the problems of the world. And, then i realized how little i know. Sometimes the older me has a flashback of a younger me, and cringes in embarrassment. I have changed. I have no solutions. All i do, now, is document. The problem is vast. The solution is manifold and multilayered. And I accept, i don’t know the answers. Forget the answers, i don’t even know the questions.

As in most cases, the response of political parties and cultural organisations is more organised and more immediate than that of the administration. Some tarpaulins have arrived. Meals are regular. medicines have reached. Whatever is within the power of these players, is being done. But, long term rehabilitation is not under their control – it is between the municipality, the forest department and the state government. The Rs.3800 cheque offered as compensation is met with laughter. “hamare paas bank account bhi nahin hai, is cheque ka kya karoon‘ is a constant refrain.

Damu Nagar -the remains of the fire

the remains of the settlement, fire swept through the slums in Bhim Nagar, Damu Nagar. A gas cylinder exploded. then many more did. People ran through narrow, rocky, uneven pathways to higher ground. The fire consumed everything in it’s path.

We have lost everything, says one woman. it is echoed many times over. Women huddle together with each other, trying to form a self support mechanism. I see drunk men. And, i use the term with no value judgement. This is their way of coping. one clasps my hand with both his – ‘do something he says’ … i can see the barely controlled tears in his eyes. he then proceeds to tell Deepak Lokhande his story. Sometimes, you just need someone to listen to you. i feel helpless, as i usually do in cases like this.

Lost everything, even the basic confidence to pull through to the next day.

Damu Nagar – women waiting it out. Hoping tomorrow will be a better day. 

Different communities live in different part of the slum. I come across a woman. Are you Tamil, i ask. Telugu, she says. We talk for a bit – the story is the same. came from the villages with nothing. made something in mumbai. And lost everything in the fire. There is no way of estimating the loss. If someone told you 50k of savings, in cash, was burnt, would you believe it?

Damu-Nagar---everything-is-gone-bw

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Is it pathos i hear? is it desperation ? is it disbelief? the starting point is that no one knows how they are going to build back their lives. Do i have the answer to it – i wish i did. I don’t even know where to begin. Is this the government’s fault for allowing a settlement to come up in no man’s land? is it the resident’s fault for daring to dream, escape to mumbai and build 100 square foot homes in no man’s land? is it a tragedy waiting to happen and is it the price of development. All i know is one thing, and the only thing i have ever known – poverty and it’s impact are truly secular.

There is more i will write. we are trying to do something. i am not sure if that something is right or correct. But, i  am not sure any of us can sit back and afford to wring our hands in helplessness. As, one of the residents put up this paper on a burnt out tree ‘what do you want’ .. i want a permanent home.

Damu Nagar - Aamhala Ghar Pahije

Nov 122015
 

Mumbai is not, what you might call, a beautiful city. It has none of the splendour of a Delhi, or the old world charm of a Kolkata or Chennai, it probably is not as hep as parts of Bangalore and Pune. But, there is something about this city that is very alive and very energetic.  Also it is a city that looks much better at night than during the day – decades of adhoc urban planning has left us, Mumbaikars, with a melange of styles and structures – most clashing with each other.

I tried this as an experiment. I shot the same shot, more or less, across various day parts. It was not scientific. It most likely, was not even the same exact  frame, and, it was not automated to take pictures at regular intervals. Everytime i took a break, and remembered to bring the camera out, i shot a frame.

Mumbai - the Mill areas

This is how it looks during the day. Almost like the dwellings of human beings are swamped by alien structures.

Dusk approaches - mumbai

This is at evening, and the allure of the city beckons.

 

Dusk approaches - mumbai 2

Dusk makes the city look even prettier.

Dusk turns to Night

And, night makes it look like the city of gold. Where anyone can make a fortune. And, no one will sleep hungry.

 

 

 

Nov 042015
 

And, there are some more shots. I have been practising night shooting. It is fun, especially trying to capture varying degrees of brightness at different points of the skyline.

A lot of photography is framing. It is the same premise as when you frame a shot. How should the shot look? What are the elements you want to capture in the shot, and where do you want the audience to focus. This is kind of difficult when you start out with photography, but, as the years go by – and you shoot and analyse what you have shot, and more importantly, analyse what you have got wrong – it becomes easier. Almost instinctive.

But, an equal part of photography is also technique. How bright do you want the picture? how saturated? should you go with a lower ISO (less sensitive to light) or a higher ISO (more sensitive, but also gives more ‘noisy’ output). What kind of shutter speed should you use for that capture. This does not come instinctively. This has to be understood and practiced, and practiced some more.

It is when the two are combined – framing and technique – that i get a photograph that i put up on flickr or some other site.

How do I improve both framing and technique – i consume photography content. I look at how it was shot. I look at the EXIF data (where available). i read about photography. And, i try and shoot regularly. Most of what i shoot, i discard. But, i practice. Or I try to.

So this is what i practised (and didn’t discard).

Reflections - The Night skyline_

This is from the terrace on our floor. I found the juxtaposition of reflections and reality quite fascinating.

Dusk turns to Night

This is the other part of the view from the terrace.  I found this to be slightly Gotham like. All that is missing is the bat sign between the ITC hotel and the three towers

The streets paved with Gold

And, then there is this picture. I found the stream of gold, cutting a swathe through the city. I can see the city of Gold analogy in this

Traffic -_

Where I decide to turn acrobat for a shot 🙂