Nov 282016
 

Sometime last year, I figured one thing about my life. That my brain was going to rust, metaphorically speaking, if I didn’t do things apart from work. A news role, placed serious dampeners on my meeting interesting people, and doing interesting things – both of which i did extensively in my earlier life. Everything i did, i tried to bring back to the work space – how does it fit here, or there – and my personal space, and interests were getting squeezed. And, i had begun chaffing (at myself).

One of the things i do enjoy is photography. And, walking around Mumbai and just shooting buildings, street life, and life in general, was something i toyed with. But, I have tremendous capacity for personal inertia — do nothing apart from have a happy thought. The thought of the photo walk made me so happy, and a few weeks passed by without me doing too much about it. It was also a bad time for me personally and professionally. The reasons don’t matter – all i know was that i felt like i was in an Indiana Jones film, and the walls were closing in on me (very rapidly).

It was at this time, i came across Khaki Tours (via a kind soul on twitter, when i asked about walks around mumbai). And, i have been attending a fair few walks since i first discovered the group.

My love for history, my love for my city, and my love for photography – have all gotten satisfied – on these trips.

clastrophobia_

This is from the first walk at Gamdevi – literally the village goddess. Gamdevi as an area of Mumbai, is brimming with history. It is the seat of Mani Bhavan – the Gandhi Museum. There is the Theosophical Society in the area. It is also the seat of modern Hindustani music. IT is also where the Indian National Congress was born, where the Quit India Movement was launched, and where many progressive men (and in those days it was men) decided that they wanted to help their fellow countrymen to not just gain independence, but also help them to become equal.

Right now, like the rest of Mumbai, there is a tussle in progress. Vertical Growth or conservation of heritage. There is a lot of brown heritage in the area. The Goregaonkars and the Rauts who helped build the city. The old temples and homes. Unfortunately, it is not seen as heritage.

theosophical-society

And, one of the things I do really like about this particular walk, is the focus on the Indian part of it. Indians who helped build this city. Indians from all over India.

There is a lot more to gamdevi than two photos and 5 lines – but, i did mention the inertia part. I have my notes. I have my photos. But, i have to still put them together. I did a series of other walks – the Banganga Walk, the Parel Walk, the Bhuleshwar walk — all of them not just great fun, but extremely informative and engrossing.

Bharat Gothoskar, whose brain child this is, loves the city. And, that comes through during the walk. This isn’t about dry numbers and dates, and events. This is about exciting human beings, who pushed the limits of their era, to succeed. Recently, Bharat and Khaki tours have moved beyond the walkabouts, and added an open jeep ride to the menu. Saturday, last week, i went on an Urban Safari (it is called that) that took us on a Fort Ride.

asiatic-3

From the steps of the Asiatic, the journey begins that takes us through the last 150 or so years of history. From the Opium traders, to the modern bankers. That part of Mumbai is quite fantastic. If this is your kind of thing, the do look out for the walks, and the rides.  The story of Bombay (as it was then) is quite something. She is quite a character, our city … 🙂

 

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.