December 08, 2017

Transition: Moments in Crossing, An Exhibition Of My Street Photographs


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My street photography exhibition – Transitions: Moments in Crossing – opens at the Jehangir Art Gallery, Kala Ghoda, Mumbai, next week from Dec 13 to Dec 19 (all days), 11 am – 7 pm.

The 50+ photographs going on display were made over the years of commuting to work and travelling around the city on weekends, and on travels beyond the city, each instance providing a window seat into teeming masses immersed in the everyday of being.

I sought. maybe I didn’t really seek, moments that place the everyday in historical, cultural, traditional and geographical contexts. And where they don’t, I sought moments devoid of drama or in the very moment of promising one.

They are about people, their immediate and far contexts, and their lives on the street. Moments caught in transit. Moments that came to stay with me. Moments that cemented my impression of the place and its people.

I’ve attempted to turn the fleeting into a temporary permanence, seeking their meaning as much in what the framed moments seek to reveal as in their act of concealment for, meanings live in dualities, and die in convergence.

Among the places I'll be featuring are Jaipur, Delhi, Bundi, Jodhpur, Udaipur, Nashik, Kolkata, Goa, Murshidabad, Bijapur, Benares, Afzalpur, Baroda, Pushkar, and Mumbai among others.

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Why Transitions?

In the street I seek to make memories of my time on it, seeking moments that bring alive its character in frames frozen street side, anchoring the memories to unfolding dramas, often unscripted, mostly ordinary, sometimes unusual, occasionally unexpected.

Each picture seeks to sit at the convergence of anticipation and surprise to remind me of the delight, however temporary, at seeing this materialise first hand, transforming the street forever, its character now tied inextricably to that one moment as it transitioned from the banal to delightful.

For, on the street the degree of separation between the innocuous and the piquant, the ordinary and the novel, the dreary and the absorbing is often so narrow as to be invisible unless in a tiny sliver of an opening when life reveals its magic in a fractured moment while transitioning from the banal to the prosaic, the shutter comes down at the very moment of transition, freezing life in all its quirks, conflicts, endearments, forebodings, intrigues, and contradictions.

It’s these transitions I sought on my meanderings, seeking meaning and the meaningful, where a seemingly plain moment crosses over into the unexpected at the moment its form and function align together to delight the eye and invigorate the senses.

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Do come over and see the exhibition, and if family and friends are not averse to seeing yet another India-centric exhibition of photographs, bring them along too, and help put the word out. Thanks in advance.

Venue: Jehangir Art Gallery, Kala Ghoda, Mumbai
Duration: 13 Dec – 19 Dec, 2017 (open on all days).

Timings: 11 a.m. – 7 p.m.

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Exhibitions

2017 – Group /  Gulf Photo Plus, Dubai, UAE.
2017 – Group /  Darkroom Gallery, Vermont, USA
2017 – Group /  PH21 Gallery, Budapest, Hungary.
2017 – Group /  South x Southeast Gallery, Georgia, USA.
2017 – Group /  Slifka Center, Yale University, Connecticut, USA.
2014 – Solo    /  Jehangir Art Gallery, Mumbai, India.
2012 – Solo    /  Jehangir Art Gallery, Mumbai, India.

Awards & Other

2017 – Finalist, Daily Life category, 10th Pollux Awards.

April 09, 2017

Of Nameplates and Neighbourhoods


Name Plate

Dr. M. A. Misquita’s Family’

The nameplate bearing the name of the doctor is set in the wall, held firm by four iron clamps that betray their age, that of the nameplate, and of the house.

The neighbourhood is even older, among the oldest in the city.

The use of ‘family’ leaves no doubt that Dr. Misquita intended for succeeding generations to share the same roof, through thick and thin, in turn contributing to the neighbourhood retaining its cultural identity.  

Two more nameplates hang from the wall.

Dr. Apolinario Fernandes

Dr. Lawrence Fernandes

They’re both new relative to the one bearing Dr. Misquita’s name and hang from nails and can be easily lifted off the wall unlike the older nameplate that’s held fast by metal clamps.

While all three are doctors, the latter two include their professional qualifications (M.B.B.S) while the former doesn’t, likely indicating a medical degree of an earlier provenance, maybe from before independence.

Since medical profession seems to run in the family, I wonder if succeeding generations from the Misquita family will in turn affix newer nameplates, designed after practices of their time, each occupying a pride of place amidst those from before.

The difference in the design of the name plates, their wall fixings, the noting (and the lack) of medical qualifications attest to changes in practices over the years just as the renovations to old houses in old neighbourhoods sit uncomfortably with the older layers and constructs.

Like layers of earth exposed during archaeological digs, each succeeding layer revealing an earlier era, so do neighbourhoods in transition, where continuous habitation of homes by succeeding generations ensures that time trails off slowly, the passing of each moment frozen in elements surviving from an earlier time, of an earlier people, of an earlier way of life.

When Bombay loses its old neighbourhoods as it certainly will, replaced by high rises with entrances turned away from the street, walking through neighbourhoods will be no different from walking among nameless, indistinguishable boxes with little of no indication of the lives within, for, in the tell tale signs visible from the street, neighbourhoods talk to passers-by, welcoming them with signs of habitation that attest to identities by way of nameplates among others.

Without nameplates and doors facing streets, neighbourhoods are poorer on their identity.

February 15, 2016

Smartphone Immersion


Packed with commuters heading home, surviving the squeeze in the compartment of a rush hour local from V.T. is less about withstanding the crush with your might than it is about being oblivious to it.

While there's no "physical" escape from the crowded confines of train cars bearing Mumbai's burdened, there's however an escape for the mind.


Here, in an area where two commuters would be hard pressed to find comfort for their legs, four are plugged into their smartphones, each watching a Bollywood movie of their choice without moving their legs; to do so would upset the equilibrium of ‘settled’ space. To still your legs, still your mind and what better medicine to achieve the latter than Bollywood's bombed films.



Oblivious to waves of commuters entering and exiting the train car, they're immersed in Bollywood plots, most of which bombed at the box office but nevertheless live on in little devices offering much succour to harried office goers seeking to shut out their everyday realities in 4-odd inch screens.

February 08, 2016

Goa’s Roadside Crosses, Marigolds, And Fish Baskets

It was a grey August morning when I stepped out and made for the bus-stand for a bus to Margao. Clouds had opened up from before dawn and the light had taken on a desultory tone.

I had woken up to rain drops hammering corrugated sheets instead of the customary bird songs in the trees. If it wasn’t for an appointment to keep at the Three Kings Church in Cuelim I’d have returned indoors and waited out the rain. Instead I struggled with my umbrella and got into a mini bus for Margao.

The Kadamba mini bus was crowded and everyone who had climbed aboard dry soon gave up on fending off raindrops trickling from umbrellas as commuters packed tight in the aisle struggled to keep them from wetting fellow passengers. There were too many umbrellas and too little space to manoeuvre the hand in defence. Goan mini buses are mini in every sense of the term.

We set off for Margao.

As the mini bus picked up speed, the rain came horizontally at the windows. I had my task cut out between opening them when the drizzle thinned and closing them shut when skies sent a volley of mischievous downpour.


The mini bus began emptying out as passengers got off at the various stops along the way.


As it crested the hill in Borim, pausing by the St. Francis Xavier Church before the bridge over the Zuari, I got my first good look at the skies leaden iron from heavy clouds brooding over lush countryside.

Riding over the bridge at Borim enroute to Margao and back never fails to bring back memories of growing up in Goa.


In time, past Camurlim, and Raia, a familiar landmark at Fatorda emerged roadside, one I used to keep an eye out for as a child – the PWD office building – because it meant Madgaon was around the corner. 

Past the PWD building, the traffic slowed down as it approached the roundabout opposite Fatorda stadium. Three policemen stood roadside by a police jeep.



A blue Maruti Suzuki car stood in the middle of a roundabout, in front of a two-wheeler it had knocked down – the two protagonists in the collusion, a common sight on roads in Goan monsoons. I hoped it was nothing serious.

The mini bus made its way past the mishap, to the bus-stand where I would board a Cansaulim-bound bus on my way to The Three Kings Church atop a hill.

~


A light drizzle fell over Margao bus-stand as I stepped off the mini bus and went in search of another bound for Cansaulim. Mini buses were parked in two opposite rows, each servicing routes into and out of Margao.

“Cansaulim?” I queried a bus driver waiting by his bus.

"Last one," he said, pointing to the end of the line. I walked up to the mini bus and finding empty seats managed to squeeze into one toward the front of the bus.

It was nearing ten in the morning. An overcast sky lingered overhead, menacing scurrying passengers hoping to stay dry on their way about the day.


No sooner I had settled into the seat by the door, knees scrapping the backrest ahead, a man stumbled into the mini bus with a large jute sack of flowers. 



He returned with a second sack containing marigolds before hauling them both into the driver’s cabin. A fragrance of marigolds took hold of the bus and lent the morning a garden freshness.

Somewhere along the way the two sacks will be dropped off at some flower market or maybe they’ve been requisitioned for some event. Either way I’m glad I’ve marigolds for company.

Just as the bus starts up, a speeding Maruti van comes to a halt at the door and a man leaps out from the driver's side before hauling a basket of fish packed in ice from the back of the van to the bus, leaving it on the steps as he returns for the second basket.


A fisherwoman hurries out of the van and requests the bus conductor, a lad in his early twenties, to let her haul her basket of fish into the mini bus. It's a delicate bargain, for it's not unknown for passengers to turn their noses up and glare at the bus conductor should the fish choose an inopportune moment to perspire the hell out the air inside a crowded mini bus.

“I’ll give you 50/- extra,” she cajoles him into agreeing. I suspected he'd agree without any blandishment.


Then a basket of ice lands over the basket of fish. One more basket of fish follows and soon the fragrance of marigolds collides with that of mackerels (bangde in Konkani).


The fisherwoman thanks the driver of the Maruti van and takes a seat at the front of the mini bus before gathering the three baskets by her feet. She’s soaking wet.

“To Majorda,” she tells the bus conductor, offering him the fare.


Her dress, unique to fisherwomen from Salcete, marks her out as a Christian, not that her Konkani accent or the Cross around her neck had left any doubt about it. She seemed hassled from the strain of transporting her baskets of fish.

It’s likely she had bought these fish straight off a fishing trawler that landed its catch that morning on some beach before travelling to Majorda to sell them roadside.

Soon after catching her breath and arranging the baskets around her feet, she thanked the bus conductor for helping her haul the baskets in, and turning to a fellow passenger she said, "There were no rickshaws available today (to bring these baskets) so I came by Maruti van.”

Chal ya, chal,” (Let’s go) the bus conductor called out over the hum of passengers, and the mini bus set off.

Soon after setting off, the minibus stopped by a roadside Cross located in a paddy field. Two women were working the field some way off.

The bus conductor got off the bus with a garland of marigolds, and stripping off his sandals he walked down the steps to the Cross bedecked with similar garlands offered by believers seeking blessings of the Cross.

It soon became apparent that the mini bus was making its first run of the day and the pious observance at the Cross was to seek blessings for the unfolding day, a ritual that seeks a divine shield against the vicissitudes of business and life, rather business of life or vice versa.

Offering prayers on the morning run is about seeking blessings for a “good day” and the well being of the driver and the bus conductor, and hopefully of the passengers as well.

The fisherwoman watched the bus conductor walk down the passage to the Cross shielded by corrugated sheets.


A candle-stand stood to one side, blackened by burned out candles and heaped with two marigold garlands that had probably made way for a new one around Jesus Christ. The two women bent in the rice field did not look up as the khaki clad bus conductor made his way to the Cross.

The lush green of the rice field contrasted with the grey of the monsoons. The countryside was quiet.


Once there, he hung the garland on the image of Jesus Christ and prepared to retrace his steps when the fisherwoman called out to him from inside the bus asking that he bring back marigold flowers from the garlands kept on the candle-stand.  


At first he could not understand her. Then he hesitated, for, the two garlands on the candle stand were offerings made to Jesus Christ by someone and probably removed by another worshipper to make way for his own garland. To mess with them would mean disrespect but the fisherwoman in the bus would have none of his hesitation.

She implored he bring her some flowers that had graced the Cross.




Soon passengers joined in. So he reluctantly picked up one of the garlands left on the candle-stand and returned to where he had left his sandals to put them on. 


He plucked two flowers from the garland and handed them over to the fisherwoman.


She smiled and touched them to her forehead before sticking them into her basket of fish, considering the basket suitably blessed by Christ.

A glow came over her. I imagined her day would go better now than when she started out in the morning, likely selling all her fish for a tidy profit.

The driver changed gears and we were off once again, but not for long.



He stopped at another roadside Cross and this time the bus conductor got off with two garlands – one for Mother Mary enclosed in a glass case and the other for the adjacent Cross.



A passenger alighted. The Sun has broken through and lit up the village in a warm embrace.


Each time the minibus stopped at myriad stops to take in passengers, mostly women going about their morning tasks, the fisher-woman would smile and wish them, apparently regulars on the bus.

Talk would turn to fish and the fish business. She lamented to them that fish prices have gone up and buyers balk at buying them in quantities they used to when they were affordable.

Earlier in the day, soon after getting into the bus, she had requested the bus conductor to drop her before a regular stop in Majorda, seeking assurances he would help her offload her baskets. He had nodded in the affirmative. And as an incentive, she had said she'd give him 50/-.


When the bus stopped at Majorda where the Konkan Railway line ran close, he helped her offload her three baskets of fish and ice, much to her relief. She was getting on in years and a long day awaited her.


He didn't remind her of the 50/- she had "promised" him, instead he smiled when she looked his way and said "Dev Borrey Korum," (Konkani for May God Bless You) before jumping back onto the foot-board. And we were off again.

A faint smell of fish from offloaded baskets lingered on amidst fragrance of marigolds as the bus trundled toward Cansaulim.

Her blessings to the bus conductor stayed with me as I prepared to get off at the Florists shop off Cansaulim Church and await P for a ride up to the Three Kings Church.


January 17, 2016

Bimal Roy Retrospective At Bhartiya Vidya Bhavan


It’s been a busy winter for film retrospectives of Indian Film Directors of yore.

Not long after Liberty screened a week long retrospective of Shyam Benegal’s classics in December 2015, Bhartiya Vidya Bhavan followed up with a retrospective of Bimal Roy’s films that ran between Jan 11-16, 2016.

Organised by Bimal Roy MemorialCommittee (BRMC) in collaboration with Cine Society, the retrospective was held to commemorate the 50th death anniversary of the legendary filmmaker.

Ashutosh Gowarikar and Shabana Azmi inaugurated the retrospective. It ended yesterday with the screening of Bandini (1963), finding little or next to nothing coverage in the mainstream press or online!

Bhartiya Vidya Bhavan’s Auditorium or Bhavan’s Auditorium as it is commonly known is a relative unknown as a hub of cultural events compared to other, better known, venues in this part of Bombay.

The auditorium is within walking distance from Wilson College located across the road from Chowpatty beach toward the Walkeshwar end.

Before the television boom sidelined the primacy of Doordarshan (DD) as the television channel of choice (or compulsion as many would remember it) that stretched well into the 1980s, DD would serve up classics via film retrospectives of its own from time to time.

It was a time before the advent of CDs and when VCRs were not easily affordable to most.

So the venue was your drawing room, and screen space, a small TV occupying a pride of place in the scheme of the room where visitors were entertained.

The scale of a large screen and the community of film goers seated around you were missing, but the import of films that straddled the parallel cinema movement struck a chord among film lovers and those who were on the way to joining them in their love for films.

To the generation from before, the screenings on DD brought nostalgia, renewing sentiments of their origins in the hinterland. To the new generation, the films introduced them to the older generation and the mores from where they came from, and as a consequence, to an India somewhat removed from the realities of drawing rooms in towns evolving toward a homogeneity we see now.  

That’s how I first saw Bimal Roy’s Do Bigha Zameen in addition to Ritwik Ghatak’s oeuvre, Ray’s classics and a host of others.

The Bimal Roy Retrospective opened early this week with Do Bigha Zameen, his signature film.

While we hoped to watch them this week, work and other commitments meant we did not find our way to the venue until the fag end of the retrospective, the day they were screening his Parakh.

~


We returned from Chowpatty beach as the Sun began to dip and the first lights came on across the street from the beach in Girgaon.

Traffic streamed both ways on the sea-facing road named after Netaji Subash Chandra Bose – toward Walkeshwar on my left and SOBO on the right. The temperature had dropped by a notch. Policemen gathered on the pavement watching traffic halt on signal turning red.

CafĂ© Ideal lay directly across the road while Sukh Sagar Veg Restaurant lay at a diagonal, along the road (Sardar Vallabbhai Patel Road) that branches off the sea facing road we had just crossed, and runs through Khetwadi, Dongri and beyond, ending on P.D. Mello Road that runs along Mumbai Port Trust docks. Beyond that is the sea, again.

With the Eastern Freeway operational, P.D. Mello road has shed its quiet for traffic streaming along the freeway, a route of choice for commuters travelling to the faraway suburbs of Vikhroli, Kanjur Marg, Bhandup and Mulund, and beyond.

~

I was keen on a bite at Sukh Sagar so we crossed the road and found ourselves a seat in the restaurant.

After tucking in a spread of Bombay Pav Bhaji, Vegetable Grilled Sandwich and Nescafe (they don’t serve tea) we stepped out and took the turn that led us down Hughes Road, past the Mercedes Benz showroom. Traffic was light on Hughes Road.


Soon, streamers of glowing light bulbs descending from a building at the corner of K.M. Munshi and Pandit Ramabai Roads announced Bhavan’s Auditorium. The decorations were part of Bimal Roy Retrospective underway at the venue.


A standee placed outside and visible to everyone on the street listed the films scheduled for the duration of the retrospective. Each screening got underway at half past six in the evening.


Up a short flight of steps led past a table at the entrance stacked with copies of Bimal Roy’s biography.


We had landed at the venue half hour after Parakh commenced so we meandered in the hallway looking at displays put up, including those supporting the event, Zee Classic and CMC among others.


Each day, the poster of the film scheduled for screening is put up by the entrance to the auditorium.

On a stand-up board, a sketch of Bimal Roy was accompanied by signatures of Bollywood Dignitaries acknowledging their presence at the retrospective.


“Asha Parekh was present at the start of today’s screening,” a man manning a temporary stall of DVDs of Bimal Roy films set up on a table told us as we lingered by the sketch. Sure enough she had signed in her presence at the bottom.


Apparently, each day of the retrospective was graced by Bollywood figures associated with Bimal Roy. 

I find the designs of posters of yesterday year films charming. They’re uncluttered, expressive without being angst ridden, and project an innocence of a time long past.

Ranged on the table for sale were a mix of films he produced and directed and those he produced.


Of the films he directed, the following were on display – Do Bigha Zamin (1953), Devdas (1955), Sujata (1959), Parakh (1960), and Prem Patra (1962), each priced at 120/-.

Of the films he produced but were directed by others, the following were on display –  Apradhi Kaun? (1957), Parivar (1956), Madhumati (1958), Kabuliwala (1961), Usne Kaha Tha (1960), priced 120/- each.

Also on sale were collections of these titles at different price points.

To those who came of age in the era of his films, the titles on sale would guarantee a trip down the memory lane, reminding of events in their own lives where woven with these films.


We stepped into the hall. The screen flickered with a scene from Parakh. Much of the hall was full and where seats were vacant, toward the back, viewers were boxed tight at the entrance to the rows and unwilling to make space to let latecomers pass.

A cursory look at the audience seemed to suggest that most of them belonged to the generation familiar with the mores of the time Bimal Roy’s films were set in, or at the very least they likely grew up seeing his films.

We stepped out of the screening and made for the DVDs, purchasing Parivar and Benazir.


Benazir because K felt a love story set in Lucknow would make for interesting viewing.  


And, Parivar because I felt it’d be interesting to see how a story of a joint family of five brothers and their families “living and sharing each others’ joys and sorrows” would pan out after “an argument breaks out over a glass of milk, and the entire family is thrown into chaos, and the only resolution seems to be nothing but dividing the entire property amongst the brothers and their respective families.”    


We stepped out into the night, passing a compound home to a cottage standing all by itself, a rare but welcome sight in a city overrun by buildings.



Up ahead we stepped into Westside where K made a quick purchase before we set off toward Gamdevi, settling for dinner at By The Way: The Parsi Kitchen.


That was an experience in itself, a story for another time.