An Insider’s Guide to the Kala Ghoda Arts Festival 2019

kala ghoda arts festival



If the Kala Ghoda Arts Festival were a person, it would turn 20 today. That’s as old as a University student — a person old enough to vote and drive. I say this to drive home the measure of time that has passed, making KGAF India’s oldest festival. From a handful of venues in 1999 to over 30 venues today. From 20 programs in 1999 to over 500 programs across 15 sections in 2019. From an eclectic festival to a festival for the people, by the people, KGAF has come a long way. And in its 20th edition, it’s showing no signs of slowing down.

Editor’s Note: The festival runs from February 2 to 10, 2019. Kindly check the festival website to confirm event times, which are subject to change.


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Venue: David Sassoon Library Gardens

The Bombay Plan, Sunday Feb 3, 6:45 pm to 7:55 pm

The Bombay Plan was the name given to a set of proposals made in 1944 by leading industrialists of the time — including Jamshedji Tata, Ghanshyam Birla, and Ardeshir Shroff — that detailed the post-Independence economic development for the country. Lord Meghnad Desai, Sanjaya Baru and R. Gopalakrishnan will speak on this unique plan for development in India.

Gandhi Between the Wars, Tuesday Feb 5, 5:10 pm to 6:10 pm

As KGAF commemorates 20 years, we also pay tribute to the Mahatma on the occasion of his 150th birth anniversary, with Srinath Raghavan expounding on the American interest in Gandhi between WWI and WWII.

And Justice for More – Section 377, Saturday Feb 9, 6:30 pm to 8:00 pm

Justice Chandrachud, known for his momentous and eloquently written judgement on Section 377, discusses the implications of Section 377 and the power of the Indian Constitution in safeguarding society.

Children’s Events

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Venue: CSMVS Lawns

Ooey Gooey by Nutty Scientist, Sunday Feb 10, 2:00 pm to 3:00 pm

If your kid is nuts about slime, bring them to this hands-on workshop where they can get down and dirty making slime, conduct fantastic experiments, and maybe even make some toothpaste while they’re at it! If you as a parent are cringing, remember: Daag Achhe Hain.

Know Your Art presents SH Raza, Sunday Feb 10, 3:00 pm to 4:00 pm

Since you’ve already managed to drag the kids out, it’s a great opportunity for them to learn about one of India’s foremost artists SH Raza, using concepts of math, geometry, shape, and colour to create their own unique masterpiece.


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Venue: Various (see below)

Hamid, Saturday 2 Feb, 6:00 pm to 8:00 pm, Coomaraswamy Hall, CSMVS

Catch the public premiere of Hamid, the heart-wrenching story of a Kashmiri boy who tries to call Allah on the number 786 after his mother tells him that his father is now with God. The screening will be followed by an interaction with the cast and crew of the film.

Zoo, Sunday 3 Feb, 1:00 pm to 4:00 pm, Coomaraswamy Hall, CSMVS

Shot entirely on an iPhone 6, Zoo is a dark, edgy film that is a must-watch for every film buff. And if you’re an aspiring filmmaker, you should stick around for director Shlok Sharma’s talk on mobile filmmaking.

Actor in Law, Sunday 3 Feb, 2:00 pm to 4:30 pm, Visitor Centre, CSMVS

Actor in Law, made in Pakistan, is veteran actor Om Puri’s last film before his death. After the screening, his wife, Nandita Puri, will look back on the stalwart’s decades-long career.


burma burma vegetarian restaurant fort

Venue: The food section at KGAF this year has moved from stalls vending food to restaurants dishing out a special KGAF menu. From Woodside Inn to Burma Burma, 31 restaurants will partner with the festival to ensure no one goes hungry!

Irani Chai!, Saturday, Feb 9, 9:30 am onwards

If you want to whet your appetite before you gorge, register for Irani Chai! a culinary walk curated by Roxanne Bamboat that will take you on a deep-dive into the Irani cafés in the area. Want more? The walk will end at Coomaraswamy Hall where you can catch the screening of The Last Irani Chai, a filmy ode to Mumbai’s iconic cafes.

Heritage Walks

Churchgate Guide

KGAF has become a pilgrimage of sorts over the years with people from across the country making their way to its hallowed grounds and taking from this the heritage walks this year will all culminate on the main festival street!

Get your walking shoes and get set to explore Mumbai like never before. From Dockyard Road to Dalal Street and Hutatma Chowk to Oval Maidan, the stories on each corner of this city are waiting to be discovered.


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Venue: Various (see below)

Sounds of Vrindavan, Monday Feb 4, 8:30 pm to 9:30 pm, Cross Maidan

Pt. Hariprasad Chaurasia will banish all Monday blues as he performs with the students of his Gurukul.

Apache Indian, Saturday Feb 9, 7:55 pm to 8:35 pm, Asiatic Steps / Shaan, Sunday Feb 10, 8:15 pm to 9:45 pm, Asiatic Steps

If you’re a ’90s kid from India, these two names are sure to evoke nostalgia and memories of the Golden Age of pop in India. We all danced to Love-o-logy and Chok There, and it’s time to dust off your dancing shoes from two decades ago and relive the glory of Indian pop music.


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Venue: Various (see below)

One of KGAF’s most underrated but most engaging section, the workshops are always somewhere you should visit to complete your festival pilgrimage.

Monday Feb 4, 4:30 pm to 6:00 pm, Somaiya Centre

If you’re stressed and need a breather go learn the original art of t’ai chi.

Wednesday 6 Feb, 11:30 am to 1:30 pm, Artists’ Centre

Looking to be the next TEDx speaker? Get some tips from Siji Varghese as he shares insights on how you can be the next one up there.

Thursday Feb 7, 2:30 pm to 4:30 pm, Artists’ Centre

Get a slice of the drone pie as Gaurav Singh teaches you how to make your own drone. Then you can plan how to build your own drone army and take over the world.

Sunday, Feb 10, 11:30 am to 1:30 pm, Artists’ Centre

If you’re looking to expand your sensory capabilities, learn to create your own piece of art while being blindfolded and, in the process, how to value the use of all your senses.

Feature photograph courtesy the Kala Ghoda Association



In Conversation with Hena Kapadia of TARQ



Built by architects Gregson, Batley & King in 1938, Dhanraj Mahal in Colaba is an art deco marvel. After you are sufficiently enchanted by its phenomenal architecture, tranquil courtyard, and charming bougainvilleas, you should find your way inside to TARQ, a contemporary art gallery launched by Hena Kapadia in 2014. Over the last four years, TARQ has not only focused on showcasing works by young, emerging artists but has also made itself a highly interactive space by hosting events, workshops, and talks. We spoke to Hena about her experiences at TARQ.

TARQ, F35/36 Dhanraj Mahal, C.S.M. Marg, Apollo Bunder, Colaba, Mumbai 400 001. Tel: 022 6615 0424


The City Story: In terms of the location of the gallery, was Colaba your first choice?

Hena Kapadia: When we opened in 2014, a lot of galleries were already in Colaba. I did investigate the possibility of opening in Lower Parel or Bandra, but commercially it was more affordable to open a gallery in Colaba, especially for the type of property we have. Also, logistically it becomes easier to do a lot of things in Colaba, because there are a lot of galleries in the neighbourhood. So we can be a part of things like ‘Art Night Thursday’, for example.

Getting the space in Dhanraj Mahal was by chance, as I was entirely at the mercy of my realtor. But I did love the building, and everything that came with the space – including my one parking spot.

TCS: TARQ is spread over two floors – is there a particular show where you were able to use the aspect interestingly?

HK: Yes, there was a show earlier this year where the space worked really well. This was ‘Wasteland’ curated by Birgid Uccia, in collaboration with the Swiss Consulate. The curator wanted to explore the gallery space spread over two floors, so we had an installation that combined both the floors.

To be honest, when I chose the place, I was a bit worried because of it being on two floors. We are used to galleries that are single floor, wider, industrial spaces. But somehow, it has worked quite well for the shows we do.


TCS: What were some of the challenges when you were starting out?

HK: Initially, logistical stuff like packing and shipping were a major headache, but we have figured this out over the years. Another thing we have hammered out is our catalogues. We always wanted to do catalogues for each exhibition, especially because we work with young artists and feel that we need to develop that writing for them. So what we do is commission these catalogues. Initially, with the catalogues, each artist wanted a different kind of catalogue which was very difficult, but now every year we do a series, and each catalogue fits into that.

TCS: It’s interesting that you are developing an identity for the gallery instead of for each artist, so at the end of the year, you have this cohesive set of catalogues. Was this a conscious decision?

HK: This was a conscious decision because every time we had to design this, I would pull my hair out. It wasn’t about gallery identity versus artist identity. We privilege our artists in many ways. Having a unique design for each catalogue was just impossible logistically, especially because these are small-scale publications. Now it has become a much more streamlined process. However, we make sure that artist is comfortable with what we are doing, with who’s writing the essay, how the catalogue is designed, which images are included, etc. It is still very much a dialogue, just better formatted.

tarq gallery colaba

TCS: You have been doing a lot of interactive events like workshops, talks, etc. Was that always integrated into the gallery program?

HK: Yes. I wanted new people to come into the place and was looking for ways to engage them. One of the earliest events we did was a poetry club called ‘Canvas Kavita’. We would send images of the current show to amateur poets so they could respond to it in verse. The whole impetus behind doing the programming can be find in the name of the gallery – TARQ, which means dialogue or discussion. I always wanted it to be a space where conversations can happen, and I think we have managed to do that.

TCS: What’s the most fun and the most tedious part about running a gallery?

HK: I love working with my artists. I enjoy the fact that I am constantly in conversation with them, the back and forth that goes on. I enjoy that closeness. I also like the fact that I get to talk to strangers who visit the gallery.

I don’t dislike anything about being a gallerist. I just really, really love my job.

TCS: A lot of people in the industry say that you are quite a workaholic. How true is that?

HK: Yes, it is true (laughs). Though I have now been consciously trying not to go crazy. Last year, we did seven shows, but the year before that we had done 10 shows. That’s when I killed myself a little bit. We are now in groove with the space and the artists, so it’s very comfortable. But I feel that anyone in this business has to be a bit of a workaholic, at least for the first five years, because there is a lot to figure out.

tarq gallery colaba

TCS: What’s been your most challenging show – conceptually or logistically?

HK: We did a show in 2016 called ‘In Letter and Spirit’ which had works from three artists – from India, Pakistan and the USA. Just getting everything together was a bit of challenge for that show, but we have now figured this out. We are doing solo shows with those artists. Conceptually, there has been no difficult show so far. I also feel that when a show is tough, intellectually or logistically, it’s a challenge to learn and grow from.

TCS: Apart from your regular programming, do you have anything particular planned for 2019?

HK: We are participating in two art festivals – Art Basel in Hong Kong and India Art Fair. Since 2017, we have been holding workshops for our artists to celebrate our anniversary. It’s like a weekend or a three-day get-together in the gallery. We are trying to make this meaningful for everyone. So last year, we did a writing workshop with Skye Arundhati Thomas where the artists got to workshop their Artist Statements, which has been a bit of a struggle for us as we are constantly editing the statements. Also, most artists are reluctant to write these. I understand that, and that’s exactly why we needed to have this conversation. It became a very productive dialogue. The artists also got to interact amongst themselves, which led to exchange of ideas and stuff.

Photographs courtesy TARQ



In Conversation with Mortimer Chatterjee of Chatterjee & Lal

SPACE EXPERIENCE PEOPLE FOOD + DRINK VIDEO chatterjee and lal art gallery colaba


A few steps from The Gateway of India, tucked behind the commotion of Colaba Causeway, and dotted with a number of Arabic perfumes shops is Arthur Bunder Road, home to one of the most experimental galleries in the city – Chatterjee & Lal. Started by the husband-wife duo Mortimer Chatterjee and Tara Lal, the eponymous gallery floated around the city between 2003 to 2007 before finding its permanent home on the first floor of Kamal Mansion, a space with warehouse dimensions and a seedy past that includes a brothel and a pool bar. We speak to Mortimer Chatteriee to know more about the gallery’s history and their work so far.

Chatterjee & Lal, Apollo Bandar, Colaba, Mumbai 400 005.



The City Story: Could you tell us a bit about the history of the gallery?

Mortimer Chatterjee: We both worked for the same auction house in India from 2001 to 2003. We then decided to concentrate more on contemporary art from South Asia. Around that time, very few platforms were open to showing experimental work like performance art, video, new media work. And that was very much the focus of our initial years. We were lucky, because there was this generation of artists who were our age, late 20s to early 30s, who did not have gallery representations. In a sense, we developed and grew with that generation of artists.

It was a moment in the trajectory of the city which was very receptive to new ideas and challenging and provocative work. We were the first gallery to show art coming out of Pakistan, for example. Also, the fact that the art market was beginning to expand for contemporary art allowed us to take risks.

Between 2003 and 2007, we were in a number of spaces. In 2007, we moved to the current gallery space in Colaba and have been here ever since.

TCS: How did you choose this place? What’s its history?

MC: This place used to be a brothel, and then it was a pool bar for some time.

This location is close enough to the existing art district in Kala Ghoda, and yet it’s slightly on the cheaper side. Especially in 2007, it was a very affordable proposition as the area had not yet gentrified.

Because of its warehouse dimensions, it was very amenable to showing art, especially the kinds of art we wanted to show. Also, a number of our friends and colleagues started showing in the same lane. Within two years, there were nearly 6 or 7 galleries at the same strip. Sadly, that’s not the case anymore.

So yes, the attraction to this space was because it was centrally located, cheap enough, and with the dimensions we needed.

TCS: Is there any particular exhibition in which you have especially experimented with the space?

MC: In 2010, artist Kabir Mohanty had mounted this interactive work where visitors were invited to walk into a kind of sandpit which had these microphones and sensors which would set off different sequences of sound depending on where you walked. It was extremely sophisticated. We had placed microphones outside the gallery which were feeding noises from the street into the artworks. So you could never be sure if you were listening to live sounds from the street, recorded sounds, or the sounds of your feet, as it were. That, I feel, was a very interesting use of the physical space.

TCS: What have been the most breakthrough shows so far?

MC: I would point to our two shows with Rashid Rana, in 2004-05 and 2007-08. Then we have done a two-part retrospective of Nasreen Mohamedi back in 2004-05. We have also done major shows with some Japanese artists (2008) in collaboration with the Japan Foundation. We did a series of exhibitions called ‘Simple Tales’, where we juxtaposed classical art with contemporary. This, in my view, was the first time that a contemporary art gallery in Mumbai created an exhibition that speaks to a longer historical timeline.

TCS: There has increasingly been a shift in your gallery towards showcasing historical material.

MC: Yes, absolutely. We are now pitching C&L as a space for contemporary art and historical material. There is still so much research and historical scholarship that needs to be done in visual arts. Contemporary art galleries can have a very progressive role in spearheading that trend. Especially because contemporary artists do look to their forbears to kind of think about influences and their own practices, so why shouldn’t galleries look to earlier periods in order to inform the works of the contemporary artists they show at their galleries?

chatterjee and lal

TCS: You have also done quite a few gallery swaps. What’s your view on that?

MC: We have done gallery swaps with a few galleries in New Zealand and New York. We started doing this back in 2008, when there wasn’t much of a model for doing this, and art fairs were considered a better way for galleries to travel to another city. However, in the last 10 years, the gallery exchange trend has really taken off. There is an art fair in New York called Condo in which NYC’s galleries give space to international galleries for a period of time. It allows the travelling galleries to really embed themselves in a city without the cost associated with an art fair, and they can use the existing infrastructure of their host galleries, leverage their networks, mailing lists, press contacts, etc. So it is a low cost and very effective way to reach out to a whole new demographic.

TCS: What’s the most fun part and the most tedious part about running a gallery?

MC: Interaction with the artists is what we enjoy the most.

Accounts is the answer to the second part. Also, the political situation. The freedom or the perceived freedom to show what we want has become somewhat constrained in the last 5 to 6 years. Whether that’s an imagined fear or real fear, I don’t know. But it is certainly something that has seeped into the consciousness of the community.




In Conversation With Nishad Avari Of Christie’s



Besides its obvious role as one of the pioneering auction houses in the world, Christie’s India isn’t merely in the business of auctioning rare artworks but is playing a supplementary role in educating Mumbaikars on the finer nuances of collectables such as fine watches, jewellery, and more through its proposed lecture series and talks with experts. Nishad Avari their dapper Specialist, Head of Sales & Associate Vice President, South Asian Modern + Contemporary Art shares his vision for engaging wider audiences.

nishad avari


The City Story: The South Asian Modern + Contemporary Art Auction held recently in New York had a couple of stellar art works inspired by Mumbai. Can you shed light on these works for our readers?

Nishad Avari: The auction included a strong selection of works by S.H. Raza and F.N. Souza from the late 1940s and 1950s, besides important works by Manjit Bawa, V.S. Gaitonde, and Tyeb Mehta. Amongst the city-inspired works, I would like to talk about Raza’s watercolour of The Oval (circa 1940s), painted before he left for France, which highlights the colourful hues of Mumbai’s iconic maidan – a haven for relaxation and cricket both perfectly depicted in this striking watercolour. A must have for any heritage loving Mumbai-kar.

The work on the cover of the catalogue is from Akbar Padamsee’s very famous but short-lived ‘gray period’. It is likely the first painting from the series of twelve he did in 1959-60 and exhibited at Jehangir Art Gallery in 1960. It was inspired by Mumbai’s rooftops that the artist saw from gallerist and artist Bal Chhabda’s home in 1959. Padamsee recalls going to Chhabda for guidance about what to show in Bombay after six years of being away. “I went to Bal Chhabda’s place, from Bal’s window on the seventh floor I looked out at the view and could see such wonderful buildings. Bal said, ‘Why don’t you paint that?’ To which I replied, ‘I will do that’. So then back home I started painting and without looking at the landscape, I reconstructed the schema.” (Ed. note: The painting, which is at the beginning of this interview, sold for USD 912,500 at the auction on September 12, 2018).

This show was sponsored by Bal Chhabda’s Gallery 59, and this particular painting was bought from the show by Chhabda to support his friend and fellow artist, illustrating the close relationships in the art world at the time. Living in Juhu at the time, a seaside suburb of Bombay, Padamsee fondly recollects, “Painting in my Juhu flat, I started working on it for three or four nights. Because the sunlight was too much in my open courtyard, I had to work at night. And a dog used to come and sit next to me. He was so wonderful and really became a friend of mine. He didn’t budge, he would just sit in his own place looking at me, not barking or anything, all night as I worked.”

TCS: Besides contemporary art, has the palette of the Indian consumer widened?

NA: Yes, as collectors become more knowledgeable and discerning, we find that they have expanded their repertoire to show an increasing interest in other areas besides South Asian art. There is a growing participation of Indian buyers across international sale categories. These include impressionist art, fine wines, rare watches, jewellery, and the ladies who love to bid for vintage handbags! At Christie’s, we have 80 categories. You’d be surprised at what people are keen on collecting. We had a few collectors from India bidding on various collectibles at the Peggy and David Rockefeller Collection sales earlier this year – perhaps the biggest sale of the century! So that’s something that makes us proud.

nishad avari

TCS: What makes Mumbai a hub for the Indian art world?

NA: Mumbai, like Paris and New York, has always attracted the bohemian and arty crowd. With its Sir J.J. School of Art, it was an obvious choice for artists in the 1940s and beyond to flock to in the hope of making a name for themselves. In fact, the Progressive Artists’ Group was founded in Bombay in 1947 by some of India’s best-known modernist including F.N. Souza, S.H. Raza, K.H. Ara, and M.F. Hussain. Since our office is housed in Colaba, we are surrounded and constantly stimulated by independent art galleries, museums, and a thriving cultural nexus that keeps the artistic sensibilities of Mumbai alive!

TCS: Christie’s set up an office in Mumbai almost two decades ago. Besides consigning and hosting auctions what else is on the agenda?
NA: At Christie’s, we are always looking to host talks and other educational events about collecting in various categories for our audiences in India. We have had specialists from our jewellery and watch departments travel to the country for exhibitions and talks and have exhibited highlights from our sales in those categories as well as Impressionist and Modern Art here as well. We hope to continue doing this alongside the two annual previews of South Asian Modern + Contemporary Art that we host in India, and to continue to support the fantastic arts initiatives in the country including the India Art Fair, the Kochi-Muziris Biennale and the Serendipity Festival.

Photographs courtesy Nishad Avari



In Conversation With The Mother-Daughter Duo Behind Tao Art Gallery



Right opposite the Arabian Sea stretch at Worli is Tao Art Gallery, which gives a glimpse of itself to the passersby through its huge glass facades – a conscious design decision by its founder/director Kalpana Shah. It opened in 2000 and has since featured solo and group shows of India’s most widely-known artists like M.F. Husain, V.S. Gaitonde, Tyeb Mehta, and S.H. Raza. As Kalpana takes us back in time to the gallery’s glorious past, her daughter, Sanjana, who recently joined as Tao’s creative director, discusses building on her mother’s legacy by digitising, curating challenging/unconventional shows, and creating an education series about contemporary art.

Tao Art Gallery, 165, The View, Dr Annie Besant Road, Worli, Mumbai 400 018. Tel: 022 2491 8585


The City Story: What inspired you to start Tao?

Kalpana Shah: Post the 1992 riots in Mumbai, some of the artists expressed themselves through open canvases, and that’s when I spotted M.F. Husain spontaneously painting at the footpath at Marine Drive [in 1992]. I was so touched to see artists express themselves in a situation where the rest of the city was so disturbed. My friend Sangita Jindal, who had accompanied me to see this, suggested I open an art gallery since I have so much passion for art. I couldn’t fathom it that time since our family had no art legacy. But somewhere, the idea stuck with me.

Since we are into real estate, my husband [the late Pankaj Shah] was working on a new building’s plan in Worli at that time. So, like a spoilt wife, I asked him to get me a gallery space [laughs]. And that’s how it all started. Tao was a dream come true since I love to be around culture, and with a gallery, you can express so much. We have done a lot in the last 18 years.

TCS: Could you tell us a bit about the gallery space and its open structure?

KS: I had always wanted the gallery to be this open, transparent space, as I was fascinated with foreign galleries where you can see the art from outside. It feels so welcoming. Sometimes, people don’t know how much they enjoy art till they come inside and interact with it.

Sanjana Shah: The architecture and interior design of Tao works beautifully for an art gallery, with the open spaces and large white walls allowing the art to breathe and truly stand out. The original Atrium Gallery from the year 2000 has a skylight that beautiful enhances the natural lighting of the space, while the newer Window Gallery is more clean and simplistic in design, allowing the contemporary to shine through.

tao art gallery

TCS: You opened the gallery 18 years ago. How have you been reinventing it?

KS: Till about 2017, we had organic growth based on my passion for art and relationships with the art world. I had no social media knowledge and no support system to do anything else till then. But when Sanjana joined, she changed the whole social media scene. We have a lovely young team now.

SS: I want to build on the 18 years of legacy that Mom has created. We are looking to digitise ourselves completely. We want to be like an online magazine, create a digital gallery, start online sales, etc. As a long-term vision, we want to be known internationally.

We have also started this new series called #EducateForArt about art. It hopes to bring together and build a like-minded community of people passionate about art, be it young students yearning to learn more, earning professionals looking to start their own collection, or veterans just looking for some creative food-for-thought! We hope to create workshops and programs for people at all levels of exposure and our specific workshops for children are designed to inculcate and maintain an eye for art from a young age itself.

tao art gallery

TCS: What’s the most fun and the most boring part of running a gallery?

KS: Running a gallery can never feel like a 9-to-5 stressful, boring job. I love working on all the shows, and hanging the artworks before a show is my most favourite part, because it allows me complete creative freedom to visualise and explore the art in synergy with the space. This not only aids in the curation process but also allows me to plan the show experience from the viewers’ perspective.

Every day is a new day at a gallery, and you get to meet so many people. There is a constant flow of energy.

SS: It truly is amazing. However, since I am from a slightly cynical generation, I feel there are slight hiccups along the way. The whole artist-gallerist-collector network is not quite clear. It’s all based on trust and word of mouth, and the gallerist’s role can get confusing sometimes. We need more clarity and transparency in this.

tao art gallery

TCS: What’s been your most memorable exhibition so far?

KS: I cherish a couple of exhibitions – M.F. Husain’s (2002) and S.H. Raza’s solo shows (2002, 2005, 2006, and 2008). Then there was a master show with artists like Husain, Raza, Tyeb Mehta, V.S. Gaitonde, etc. I really miss that era. All these artists expressed themselves individually, without being influenced by each other.

SS: For me, it was mom’s solo show, which she did as a breakthrough artist. I was very young then, but I remember giving a speech at the opening. Then our recent 18-year anniversary show “No Corners” was our most contemporary show till now.


  • A visit to the Haji Ali Dargah
  • Catching shows/performances at the Nehru Centre
  • Checking out the Nehru Planetarium
  • Heading to Lower Parel for food and shopping


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An Insiders’ Tour Of CSMVS



Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (CSMVS) is an art and history museum in Colaba. It was founded in 1905 as the Prince of Wales Museum and is a Grade I Heritage building filled with beautiful ancient artefacts from around the world.

Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (CSMVS), 159-161, Mahatma Gandhi Road, Kala Ghoda, Fort, Mumbai, Maharashtra 400023. Phone 022 2284 4484/2284 4519


One of my favourite places to visit for a spot of culture is the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya. One of the finest examples of Indo-Saracenic architecture in Mumbai, it has winding staircases and labyrinthine rooms filled with objects spanning centuries and from around the world.

The sheer breadth of the collections can often make it hard to appreciate the intricacies of the objects and, surprisingly often, the humour the artists have worked into their creations. Luckily, I was able to get a few people who work there and know the collections inside-out to tell me about their favourite objects so I can keep an eye out for them on my next trip.

Nilanjana Som: Assistant Curator (Art)

Favourite object: Dvarapala Yaksha from Pitalkhora, on display in the Sculpture Gallery on the ground floor of the Heritage Wing of the Museum.


“I am sure this object comes to life at night. It is probably the most alive sculpture in the Museum. This gigantic Dvarapala Yaksha, who at his time was guarding cave no. 3 at Pitalkhora in Aurangabad district of Maharashtra, is one of the finest icons of early Indian art. Pitalkhora, Elephanta, and other cave and temple art from this region may never get their due credit in the chapters of Indian art history, but one can see these fine sculptures of Buddhist, Jain, and Hindu art at CSMVS.”

Divya Pawathinal: Senior Curatorial Assistant

Favourite object: Suzuri Bako (writing box) from Japan, on display in Japanese Art section of the Chinese and Japanese Art Gallery on the second floor of the Heritage Wing of the Museum.


“Spread in showcases in the Chinese and Japanese Art Gallery, these writing boxes are my favourite. Made of lacquer, these were boxes made for storing writing materials. The decorations of landscapes, animals, or trees on these are very skilful. The most curious thing is that the cover image will not be similar to the interior images. The small water pots in these boxes have most intriguing shapes. Being a curator, whenever I get to hold these it is always awe-inspiring and I always find a new detail.”

Vineet Kajrolkar: Project Assistant

Favourite object: David and Abigail by Erasmus Quellinus II, on display in the Dorab Tata Gallery on the second floor of the Heritage Wing of the Museum.


“This mesmerising painting has small surprises hidden in it: the sleeve of a soldier looks like a goblin’s face, David’s shoe is embroidered with a lion’s head, and his helmet has a beautiful swan on it. But the most appealing, to a foodie like me, is the variety of meats and freshly baked breads fallen out of Abigail’s basket.”

Vaidehi Savnal: Coordinator, International Relations

Favourite object: Snuff Bottles from China, on display on the second floor of the Heritage Wing of the Museum.


“While walking into the gallery of the Far Eastern collections, one cannot but help pause at the entrance to look at two cases filled with little snuff bottles of every colour, design, and material imaginable. These bottles, that would fit in the palm of your hand, date back nearly 300 years to when court officials of the Qing dynasty and the common people alike would have carried them around for an occasional whiff of snuff. What makes these snuff bottles utterly fascinating are the sheer variety of designs – common symbols derived from legends, religion, or superstition and still others that are, well, just plain kitsch – like the one in the image, which is my favourite.”

Renuka Muthuswami: Project Coordinator

Favourite object: Assyrian reliefs from the palaces of Ashurnasirpal II and Tiglath Pilsier III, on display in the mezzanine floor near the Pre and Proto History Gallery of the Heritage Wing of the Museum.


“I always stop dead in front of the Assyrian reliefs. The incompletion of the fragments creates a sense of a certain uneasiness that I cannot resist. One knows why one must value the mysteries of all that is historical, but not quite why one is drawn to it.”

Bilwa Kulkarni: Education Officer

Favourite object: Mahishasuramardini from Elephanta, on display in the Sculpture Gallery on the ground floor of the Heritage Wing of the Museum.


“Even though the top portion of this sculpture is missing, the rest is exquisitely carved. What draws me most to it is the stark juxtaposition of delicate femininity represented in the curvaceous body of the goddess and the sheer power that she exudes with her foot placed firmly on the demon and her vice-like grip on his jaw. To me, it is the ultimate symbol of feminine energy that can be just as gentle and nurturing as it can be aggressive and brutal if messed around with!”

Kinjal Babaria: Senior Education Associate

Favourite object: Head of a Damsel from Akhnoor, Kashmir, on display in the Central Foyer.

“I find this head of the damsel to be the most beautiful object in the museum’s collection. The finesse with which the artist has sculpted this head is marvellous. Her curls and the crocodile hair ornament she is wearing are the cherry on the cake!”


Krutika Chaudhari: Museum on Wheels Associate

Favourite object: Ivory carvings from the 18th century, on display on the second floor of the Heritage Wing of the Museum.


“I like ivory carvings. This one is unique in its composition with metal, stone, and ivory, all used together to form a musician.”

Bhavdatt Patel: Administration Officer

Favourite object: At the Crossroad by Emil Rau, on display in the Ratan Tata Gallery on the second floor of the Heritage Wing of the Museum.


“Not being from an art background, I can only give a layman’s perspective. I often go back to this painting because I find the composition and the intensity of it very captivating.”

Rajesh Poojari: Conservator

Favourite object: Ashokan Edict (No. 9) from Sopara near present-day Mumbai, on display in the Sculpture Gallery on the ground floor of the Heritage wing of the Museum.


“This edict is important to the world because it is one of the earliest references of the rules bestowed by a king of ancient India. The edict is written in the Prakrit language and Brahmi script. It is also close to my heart because I was lucky to work on the conservation of this treasure.”

All photographs courtesy CSMVS except feature photograph by Bernard Gagnon [GFDL or CC BY-SA 4.0 ], from Wikimedia Commons


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Wayword & Wise Is A Readers’ Paradise



Wayword & Wise is an independent bookstore in Fort that, unlike many other bookstores in the city, is about books and books alone. Authors available here range from the popular (Philip Roth, Ruth Ware) to the niche (Han Kang, Bohumil Hrabal) and everything in between.

Wayword & Wise, Strategic house, 44, Mint Road, Ballard Estate, Fort, Mumbai 400 001. Phone: 022 6634 9946


I don’t know what I can attribute my voracious appetite for books to. Parents, who read widely and deeply, perhaps. A childhood fettered by constant visits to hospitals, maybe. Complete antipathy to any physical activity (still true). A pantheon of lunchbox friends in school whose relationships with me never quite tightened to closeness. Whichever it was, the corridors of my mind were always constructed from the swashbuckling worlds of my books.

My books. The shared ownership of a copy was not for me; it had to be mine, to have and to hold, to pluck out of my library and peruse whenever the fancy struck. They were solid things, both enclosing and mirroring me, armouring me against shadowed days, their infinite realms lifting me past the tedium of my days. Naturally, half my life unspooled in bookshops; and so, when one by one, Danai, Lotus, Landmark, and then Strand shut down, I felt an icy wipe of fear.

Thankfully, there is now Wayword & Wise set up by bibliophiles Atul Sud (investment banker who runs a food importing business) and Virat Chandok (once the manager of the long-lamented Lotus)—a little cubbyhole, intimate, yielder of a small harvest but a rich one that I spend hours reaping. Chandok and Sud are connoisseurs of stories, of authors both vanished and new, of knowledge they are eager to share. Once I name my favourites, Chandok gently coaxes me to new texts that seem at once familiar and unknown. Not all books are for all eyes, after all.

Unlike its peers, the store does away entirely with the pap and pabulum of bestseller lists, stocking everything from food and travel writing to music, literary theory to poetry, philosophy to graphic novels, science fiction to history, a delightfully offbeat children’s section to a fiction section that unfurls all the way down the room. Even better, it stocks no gewgaws, no toys, and no tchotchkes to lure the dithering customer. Just books, rows upon glorious rows of books.

wayword and wise

Its shelves carry many titles I’d like to pilfer (I cannot possibly afford them all): everything from Bohumil Hrabal’s palavering, fantasist, sorrowful novels to Caridad Svich’s savagely political plays; Alain de Botton’s popular philosophy to Andrés Neuman’s Latin American narratives; David Lebovitz’s warm adventures of baking in France to Lucia Berlin who fashioned her rich life into forensically candid short fiction; Clarice Lispector’s oeuvre to the incisive yet mannered texts by that other underrated genius Barbara Pym. It is as Jorge Carrión writes in his marvellous Bookshops—”Every bookshop is a condensed version of the world”.

Wayword is an exuberant labyrinth of paper and ink in which I happily lose myself, sifting through manuscripts, turning pages, greedily looting the shelves, then going home thick with thought and concepts. But it is never enough. Always, there is something else to be read, and it is usually to be found at Wayword.

Photographs by Suruchi Maira


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Books, Berries, And The Rustic Charm Of Bhilar



Bhilar is a village in Satara near the hill station of Panchgani that is India’s first “books village”. Modelled after Hay-on-Wye, the village hosts as many as 25 artistically decorated locations that have been turned into reading spots. Currently, the books available are only in Marathi, with English and Gujarat books to be added soon.

Bhilar is approximately 250km from Mumbai. You can drive there or take an ST bus to Wai and then use local transport to reach Bhilar.


The sprawling villas on both sides don’t point to a village. I’m about to double-back when the signboard declares that I’m still a kilometre away. The signs are all over the place, even before you reach Panchgani – a book and strawberry over red type declaring Bhilar as India’s first “books village”.

Located between the popular hill stations Panchgani and Mahabaleshwar, the village is modelled on England’s Hay-on-Wye. The Welsh village, with as many as 40 second-hand bookstores and an annual literary festival, has become a prominent tourist destination over the years. The Maharashtra government harbours similar ambitions for this hamlet in Satara.

As many as 25 artistically decorated locations around the village have been turned into reading spots. The first is Kadambari, or the novel section, with rich hues of yellow and red, painted by artists from Thane. The murals at these houses reflect the books inside, which range from literature, poetry, religion, women and children, history, environment, folk literature to biographies. While animals dot the white walls housing children’s books, caricatures, Warli art and even a makeshift fort and Maratha ruler Shivaji rule elsewhere.

The art is a giveaway, but spotting the houses is easy even otherwise, with signboards pointing the way and a holistic map at the start. Inside are rotating book racks, green cupboards reminiscent of government offices, plastic chairs, and in some cases bean bags. I was canvassing the landscape as the only outsider a hot summer day, some of the houses shut, their owners away. Within the two-kilometre periphery, most doors are open. Walking in, however, feels like an intrusion, like stumbling on to a domestic scene, especially as the smell of prawn curry whiffs by. Then, the appetite to go through titles is suddenly lost, replaced by the urge to barge into the kitchen.

bhilar books village

In some, you might just get away with it. Not barging into the kitchen, but partaking homemade thalis and snacks. A small outpost at the beginning also has all the right words – thalipeeth, pitla bhaat, poha. That’s not to say the village has not been corrupted by outside influence. Huge boards with Chinese items are more prominent than the ones selling thalis. At Kingberry farms, on the periphery, is the added option of a Gujarati thali.

The influx from the neighbouring state must be huge, given that the state is planning to introduce Gujarati titles alongside English for the visitors. Bhilar’s literary genesis lies in the state department’s drive to promote Marathi. So all the titles – over 20,000 of them – are in the regional language. I strain to read a few pages, but it’s not easy to go back to a language left behind in school. After a while, I give up and turn to the Muriel Sparks I brought with me. From my spot, overlooking a strawberry field, pausing Miss Brodie’s classes, I see families come out and pick up the ripe berries, before scuttling back inside. Strawberries are the main source of income in the village, with all houses bearing green patches, no matter the size. The roads are empty barring a few kids playing and the chickens strutting past. The occasional chiming of the temple bells is the only other thing breaking the reverie. Incidentally, the temples also house some literature besides offering great views; the only other attraction here.


Ahead, at the market square there is more activity. Crates are being filled with strawberries to be exported. Women are chattering, waiting for the Sumo to take them to Panchgani. The wait can run into hours, and the vehicle, when it arrives, packs over 15 people. Nobody is in a hurry except for me, the outsider, observing the slow rhythm of village life.

If I had more time, I would have tried my hands at more pages of Marathi literature. Passing the sweater-clad college kids walking home, with the sun about to set, I walk past the few hotels that Bhilar has to offer. The aforementioned villas and a few houses also offer rooms for those who want to live the slow life. Here too the pronouncements are loud – Bharatacha pehla pustakacha gaav. The boards notwithstanding, Bhilar has a long way to go before it can become an abode for book lovers, given that access to literature was restricted to a singe language so far. As this changes, the village can definitely become an alternative to the tried and tested terrains of Panchgani. You won’t get the famed strawberries and cream here, but with Mala’s and Mapro a stone’s throw away and views of the Dhom lake to escape to in the evenings, Bhilar makes a case for a spot on the itinerary.

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Rediscover The Enchanting Elephanta Caves

SPACE EXPERIENCE PEOPLE FOOD + DRINK VIDEO elephanta island elephanta caves


The Elephanta Caves are a boat ride away and nearly 1,300 years old, featuring some of the best rock-cut architecture and sculptures in the country. Ramya Ramamurthy recently visited the caves on a heritage walk organised by the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage.

Elephanta Caves, Gharapuri, Maharashtra 400 094.


Eighteen years ago, as a young student on my first visit to Elephanta, I walked up the steps to discover the caves were dingy, putrid, and full of bats. The only thing scarier than the bats were the monkeys that tried to steal our food. We couldn’t get off the island fast enough.

The intervening years have been kind to the caves, which were restored in the 1970s and declared an UNESCO World Heritage site in 1987. They’re now regularly maintained, and the addition of a restroom has made all the difference to tourists. For the approximately 1200 people (mostly fisher-folk like the Aagri and Koli) who live on Elephanta though, life is as it always was. For example, they received only 24 hours of electricity in all of February 2018.

Named after the elephant statue discovered on the hill by the Portuguese, Elephanta was locally called Gharapuri or the island of caves/temples. A series of caves sit within two hills and contain sculptures carved from basalt rock. Nothing quite prepares you for the awe-inspiring artistry of the 10 Shiva sculptures of the first cave. Estimated to have been built in 6th century AD, these predominantly Shaivite caves are possibly from the Gupta, Chalukya, or Kalachuri empires, though there is no conclusive proof of this.

Getting there: Ferries ply from the Gateway of India, the first one leaving at 9 a.m. and the last at 2 p.m. The newer “luxury” ferries hew to some sort of timetable, though at Rs. 200 for a return ticket, don’t expect much luxury from the boat itself. But the ocean breeze and the bobbing of the waves as the boat makes its way to the island at a leisurely pace, taking one whole hour, make up for it. Once there, a toy train takes you from the docks to the start of the climb for Rs. 5, but you can just walk this stretch in five to seven minutes if it isn’t too hot. There is a Rs. 5 tax to be paid at the start of the climb, and the ticket to enter the caves (Rs 30 for Indian nationals) can be purchased at the top. There is a ferry every half-hour from the Elephanta docks to return to Mumbai. The caves are closed on Mondays.

elephanta island elephanta caves

The climb: The caves are only 150 metres above sea level, approximately 120 steps from the start. The stairs, built just 150 years ago, are now dotted with shops selling beads, jewellery, bags, carved curios, and wooden bowls. There is a particularly steep stretch up to shop number 100, which marks the 100th step. Beyond that it’s fairly manageable, but if huffing and puffing your way to the top isn’t your syle, there are palkis you can hire. Watch out for the island’s original inhabitants – monkeys – on the way up. If you don’t offer or open up your snacks and drinks supply, they will leave you alone.

elephanta island elephanta caves

The caves: The cave sculptures were carved out of volcanic rock as a monolith – from top to bottom and back to front. As you enter, the first thing you notice are the pillars that divide the cave into squares, apparently in the shape of a mandala. The pillars near the entrance, however, are not original. Badly damaged over time, they were reconstructed in the 1960s.

The caves were built primarily for tradesmen, seafaring men, and fisher-folk as a mere stopover, which may explain why there is little else on this island. They are labelled sequentially from Cave 1 to Cave 7.

Cave 1 is the best preserved and, at 39 metres long, the largest. The highlight of the island, it contains impressive sculptures of Shiva in 10 different avatars. The other caves are more dilapidated but house idols like a shivaling, Ganesh, Karthik, and Ashta Matrikas. There is even a Buddhist stupa on site.

The highlight of the island has to be the 10 forms of Shiva in Cave 1. Each is fascinating in its own right, but three are not only glorious to behold but also tell incredible stories.

Shiva as Shivaling (Shiva as a symbol)

elephanta island elephanta caves

Still worshipped as it has been for nearly a millennium, the Shivaling (the phallic stone idol that represents Shiva) today sees about 30,000 devout visit on Mahashivratri (the birthday of Lord Shiva) .

Remove your footwear before entering and pause to consider the 18 feet tall dwarapalakas (guardians of the door); two on each side making a total of eight imposing sculptures. If you look closely, you’ll see each of them has a different face and hairstyle, and the one on the right of the shrine facing west is remarkably well-preserved.

You can tell this is the most important shrine in the cave not just because of the heavy sculptural muscle guarding it, but also because it’s constructed as a seventh square in the mandala, marking it out as a special shrine within the cave. This was possibly the first sculpture one saw if one entered via the original entrance in the east, which has since caved in.

Shiva as Bridegroom

elephanta island elephanta caves

Well-preserved enough for the facial expressions to be clearly evident are the shy face of Parvati, the bride and to her left, serene and proud, the bridegroom Shiva. In the representation of Hindu idols, wives stand to the left of their husbands; because of this, we know that, in this avatar, they are yet to be wed. Brahma, the god of creation officiates at this wedding. Vishnu and Himavat, Parvati’s father, are wedding guests. Chandra is holding the kalash or the auspicious pot, and a retinue of gods hovers above to bless the couple.

The marked Greek and Roman influences in the rendering of the hair and jewellery in these sculptures is thanks to the ancient trade routes between Elephanta and Greece and Rome. It is striking how these influences render a common Hindu mythological scene anew.

Maheshmurti or Shiva as Trimurti

elephanta island elephanta caves

This is the best-known of all the idols here with an impressive height of seven metres or 22 feet. At first glance, this sculpture may remind you of the Bayon temple in Angkor Wat, Cambodia. The central avatar of Shiva is a doppelganger of King Jayavarman VII or the Lokeswara Bodhisatva in the Bayon temple.

The three faces of Shiva signify creation, protection, and destruction. Not only is the hair different for each sculpture, but the facial features are also unusual, reminiscent of Buddhist sculpture. Each avatar holds something different – a flower in the first, a fruit in the second, and a cobra in the last. There were meant to be five faces; one more at the back to signify regeneration and a face on top to signify salvation, but these were never built.

Legend has it, at a tea party for King Edward VII held on the island, the British actually clambered on top to see if there were two more faces. They likened the sculptors to Amazons, based on the height of these sculptures. It was only after this that the Archaeological Society of India (ASI) was formed and the caves were declared a heritage monument in 1909.


The remaining sculptures show Shiva in various avatars – from an angry warrior to a householder who cheats at dice, from a voluptuous and androgynous Shakti to a sagacious Yogi. Once done with the caves, you could hike up to the stupa or to see the cannons the British left behind. You can also grab a bite to eat or get a drink at one of the cheap and cheerful restaurants along the steps.

Beyond that there isn’t much to do, which is perhaps a hidden opportunity. A more scenic route to the caves, a better attempt at officially curating the history of these caves, and a choice of cafés dotting the docks could make this a truly global cultural site.

For now, it is mostly as it has always been.

Photographs by Ramya Ramamurthy


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