Growing Up In Bombay




It was the year 1991, and after 10 years of battle, my mother had won. My father left everything in Hisar. With help from friends and family he started a small transport business in Bombay. Soon after, he managed to buy a tiny apartment in a new residential colony called Lokhandwala. Our conception of Bombay, built over multiple summer holidays, was always of Santacruz. So, as we got in the taxi from Bombay Central after our chair-car Rajdhani journey — sitting at an awkward angle for 16 hours, brimming with excitement over our new life — we were in for a heavy surprise. Well, more a shock.

It was mid-June, and Bombay was railing with the first big wave of monsoon showers. The taxi passed through Mahim and shortly afterwards crossed Bandra and Santacruz. Beyond this was a territory I had never heard of. My father allayed all building fears. “Just another 5-10 minutes, and we’ll be there”. Ten minutes passed and soon turned to 60. My mother and I knew now that this was not Lokhandwala in Andheri. We were going to stay in the new Lokhandwala in Kandivali East. A vast barren suburb at the edge of the Sanjay Gandhi National Park with a large Mahindra Tractor Division factory and the second largest slum colony after Dharavi — Hanuman Nagar.

The new buildings, imitating the skyline of Singapore and Dubai, emerged as towers in the smack middle of nowhere. We could climb to the 21st floor of the tallest buildings for the suburbs at that time and not even see Andheri. We were really far. We were not in Bombay. We were trapped. We were fully cheated by my father.

As time went on, we settled into our new life. Every wing — the alphabetic A, B, Cs each with its own Otis elevator — was an independent microcosm of pan-Indian diversity. While we were the new immigrants to Bombay, old ‘migrants’, who sold and separated from family homes in South Bombay, also moved to Kandivali with their share. The old guided the new in the ways of Bombay. We each found our mentor to the great city, and mine was Murtaza.

After two weeks of struggling in my Marathi class in school, Murtaza finally deigned to sit with me. He opened his note book and let me copy the entire test. He had a neat, cursive way of writing in complete contrast to my scrawl. We soon began to sit, travel to school, do our homework, and spend all our time together. Despite our handwriting, we had much in common. We both did not like sports. We loved hanging out with all the girls in the school. We loved talking for hours and dreaming of the future — away from Kandivali. They were our formative years; we were teenagers teeming with hormones and new feelings we didn’t know how to communicate to each other. We just knew that, however different we were to the world outside, we were the same to each other.

Murtaza’s mother was from a small village in Rajasthan and mine was from Haryana. We ate vegetarian, and his mother made the deadliest shami kebabs. I ate my first non-veg meal in his house, and Murtaza learned to make the perfect rajma from my mother. We were both deeply attached to our mothers as we watched our middle-class fathers struggle with life. His father had lost his small corner shop in Kuwait after the Iraq invasion and was trying to reinvent the magic in Kandivali, while mine was struggling on his own. We loved our fathers, but they offered little hope to us then for the future. Our future had to be away from Kandivali and hopefully together.

The new buildings, imitating the skyline of Singapore and Dubai, emerged as tall towers in the smack middle of nowhere.

Until then, Kandivali shielded us with an enormous sense of community. Lokhandwala was our little bubble. We went to tuition at a Jewish-Konkani woman’s house, played carrom with our incredibly handsome Cantonese-Indian neighbour, celebrated Ganpati with the entire building, and played and won every dandiya contest. In that way, Murtaza had helped me graduate into a Bombayite. I began to celebrate everyone’s festivals as mine. He taught me how to get excited for Christmas, Diwali, and Id. It was only when my grandmother came to visit me for the first time, and asked me why I was hanging out with a Muslim person all the time, that I foolishly realised that Murtaza and I as Muslim and Hindu carried a bigger weight then everything else that happening to us as teenagers.

My grandmother, who had witnessed the partition first hand, was forever terrified of the other and carried that fear her entire life till she came to visit us. But for Murtaza and I, teenage priorities took precedence over all else in the world. We had an action plan to escape our lives: pass with the best marks in school, get into Xavier’s, score an advertising job, move to Bandra, and find love, or maybe many lovers.

Just like my grandmother disapproved of our friendship, Murtaza’s father, now doubly scarred by the Bombay Riots, where they spent a week hidden inside a neighour’s flat, had a totally different escape plan for him. With a year still left for us to finish school, Murtaza’s father packed him off to Kuwait. I had never felt a sense of loss before that. He left in a cab for the airport one rainy night. My face was wet, but there were also tears. I knew I would never see him again. Except for advertising, I crossed everything off our list, albeit without him.  I lived our life for both of us. Sometimes you just have to.

Kandivali for me is the memory of my teen years, where I grew to be a strong person. So strong that while I managed to challenge and come out of all my demons, I buried the very memory itself, and Murtaza with that. I secretly stalk him on Facebook now, just as I secretly look up from my Kindle when my car crosses Kandivali on the Western Express Highway. And each time, I notice with great fascination and love, how Kandivali flourishes. And I hope so does Murtaza as a grown man with his wife and children.

Feature photograph by Superfast1111 [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons



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.




An Accidental Excursion To A Hill Fort

sewri fort


Sewri Fort was built by the British in 1680 for defence. Today, it is a Grade I Heritage structure that offers wonderful views of the flamingo migration at the Sewri mudflats.

Sewri Fort, 31, Sewri Ford Road, MPT, Sewri, Mumbai 400 015.


Imagine discovering a fort in your city accidentally. Imagine heading out from home to see birds but, instead, ending up wandering inside a historically rich fort.

For a long time, I’d been vaguely hearing about a place called Sewri Jetty, with mudflats that attracted migratory birds including flamingos. One weekend in January, when local newspapers reported that the birds had arrived, I decided to pay this place a visit. The nearest station to this location was Sewri.

Sewri, also called Shivdi by locals, is one of the key stations on the harbor line of the Mumbai suburban railway. Once a tiny settlement, it has gradually grown into a bustling locality home to several housing societies, warehouses, and industrial complexes.

Upon reaching Sewri station, I whipped out my phone and checked Google Maps. An eight-minute walk would lead me to the mud flats. That seemed doable and I was soon on my way. A wrong turn, however, changed my agenda for the day: I accidentally landed up at the Sewri Fort.

The surrounding area is so decrepit you might be forgiven for walking past the fort without noticing it. Overgrown shrubbery, missing signposts, construction of residential buildings, and warehouses nearby it have all led to the fort becoming inconspicuous. It looked like a oddly-shaped, dilapidated structure on a wrong lane I’d entered. I asked a passerby what it was. Oh, that’s just the Sewri Fort, he said with a shrug and walked away. Sewri Fort? A fort right where I was standing and whose existence I wasn’t aware of until now? It was an incredible moment for me.

Unlike some of the other forts in India that feature intricate designs, the architecture of Sewri fort is simple and functional since it was primarily built for defense (as I discovered later when I researched its history).

sewri fort

Bordered by high stone walls and landlocked on three sides, it has, as its entrance, a stone doorway leading into a spacious courtyard. Inner entrances were strategically designed to be perpendicular to the main entrance so that if anyone tried attacking from the front, they would fail.

The fort is constructed entirely of stone. It includes a pentagon-shaped room, 10 turret structures that were used to hold cannons, and several curved staircases on the outer areas. The walls are thick and plain. It is easy to feel dwarfed in the vast halls or rooms inside the fort. I definitely did. It was a surreal experience being inside and exploring its interiors.

Upon returning home, I read up as much as I could about the fort. A preliminary search didn’t yield much information beyond the cursory stuff, but I delved deeper and was able to unearth the rich history of the fort.

We know how Bombay (now Mumbai) was given to King Charles II of England in 1662 as part of the dowry for his marriage. Unable to care for it personally, in 1668, he persuaded the East India Company to rent the islands from him for 10 pounds of gold a year. The Company agreed and soon settled in, even as it battled constant conflict with the Mughals who were ruling other parts of India.

The East India Company had been looking to improve trade opportunities in different states and was already warring with the Mughals. Bombay, with its vast harbor and rich trade prospects, was a coveted treasure, and the Mughals hoped to conquer it. They were supported in this effort by the Siddis of Janjira who were highly skilled in naval warfare. By 1670s, the British were resisting ruthless attacks by the Siddis.

One of the steps the British took to defend themselves against these attacks was to build a hill fort at Sewri, on the island of Parel. It was intended to also act as a watchtower and help the soldiers look out for potential invaders. By 1680, it was ready. Fifty sepoys were posted at the fort, and a subedar was appointed to manage it. The fort was armed with eight to 10 cannons.

Despite this, the fort was captured in 1689, when Yadi Sakat, the Siddi general from Janjira, and his troops attacked Bombay. Following capture of the Sewri Fort, the Siddis went on to secure Mazgaon Fort and other parts of Bombay including Mahim.

Stunned by these events, the then British governor, Sir John Child entered into a deal with Aurangzeb to halt Yadi Sakat in his tracks. An amount of Rs 1.5 lakhs exchanged hands. Betrayed by the deal, the Siddi general withdrew his troops and Sewri Fort was once again back under the British.

sewri fort

In 1772, when the Portugese attacked Bombay, the fort again played an important role, to stave off the invaders.

I learnt that, in subsequent years, the fort was used to house prisoners. Soon, it was converted as a Bombay Port Trust godown/warehouse and continued to be used as one until recently.

I’d been dismayed to see its walls disfigured with ugly scrawls. A once historically significant monument, it seemed like it was headed towards a further state of ruin. I had eventually made my way to the mudflats a little distance away, which, together with a stretch of mangroves, form the Sewri wetland that acts like a feeding ground in winter for birds. The Sewri Fort provides a vantage view to observe the migratory birds that arrive here, though you may need a strong pair of binoculars if you want to get a clear look.

My accidental excursion to the ancient fort proved so fulfilling that, in the next few months, I made several more visits. Each time I visited, I discovered something new.

There are no touristy crowds there jostling one another, which is a blessing. You can explore the fort in silence and marvel at the simple yet practical and sturdy architecture.

Feature photograph by Nicholas (Nichalp) [CC BY-SA 3.0 ], from Wikimedia Commons
Photo 2 by Nicholas (Nichalp) [CC BY-SA 3.0 ], from Wikimedia Commons
Flamingoes photo by Samruddhishetty [CC BY-SA 4.0 ], from Wikimedia Commons

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Enjoy A Moment Of Peace And Quiet At The Cathedral Of The Holy Name

holy name cathedral


Cathedral of the Holy Name is a 113-year-old cathedral in Colaba. Its location on the quiet Wodehouse Road and stunning architecture make it a comforting place to visit to calm your frazzled nerves when the pace of the city gets to be too much to handle.

Cathedral of the Holy Name, 19, Nathalal Parikh Marg, Mumbai 400 001.


The Cathedral of the Holy Name makes you feel like you’ve been transported to a different era. It is located on Wodehouse Road (now Nathalal Parikh Marg) that runs parallel to Colaba Causeway but feels like a world apart. Colaba’s usual colour, cacophony, and perpetual storm of activity are missing. On Wodehouse Road, the buildings are a solemn grey. There is a comforting calm about it. I walk down to the middle of the road, opposite the YMCA, to the Cathedral, which has become my personal source of peace, quiet, and reflection.

I only recently learned that cathedral and church aren’t interchangeable terms. This church was opened to public worship in 1905 and was later upgraded to cathedral in 1964. When I ask Father Michael D’Cunha what this means, he says, “It’s like any other church, except this is the church of the bishop who governs the area. So, Cathedral of the Holy Name is the main church of the Mumbai diocese (geographical area).”

The cathedral was granted the status of a Heritage Building in 1998, and one look at the building is enough to tell you why. Its imposing edifice – looming grey stone walls, huge arches, and sturdy pillars – gives off an eerie, gothic vibe. It makes your inner Jane Eyre imagine echoes of Bertha Mason’s mocking laughter.

But if the exteriors resemble the setting of a 19th Century Victorian novel, the interiors transport you straight to Italy’s Renaissance period. Past the heavy wooden doors, all sense of spookiness fades. You look up to see sights resembling the pictures in your school textbook. The cathedral’s ceiling has fresco paintings (where the paint is applied directly onto wet plaster so that the colours penetrate through the plaster for a fresher look) by Brother A. Moscheni S.J. of Bergamo that feature stories from the Bible. Careful though; I caught a crick in my neck from staring too long in awe.

Row after row of pews lead up to a marble altar. You raise your eyes to the stained-glass windows that run down the sides of the church. On some days, the filtered sunlight is a sight to behold. You imagine the sparkling motes in the sunbeams dancing off weddings, christenings, and funerals with equal benevolence and grace.

Colaba’s usual colour, cacophony, and perpetual storm of activity are missing.

I’ve been visiting churches all my life, but the Cathedral of the Holy Name is my favourite. I usually decide where to sit based on how I’m feeling. If I have a lot on my mind, I’ll go right to the front, facing the altar. If there isn’t much bothering me, I sit somewhere at the back so I can take in the magnificence of the church in its entirety. Sometimes I’ll sit for a few minutes, sometimes longer. Sundays are a good day to go. I think about the week that went by and leave behind every worry, what if, and woe. On Sunday evenings, there are also fewer people here, and it might sound strange, but it’s almost like there’s less vying for Jesus’s attention.

Does God exist? I don’t know. But do I feel lighter and more hopeful about the week to come after my visit? Yes, I do.

Feature photograph by Ronakshah1990 [CC BY-SA 4.0 ], from Wikimedia Commons
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codepeople-post-map require JavaScript


Operation Beach Cleanup And The Aftermath Of Visarjan

versova beach cleanup visarjan


Each year, thousands of Ganesha idols are immersed into the sea on visarjan days with pomp and ceremony. But these idols often don’t dissolve and, instead, add to pollution in the waters and the beach.


The elephantine gentleman waded into the waters off Versova Beach, bobbed once, twice, thrice, and lo! – Ganesha vanished from the wooden platform in his hands, immersed in the sea. From the shore, his wife raised an arm in farewell with tears in her eyes. She gazed at a distant point where the waves must have carried Ganesha, who took the obstacles in her family’s lives away with Him.

The next family to brave the surf for visarjan encountered an obstacle, tripped over it, and found themselves submerged in the Arabian Sea along with their Ganesha. The first idol was precisely where it had been deposited, intact, and covered with just two shallow feet of brine.

We bring home a God, lavish love upon Him for a few days, and then – with great pomp and ceremony – dump Him in the sea.

A chatter of urchins splashed through the tide, retrieving those Plaster of Paris idols and lining them up on the sands. When I took a photo, a local busybody asked me to delete it; apparently, the artificially created idols – which were supposed to dissolve, representing the cycle of life – are holy, but Nature – whose cycles they disrupt – is not.

A limbless Ganesha, embedded in mud, buffeted by waves, watched the sunset, wondering about His fate.

versova beach cleanup visarjan

When I walk onto Versova Beach 12 hours later, there are more stranded Ganeshas than people. Strangers to one another, we wiggle our fingers into disposable gloves with an elastic snap and stride wordlessly to the Juhu end of the seashore. Over the course of one morning, we aim to make Swachh this little stretch of Bharat.

Every open space is a magnet for trash, but we have no trash magnet that can instantaneously attract and collect the thousands of things strewn across the beach. Bend, grasp, proceed; we repeat this routine ad infinitum. The volunteer nearest to me catches my eye and jerks his head at a marooned Ganesha. I nod, and in unison we inhale, heave up the idol, crab-walk to where others are amassed, set it down, and exhale. My gloves are torn already. As we move on to the next section of sand, a teenager refuses to abandon his still-filthy patch: “Yeh adda mera hai.

It doesn’t matter if the theme of your Ganpati was environmentalism and global warming; undissolved, it still ended up in the back of a pickup truck whose rutted tracks crisscross Versova Beach as it evacuates regiments of Ganeshas. Arms, legs, crowns: sea levels haven’t risen enough to claim them.

versova beach cleanup visarjan

The sea is at war with itself. Relentlessly disgorging more garbage on the shore, it also swallows some of it before we can transfer it to a tub of trash. Initially, my garbage route is determined by whichever stray scrap I first clap eyes on. Looking around, I realise that my zigs and zags have skirted a lot of litter; staking out a plot of sand using parts of idols as limit-stones, I focus on clearing one plot at a time.

I decide to specialise in plastics. Tugging at a plastic bag filled with mud and embedded in even more mud, I tug and tug until it rips apart in my hands and I fall flat my arse. From behind me, I hear the roar of a monster vehicle; the driver of a garbage excavator has slowed down so that I may deposit my fistfuls of detritus in its claw. Unexpected kindness.

Our toil is witnessed by two little girls and one little boy squatting on the beach. They’re quite finished but are too captivated by this growing squad of garbage enthusiasts to pull their pants back on. Pooping on the beach is a clichéd sight, but who are these people who brush their teeth by the sea? I hope the tooth fairy goes rogue and leaves cavities under the enamel of everyone who discarded tubes of toothpaste here. If you’re interested in some free market research, I can report that the most preferred brand of packaged milk consumed by those living along Versova beach is Mahananda.

versova beach cleanup visarjan

We chase the tide, bend, straighten up, and walk back to the collection tubs, squinting at the rising sun. My T-shirt is splattered with I-know-not-what and has ridden up to expose my waist, guaranteeing a tanned belt-line. I ask a young boy to take my specs off for me so I can mop my sweat with my shoulder. This Operation Clean-up successfully transfers several grains of sand from my sleeve to my face, transforming me into a human cutlet. My hips and knees are issuing appeals to the Joint Committee for Joints, and I have managed to strain my rear to such an extent that the only way I will be able to get out of bed tomorrow is to fall out of it. There’s so much left to clean; how will we finish?

Two to an overfull tub of garbage, we carry our pickings to a garbage truck. We tip it over the back, and a sudden gust blows some of it in my face. The sickly-sweet smell of garbage usually makes me retch, but today – and perhaps, after today – I am immune. A young woman in cut-off denims and aviators is in the back of the truck, hefting in the tubs, hemming herself in with garbage. I think I fell a little bit in love.

I spent two hours by the sea without ever really looking at it. Did we transform Versova Beach to Varca? No. But perhaps the amount of trash we did recover from the sea will ensure that it regurgitates a little less rubbish at Worli Sea Face and Marine Drive. Maybe our extra efforts to pick up those tiny packets of paan will prevent the deaths of a few forms of marine life. And I can only hope that next year, the God of Wisdom will help His devotees see the dearth of wisdom in how they worship Him.

Ganpati Bappa Morya!

Pudhchya varshi buddhi dya.

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codepeople-post-map require JavaScript

mughal masjid

Mughal Masjid Is An Urban Oasis


mughal masjid


The Mughal Masjid – also called Masjid-e-Iranian – was built 150 years ago by a merchant named Haji Mohammad Hussain Shirazi in Bhendi Bazaar, a place of reverence for the Shia community. It is distinctive for its blue tiles, said to have been imported from Iran, and the Iranian-inspired architecture. Although women are not allowed in the prayer hall, there is a separate area earmarked for them inside.

Mughal Masjid, Imamwada Road, Umerkhadi, Mumbai 400 009


A walk on Imamwada Road doesn’t prepare you for this slice of Persia. Ambling past nondescript humble eateries and shops selling kites and medicines, the mammoth blue structure springs up suddenly, at once captivating. The mosaic tiles and motifs have you stop and sigh ‘Blue Mosque’ after Istanbul’s famous attraction, but the roots of Mughal Masjid lie a little further away in Iran.

The Iranian connect is clearly visible in the architecture of the mosque, also called Masjid-e-Iranian. Instead of replicating the Indo-Islamic architecture elsewhere in the city, the mosque bears no gumbaz (dome) and has only two minarets. Verses from the Quraan are inscribed on these as well as on the archway. The chandeliers and carpets inside the prayer hall are said to have been imported from Iran, as are the distinct blue tiles that give the mosque its uniqueness.

As mesmerising as the exterior is, it’s hard to forget that first step inside – the palm trees, the pond, the courtyard, and the elegant prayer hall. A silence reigns inside that takes notice of neither the concrete buildings towering above nor the cries of hawkers on the footpath outside. Men catch a wink on the benches around the rectangular pond or hauz, where ablutions would once take place. Older men read newspapers or confer with friends. On the balcony outside the prayer hall and inside, others read the Quraan. The place, at once a sanctum and a refuge. 

That first visit, I’m scuttled out quickly by the guard. Women are not allowed in the prayer hall and have a separate area earmarked for them inside. The courtyard is still accessible, and my subsequent visits are more even-paced. The guards still rankle, but they don’t come in the way. Try noon or the period between Zohr and Asr for a peek inside this oasis.

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codepeople-post-map require JavaScript