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Walking The City Streets With Mumbai Paused

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WALKING THE CITY STREETS WITH MUMBAI PAUSED

Mumbai Paused is a blog that documents multiple facets of the city through the lens of street photographer Gopal MS, best known for his distinct hashtags and chronicling of political and religious imagery. Sadiya Upade tagged along with him to explore aspects of Mumbai hidden in plain view, and came away with a new perspective.

READ SADIYA UPADE’S STORY

It’s 9 a.m. The crowd is just starting to spill on to the road outside Chembur station. I try to move ahead, deftly avoiding the swathes of people on the way out, but Gopal MS has already bested me. He points to a newspaper stall that sells only Tamil magazines and talks about the local residents. Most of the shops are closed at this hour, barring an oil trader getting ready for business.

“The trick is to keep an eye out,” says the man behind Mumbai Paused, the much-loved chronicle of everyday Mumbai. I spot a bright yellow wall, mosaic tiles, and rather inviting wrought-iron staircase. We both lean, trying to make out the space. When I glance sideways, his camera is out. There’s a black and white sketch of a girl, with a tape stuck to her mouth on the adjoining white-washed wall. “This represents the silence before #Metoo perfectly, doesn’t it?” he asks. It does. I am surprised at the quick association, wondering if I would have even spotted the sketch if it hadn’t been for Gopal.

mumbai paused

Circling back to the foot overbridge, we decide to cross over. There are posters of the Elphinstone stampede victims beside one of Ambedkar in blue. “The colour blue and Ashoka Chakra are part of Dalit imagery everywhere,” he tells me as we find ourselves inside a chawl. There are women washing clothes and some selling fish; men with fruit baskets and some sleeping amid the din of the tracks nearby. The narrow alleys have a few empty spaces that fill up with kids in the evenings. Walking past, I can’t help but see #DalitBlue on hoardings and banners.

mumbai paused

This isn’t the only iconography Gopal is mapping across the city. The street photographer has a series of hashtags: #SaffronTide for Hindutva, #MeemGreen, commonly found in Muslim areas like Govandi, even #MumbaiTurmeric depicting Deccan folk. These colours are ubiquitous, their associations clear. Yet the narrative is lost in the sea of everyday sightings, pushed back by the pace the city demands. “My work is all about life in the city,” he says. “How people travel, eat, interact with public spaces, their political affiliations: these are things everybody sees but nobody pauses to give another thought.”

mumbai paused

So when Gopal does exactly that, it sparks instant recognition. Be it the auto with a saffron flag you took to work (#SaffronTide), the old man you passed on the street (#MumbaiGreying), a nose buried in the newspaper (#NewspaperreadinginMumbai) or the “eyesore” Duranto whizzing by (#RailRomeo). No fancy facades or histories, just everyday pictures taken sans fanfare, scenes captured just as they are seen.

Gopal’s own journey started from Bangalore in 2000 when his wife gifted him a camera. The burgeoning pictures gave birth to a blog called “Which Main What Cross”. By the time the move to Mumbai happened, there was no getting away from the camera. A copywriter by profession, he walks at least 6km a day, before and after work, capturing stills for posterity. The hashtags come easy given his line of work, but the bespectacled ad-man is not big on interacting with people he photographs.

mumbai paused

The camera in his hand, a Canon G7X  (a point-and-shoot), is hardly noticeable. He stops to photograph a cart of milk cans and some idols under a tree. We are back near the overbridge and he draws my attention to a bar. “You will see these establishments usually have curtains,” he says. “As do barber shops and lottery homes.” I am stunned at the level of detail, but can’t help but smile when he calls it “the purdah system in the city.” It is clear he has walked this path many times. The idea, he says, is to explore as many streets as possible, taking a different path each time. The Kurla-Mankhurd stretch is the mainstay, simply because it’s closer to home and work.

mumbai paused

No matter where he is, a stream of photos is added to his blog, Instagram, and Twitter  on a daily basis. While he says he doesn’t have favourites, the work he finds interesting or layered is compiled into a picture book sold on The Footpath Bookshop, a website Gopal created. “There’s a deluge of photos on Instagram. Shorter attention spans mean most of the photos and stories get lost. These books are a way to reach out to more people and also to make photo books more mainstream.” He has compiled four digital books so far. The bulkiest of these is #AamArtistGallery, a 454-page collection of everyday art by unsung artists that fills the streets, commutes and common spaces we inhabit.

mumbai paused

Gopal has the right idea. Maybe a closer look – a pause – is what we need. In barely 30 minutes, the city has taken on a new sheen for me.

 

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Learn Textile Printing With Iteeha

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LEARN TEXTILE PRINTING WITH ITEEHA

Iteeha conducts art workshops around Mumbai, bringing forth textile printing techniques such as Dabu, Shibori, Tie & Dye and more. The workshops are held at ARTISANS’, Bhau Daji Lad Museum, Social, and other venues.

READ SADIYA UPADE’S STORY

My eyes kept returning to the printed dupattas flapping back and forth on the flimsy wire as the tables were padded with layers of white cloth. Were we to make these? We were on the lawns of the Bhau Daji Lad museum for Iteeha’s Dabu block printing workshop, with treated pieces of fabric in front of us. Lemon-coloured, these squares were nowhere close to the many hues of blue of the dupattas that had caught my eye.

Dabu is an ancient mud resist technique, and the first task was just that – to prepare the mud. The black soil, chuna, powdered wheat husk, and natural gum came from a small Rajasthani village called Bagru, as did the artisans who would teach us. Passed through a sieve, the mixture then made its way to our tables, and we set to work. We grabbed blocks from the tables, dipping them in the mud, hastily making a pattern, before losing them to the ever-swelling crowd. I found a flower-shaped one, imprinting it on four corners of my 4×4 before lining up in front of the lawn fan.

It must have made a hilarious picture, for the artisans couldn’t resist taking a photograph. Little did we care though, us a motley bunch of college kids, grannies, working women, and even a Japanese group on vacation. The moment it all came together though was when the pale-yellow background turned indigo! Even red! The block-printed pattern, in turn turning white, acted as the perfect offset. The smiles, unconstrained and apparent on everyone’s face that instant. Then, a rush then to find more lemony squares to experiment on, to dip in the bucketfuls of dye so that the red and blue talk together. I only had eyes for my piece of indigo sunshine, more precious than the finished dupattas on the wire.

 

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Becoming A Child At Kahani Tree

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BECOMING A CHILD AT KAHANI TREE

Kahani Tree is a children’s bookstore in Prabhadevi. It stocks a large variety of Indian authors, holds author interactions and events, and helps set up mini-libraries and reading corners by collaborating with non-profits.

Kahani Tree, Industry Manor, 2nd Floor, Above JK Banquet Hall, A. Marathe Marg, Prabhadevi, Mumbai 400 025. Phone: 022 2430 6780

READ SADIYA UPADE’S STORY

“Aaaaaaaaccchhhooooooooooooooooooooooooo”

Blork! Bluurf! I seem to have caught Gajapati Kulapati’s cold. Just wait till I catch hold of that elephant again! I feel a little biffsquiggled with this cold to be honest. But what I was saying was…when I walked in to Kahani Tree, an independent bookstore in Prabhadevi, I had but a few cats in my hat. Now, I have a few elephants, a rather curious cow, girls that are not named Coraline and boys called Ismat.

Sangeeta Bhansali, the founder of the bookstore, would approve. “Our bookshelves have always been full of wonderful stories from around the world,” she says, “but we barely had any books that told stories about our people and country.” The realisation sunk in for her in 2006 when she came across the range of children’s books published by Tulika in Chennai. By then, her own sons – then 14 and 12 years – had grown up without seeing any Indian children’s books that were not about gods, goddesses, and the Panchatantra!

Yet Tulika’s range wasn’t available anywhere in the city. “As a mother and a book lover,” says Sangeeta, “I felt it was important for every child to have access to Indian stories and folk tales, as well as engaging story books in Hindi and the regional languages, so that they were not growing up as strangers to their own culture.”

Author Shabnam Minwalla doing book signings after her interaction with students of the Bombay International School (photo courtesy Kahani Tree)
Author Shabnam Minwalla doing book signings after her interaction with students of the Bombay International School (photo courtesy Kahani Tree)

It was that singular thought that gave birth to Kahani Tree a year later, out of a single wall in the office of Vakil & Sons (where Sangeeta is the head of the publishing division). Now, it has found its legs and grown a few square metres into the bookstore I find myself in. There are shelves upon shelves of curated Indian books sourced from across the country: five-minute bilingual reads such as Five Little Monkeys, the Dev and Ollie series by Shweta Aggarwal, or books like Ismat’s Eid that explain Indian festivals, a Manipuri gem with brilliant illustrations called Who will be Ningthou?, and many more.

But what about the gods and goddesses? I ask. Do they still have a following? It seems they do, but they are a far cry from the staid, text-heavy dictums they were, Sangeeta tells me. Out comes The Mahabharatha: A Child’s View by Samhita Arni (written when she was just 12 years old) from the other wall, and I’m immediately taken in.

I silently keep it next to my growing pile in the inner section of the bookstore. This is the extended area where you will find a curated range of international picture and middle-grade books. It is here that the metaphysical Kahani Tree has gotten a physical manifestation. Alongside sits a happy looking kid on a tortoise, but he doesn’t look half as happy as me as I sneak glances at my pile. Conspicuous by their absence, though, are Jeff Kinney, Lemony Snicket, Elizabeth Dami, and others. “The idea is to get the kids to read beyond bestsellers,” explains Sangeeta, handing me The Book With No Pictures.

“What’s important is to promote reading for pleasure,” she says, “to create thinking, open-minded and empathetic children.” That’s where literary events, school book-fairs and festivals help. I’m handed an orange coloured book, called Advaita The Writer, about a little girl who finds solace in books in a far off boarding school, and how her life changes when one day the librarian asks her if she would like to meet Ruskin Bond. “It’s a beautiful book by Ken Spillman,” she says with a smile. “When children get a chance to meet the author of a book they’ve read, or if a storyteller makes a book come alive, a special connection is made.”

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Kahani Tree Story Bag with customizes book selection to suit the school’s language and reading level requirements (photo courtesy Kahani Tree)

That’s the very connection this little bookstore has grown on – by facilitating author interactions and events at Kitab Khana, the Kala Ghoda festival, and plenty of Mumbai schools. To ensure that all kids, cutting across backgrounds, get to sit under this growing tree, the bookstore helps set up mini-libraries and reading corners by collaborating with non-profits. “We encourage their librarians and teachers to come to Kahani Tree, browse, and select books that are simply not available in retail,” she says.

A lot has changed in the past decade, though. The digital market has become a contender, but there is growing awareness and acceptance. Many more publishers and authors are now willing to explore India’s multiculturalism. Besides Tulika and Pratham, Kahani Tree’s own list has expanded to Tara books, Karadi Tales, Young Zubaan, Eklavya, among others. English remains the main draw, but there is a publisher that’s looking at turning Scandanavian tales into Hindi. Then some like Duckbill are bringing in the concept of divorce and adoption into books in an evolving cultural landscape.

“Now there is a growing appreciation for every child to have access to a selection that has both windows [that allow them to see the world] and mirrors [that reflect their own realities],” she says with a smile. As I walk away thinking of walls, windows, and mirrors, it strikes me that’s it is a happy home to say the least – one that’s effortlessly brought out the child in me and given me new friends.

Feature photo by Suruchi Maira

 
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A Bibliophile’s Guide To The City’s Best Bookstores

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A BIBLIOPHILE’S GUIDE TO THE CITY’S BEST BOOKSTORES

WORDS BY SADIYA UPADE AND PHOTOGRAPHS BY SURUCHI MAIRA

The last time I visited a bookstore (which was just last week), I sat down to read Neil Gaiman’s The View from the Cheap Seats: incidentally, a chapter wherein he talks about his favourite bookstores. It ends like this: “Writing this, all those bookshops come back, the shelves, and the people…I wonder who I would have been, without those shelves, without those people and those places, without books. I would have been lonely, I think, and empty, needing something for which I did not have the words.”

I couldn’t describe bookstores or their lure better than that. But I can describe a few of the repositories that have shaped my life.

Kitab Khana

With high ceilings, wooden columns, and a creaky albeit gorgeous staircase, Kitab Khana is a city favourite. It exudes an old-world charm that draws you in each time you walk past it. Running your eyes over the neatly arranged bookcases, filled to the brim, you will always find a soul or two lost in reading and little tots with parents in tow. It’s the mezzanine floor, though, that’s the perfect place to be. It’s home to the classics and regional literature – available in Hindi, Gujarati, Marathi and Urdu – where you will be left to your own devices for as long as you want. If you’re the kind who desires a cup of coffee to go with your books, there is the Food for Thought Café on the ground level.

Kitab Khana, Somaiya Bhavan, 45/47 Mahatma Gandhi Road, Fort, Mumbai 400 001. Phone: 022 6170 2276 

Running your eyes over the neatly arranged bookcases, filled to the brim, you will always find a soul or two lost in reading and little tots with parents in tow.

Wayword & Wise

A relatively new entrant to the city’s bookstore scene, Wayword & Wise completes the Fort trinity. Co-founded by Virat Chandhok of the erstwhile Lotus bookshop in Bandra, this bookstore is for the discerning reader, with curated picks and an author list most would be unfamiliar with. But then as Chandok says, “an exceptional bookstore stocks books that customers don’t yet know they want to read.” Walk in and you would agree. On my latest visit, I picked up The Rabbit Back Literature Society by Pasi Ilmari Jääskeläinen, who the Pushkin Press says is Finland’s best kept literary secret. I’m yet to find out, but it comes highly recommended by Chandok. Go over and let this gentleman surprise and delight you with author names you can’t pronounce correctly. You will come back richer, in a way, but with a much lighter wallet.

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

Go over and let this gentleman surprise and delight you with author names you can’t pronounce correctly.

Trilogy

Trilogy, a library/bookstore in Raghuvanshi Mills is a lovely place to hang out or run into fellow bibliophiles. You will find two for sure: Ahalya and Meethil Momaya, whose labour of love this is. For World Book Day 2017, the space was brimming with lovely, colourful post-it notes across the aisles with short book reviews they asked their patrons to write. It’s these little things that stick. It’s again a highly curated enterprise, with the library staking more claim to the space than the bookstore. Many of the books, in fact, are for reference only, to be read at the library itself. But with such a rich array of names for company, there’s nothing to complain about.

Trilogy, 1st floor, Building No. 28, Raghuvanshi Mills Compound, Senapati Bapat Marg, Lower Parel (w), Mumbai 400 013. Phone: 080805 90590

Kahani Tree

A unique little bookstore in Prabhadevi, this one is exclusively for the kids. The moment you walk in, you’re surrounded by Indian authors and stories that go beyond traditional mythology. It’s still not that common to find contemporary children’s tales in Indian voices, but at Kahani Tree you will find them in various languages – English, Hindi, bilingual and more. You also have, of course, Dr. Seuss, Roald Dahl, and other beloved international names in the inner section. There are Kahani Tree recommendations to help you along, but you can always reach out to founder Sangeeta Bhansali. Also, don’t miss out on the place mats and wonderful maps they stock.

Kahani Tree, Industry Manor, 2nd Floor, A. Marathe Marg, Prabhadevi, Mumbai 400 025. Phone: 022 2430 6780

Granth Book Store

A stone’s throw from Juhu beach is Granth with its excellent hardbound collection: the kind you would want to take back home, put at the centre of your bookcase, and hand down to your next of kin. If they’re too expensive, you can always browse through these beauties, gazing out the window, with a cup of coffee in hand. Or walk upstairs and enjoy the artwork of the little ones. The upper floor is entirely dedicated to children, as are the chalks and boards. Actually, I’m not sure if you can lay your hands on the chalk. Find out and let me know?

Granth Book Store, 30/A, HM House, Juhu Tara Road, Mumbai 400 049. Phone: 022 2660 9327

 
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Travel Back In Time With Khaki Tours’ Heritage Walks

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TRAVEL BACK IN TIME WITH KHAKI TOURS’ HERITAGE WALKS

Khaki Tours organizes heritage walks and rides across the city. Hunting grounds in Parel, a stepwell wide enough for horses, Mumbai’s first tram, bubonic plague… A trip with Khaki Tours makes history come alive and will leave you more knowledgeable about the city and even slightly awestruck. In addition to the Parel tour, you can explore Banganga, Gamdevi and Bhuleshwar on foot and Fort, Byculla and Bandra in a jeep.

Acharya Donde Marg, Parel, Mumbai 400 012

READ SADIYA UPADE’S STORY

It’s 1874. Mumbai’s first tram has just pulled away from Parel TT towards Colaba. As the horse-drawn carriage trudges ahead, a turn of the head reveals a stepwell, wide enough to accommodate the horses. Remember, it is the age of nobility. Little wonder then that the news of Prince Albert’s arrival a year later has Bombay abuzz, especially the Governor’s House in Parel, which will be hosting the royal party. One of the seven islands, Parel is simultaneously prepping to take the Prince to Pune, and a railway station is being expressly built. As are roads, which will henceforth be called the Kingsway.

Paral as it is colloquially known has been the benefactor of British rule, partly due to Golanji hill, an area that’s rife for hunting. But its steady rise has now been halted by the spread of bubonic plague. What was once the Governor’s House has turned the plague research laboratory, headed by Acacio Viegas and Waldemar Haffkine. With much effort, the duo has succeeded, but Parel has lost favour with the Britishers.

But by now so has England with the natives. There are uprisings taking place throughout the country. Inspired by Gandhiji’s calls for Swadeshi, Babu Genu, a cotton mill worker, lays down his life. Years down the line, a school teacher is instrumental in the formation of the Marathi-speaking state and is crowned the first mayor. The 2km stretch, once called Queensway, has turned Acharya Dhonde Marg. A bust of Genu stands tall on it, opposite the KEM hospital.

Today, of course, the trams have vanished, and so has the stepwell. A bank stands where the latter was, amid dingy shops and faded shop hoardings. Golanji hill is just an array of old houses slowly being turned into high rises. There is so much history here, yet I was unaware of it until I went on a heritage walk with Khaki Tours. As we climbed the stairs for the end of the trip, we came face to face with a piece of history, dating even further back that hides in plain sight. In awe, we kept staring at this 3m monolithic statue of Lord Shiva, unable to move our feet.

 
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Escape Into The Treasure Trove That Is Leaping Windows

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ESCAPE INTO THE TREASURE TROVE THAT IS LEAPING WINDOWS

Leaping Windows is a library and café in Andheri that has an extensive graphic novel, comics, and manga collection. You can take either a monthly membership or read from their collection at the library itself.

Leaping Windows, 3 Corner View, Dr. Ashok Chopra Marg, Off Yari Road, Versova, Andheri (w), Mumbai 400 061. Phone: 097699 98972

READ SADIYA UPADE’S STORY

This time I was in the desert, watching the story of Dodola and Zam unfold from a distance. I saw fate tear apart the lives of these child slaves, their changing relationship and perpetual struggle to build a world for themselves. A few months earlier I was in the US, battling snow and religious dogma enforced in churches. Before that? Well, it’s a little hazy, but I was flying with Iron Man, wondering how I could get him to build my own Jarvis.

I’m not hallucinating; it’s easy to forget the outside world when you’re safely seated on cushions in a basement filled with comics and graphic novels. At Leaping Windows in Versova, you simply have to reach out to grab Craig Thompson’s Habibi or Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series or some manga. If you’re looking for superheroes instead, there’s the whole Marvel and DC universe at this small comic book library/café. For a lighter read, there’s Calvin, Asterix, Tintin and the gang.

To access the books, you can take either a monthly membership or head downstairs for an hour or two to read from their collection for less than 100 bucks. And if you get hungry, just walk back upstairs to the café – replete with artwork featuring the likes of Wolverine, Batman and more superheroes – that has plenty of snack options. The menu is designed as a comic book too. I wouldn’t have expected any less.

 
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cpm_global[‘cpm_SPBuTq’][‘typecontrol’] = true;
cpm_global[‘cpm_SPBuTq’][‘streetviewcontrol’] = true;
codepeople-post-map require JavaScript