Can you take the stench of Mumbai’s Sassoon Dock? You can’t, but maybe you should


Installation “Idea of Smell” by artist Hanif Kureshi (St+Art India Foundation)

If you are put off by the lingering smell of fish at Mumbai’s Sassoon Dock, a new art project in the city will make sure you cannot miss the stench even if you cover your nose.

As you enter the St+Art Project galleries at one of Mumbai’s oldest docks, an installation titled the “Idea of Smell” invokes memories and figments of imagination associated with different kinds of smell.

“You walk through a room where words, suspended in the air, activate your memory. And just like that, Kureshi evokes a range of emotions — from the visceral with sentences such as ‘Perfume of your ex’, to the endearing with ‘Mom’s cooking’, to downright repulsive with ‘Vomit’,” read a story on the art project in the Hindu Businessline newspaper.

The Sassoon Dock, built by a Jewish merchant in the 19th century, is home to one of Mumbai’s oldest wholesale fish markets, where frenetic business activity begins around sunrise. And yet, according to the art project organisers, Mumbai’s residents are not familiar with it, despite it being located in the centre of the city.

The St+Art Project, previously seen in the Indian cities of Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru, and Hyderabad, has transformed the Sassoon Dock into a vibrant space for large-scale murals, installations and other mixed media artworks. Artists from Singapore, France, Mexico, Denmark, Austria, Spain and Australia have contributed to this project.

This initiative has re-introduced a forgotten landmark to the people of Mumbai, so much so that a visit to the waterfront gallery has become a must-do for the city’s residents. Social media websites are teeming with pictures of this two-month long event that puts the spotlight on a range of topics–the lives of the fishermen community (one of Mumbai’s oldest inhabitants), the polluting coastline, Mumbai’s relentless construction activity and the receding historical and traditional facets of the city.


Mural, by artist Guido van Helten, showing a woman from the local fishing community

The Project, that came to India in 2014 with a group of artists, designers, photographers and film-makers, has democratised public spaces which are mostly dominated with political, real-estate, corporate, and religious advertisements. This new phenomenon, involving massive artistic creations done on landmarks of cities, creates the sort of engagement with public spaces that seems to be missing today. The “Idea of Smell” installation is one such attempt, among other 25-odd artworks, to re-establish that missing link with the city.

As an increasingly stressed and over-worked city population finds refuge in film theatres, shopping malls and cafes on the weekends, the engagement with art, culture and history of a city has become the pursuit of a comparatively smaller audience. In response to that, the St+Art Project is being perceived as a myth-breaking initiative, bringing home the point that art does not always belong to the realm of galleries and museums mostly frequented by the social elite and art connoisseurs.

In its own political—but subtle—way, the Sassoon Dock Art Project is also contributing to the conversation over the proposed redevelopment of historical and ecologically sensitive public landmarks of the city. The dock is one such landmark, expected to be transformed into a modern fishing village that will include an air-conditioned fish market, a museum, an amphitheatre, a food street and promenade for tourists.


As the day wound down and visitors began to leave the dock, I took in the sunset casting a pale shadow over the fishing boats. And I wondered about the future of this fishing dock and its people who have made this place what it is, as it braces for a multi-crore-rupee makeover.

The Sassoon Dock Art Project ends in December. Other famous spots in the city, such as the Churchgate station and Mahim, are also part of the street art project. To know more about the event, click here

Pictures from Mumbai’s theatres


The set of Pakistan Aur Alzheimer’s, a tragic-comic play about India’s partition, at G5A Foundation for Contemporary Culture, Shakti Mills


Qissa Urdu Ki Akhri Kitaab Ka, a satire on contemporary appropriation and censorship of historical narratives, Prithvi Theatre, Juhu


The Father, a tragi-farcical play about an Alzheimer’s patient, at Prithvi Theatre, Juhu


Gypsy Under the Moon, the theatrical adaptation of famous Bengali novel ‘Srikanta’, at Jamshed Bhabha Theatre (NCPA), Nariman Point

Morning Walk to Sewri Fort and Jetty in Mumbai


On way to the Sewri jetty, located at the eastern edge of South Mumbai.


Flamingos and other migratory birds, arriving from Gujarat, are usually spotted here during the second half of the year.


Beholding the sea…


Inside the 17th century Sewri fort built by the British as a watch tower.

Mumbai Through My Eyes

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Marine Drive, South Mumbai


Marine Drive, South Mumbai


Cuffe Parade Garden, South Mumbai


Cuffe Parade Garden, South Mumbai


Worli Seaface, one of the seven islands of Mumbai


Cuffe Parade reclamation area


Cuffe Parade Garden, South Mumbai


Cuffe Parade Garden, South Mumbai


Mumbai Fort area, built by the British; also a business district hosting large institutions such as the Bombay Stock Exchange, Reserve Bank of India and the Tata Group

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Fabindia store in Mumbai Fort area


Cuffe Parade Garden, South Mumbai


Municipal Corporation Building in South Mumbai


A procession showing the idol of Hindu elephant god ‘Ganesha’ being taken for immersion into the sea.


A jogger’s park in Dadar area


Oval Maidan in South Mumbai


National Gallery of Modern Art, Mumbai


Prithvi Theatre, Juhu suburb

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The trees of Mumbai!


One of the sea-facing art deco buildings in South Mumbai


Inside the World Centre Complex of Cuffe Parade, South Mumbai


View of the Meethi River from Mahim Nature Park


Afghan Church


Dadar Parsi Colony


On way to British-era nature park, the ‘Rani Baug’, in Byculla


On way to British-era nature park, the ‘Rani Baug’, in Byculla


Inside the historic botanical garden, the ‘Rani Baug’, in Byculla


Inside the historic botanical garden, the ‘Rani Baug’, in Byculla

The visual perks of a Cuffe Parade office in Mumbai


Tucked away at the southern tip of Mumbai, Cuffe Parade is one of the most affluent neighbourhoods in the city. It is named after T.W. Cuffe, an official of the Bombay City Improvement Trust, which was created during the British rule to improve the city’s infrastructure after a deadly epidemic.

Home to the high-profile World Trade Centre, one of the tallest buildings in South Asia, Cuffe Parade is a “residential goldmine”. Not long ago, a four-bedroom flat in India’s richest housing society, located in this area, was sold at the rate of 111,000 rupees per square feet, the Times of India reported. Little wonder the Cuffe Parade skyline, with its high-rise residential buildings, looks like a cut-out from a real-estate billboard.

Shaded by a canopy of trees, Cuffe Parade overlooks the Arabian sea on one side, and, on the other, the British-era Colaba area. A short walk, left of the World Trade Centre, leads to the sea-facing Cuffe Parade garden. Its promenade is mostly visited by residents who come here for a stroll, and occasionally by office goers, like me, who want to take in the sea after work.


The Cuffe Parade skyline, with its high-rise residential buildings, looks like a cut-out from a real-estate billboard.

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The World Trade Centre


The World Trade Centre


An unusual sight of a tree inside the World Trade Centre

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An pan-India sari exhibition at the World Trade Centre


Anonymous artwork at the World Trade Centre


The World Trade Centre complex


Outside the Maker Shopping Arcade


The Cuffe Parade Garden


View of the Arabian sea from the Cuffe Parade garden


The World Trade Centre

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The World Trade Centre shopping arcade

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The World Trade Centre shopping arcade


Inside the World Trade Centre shopping arcade

However, Cuffe Parade is not as hunky dory as it appears to be. It was from the shore of the fisherman’s colony in the vicinity, called the Macchimar Nagar, that the terrorists from Pakistan arrived on the night of November 26, 2008. The terror attack launched by them lasted three days, killing more than 150 people; and left a vibrant city in a state of shock.

Recently, the construction of the Mumbai metro (that would connect Cuffe Parade to Bandra and SEEPZ in Andheri East) has disturbed the area’s serenity.  Residents have complained against the rising noise levels due to the construction work,  as well as chopping of trees, intrusion into parks and gardens by Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation.

As I spend most of my day in Cuffe Parade, I find the place revealing itself in different colours and moods. On most mornings I have marveled at the manicured beauty of Cuffe Parade, with its the tree-lined streets and dramatically blue skies. During post-lunch walks, I have sneaked into the periodic art exhibitions at the World Trade Centre, to look at Indian textiles, saris, and artefacts. On certain days, when we found our creativity being stifled by the so-called four walls of the office, we sat at the nearest Cafe Coffee Day, past roadside kiosks serving tea, cut fruits, and quick meals. The coffee shop has a permanent guest — a cat snoozing in a corner; and I just want to take it home.


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