The 50:50 Home – Journeys beyond Mumbai and back

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A new art exhibition in Mumbai explores the circular journeys of migrant families between the city and their villages in Maharashtra’s Konkan region.

The title of the show, “Mumbai Return: Journey Beyond the City”, personifies a life divided between the twin spaces of the adopted home (Mumbai), and The Home (the migrant’s place of birth and early life). By implication, the exhibition is also an ongoing narrative about themes of home, belongingness, ancestry, and alienation from the migrant’s perspective.

However, the scope of its inquiry and research is not only limited to the familiar themes of home and dislocation. Curated out of a research project by an urban planning collective and a think-tank studying the future of global mobility, the exhibition analyses the transformation of cities and villages as a consequence of migration.

What does home mean to the migrants? Can a migrant belong to two different cultural and geographical spaces at the same time? What is the impact of that migration on their ancestral home? How do the “circular” migrants’ cultural roots shape their life in a new city? The exhibition, on view at Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Museum, seeks answers to these questions through mixed media art-works such as installations, films, architectural models, photographs and the traditional Warli painting.

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“For many Mumbaikars, home is here and there, stretched between two inescapable and complimentary polarities,” says the exhibition’s curatorial note. Just as the village house is transformed into an “aspirational city house”, thanks to the new money, some residential areas in Mumbai emanate the communal atmospherics of rural life. The transforming village home and the city flat constitute “the two inescapable and complimentary polarities”, cemented by the migrants’ desire to simultaneously belong to both these spaces.

Such “homegrown” neighbourhoods are Bhandup, Ghatkopar, Naigaon, Shivaji Nagar and Dharavi, the exhibition shows. The community of migrants in these areas live in close proximity to each other just the way they would, back in their villages, according to urbz architect Marius Helten. However, the proximity may also have to do with the city’s space constraints, unlike a village that has a lot more open space.

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Public transport systems of the railways, auto-rickshaws, and buses inevitably contribute to the paradigm of the circular migrant’s life. Artist Sandeep Bhoir essays this back-and-forth movement of migrants onto a large circular “canvas”, placed at the exhibition’s entry. Bhoir’s traditional Warli art-work represents two worlds, the idyllic pastoral life and the rhythmic chaos of cities. The folk element, which personifies the Warli art form, pervades the city-village representation. Perhaps, it’s an implicit pointer to the fact that the memory of “the historical” never fades, irrespective of a migrant’s present geographical location.

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The question of belongingness continues to return, or haunt, the migrant’s narrative. In one of the documentaries shown at the exhibition, a man says he belongs 50 percent to his village and the rest to his city home. The belongingness, he adds, is complete.

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The exhibition closes on July 31, 2017.  

Rani Bagh, Mumbai’s green haven

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If you simply like looking at the trees, their twirling branches and the shadows they create, this is the place for you! This historical botanical garden, more than 150 years old, is Mumbai’s largest open green space and home to hundreds of species of plants and trees. This green haven in central Mumbai, spread over an area of over 50 acres, has multiple names. The garden’s original name is Victoria Gardens, which was renamed to Veermata Jijabai Bhosale Udyan. It is popularly known as Rani Bagh, and has survived its original glory despite a multi-crore plan by the BMC to redevelop it.

A successful campaign to save the Bagh by a group of women culminated into a book, Rani Bagh: 150 Years – Veermata Jijabai Bhosale Udyan and Zoo. Released on the 150th anniversary of the Bagh, the book chronicles the Garden’s historical journey, the campaign to rescue the area from being destroyed, and its relationship with Mumbai. Given the fact that the Garden has been named after women, it is only befitting that a group of women decided to save it from extinction.

The Garden, adjacent to the Victorian-style Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Museum in Byculla area, also has a zoo, a Sufi dargah or shrine, and some quaint spots to escape the overwhelming city humdrum. The best time to visit is, of course, during the monsoon season.

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