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

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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.

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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

Sunday ‘baithak’ with Ashwini Bhide Deshpande at Mumbai’s NCPA

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It was a Sunday morning well spent listening to a Hindustani classical recital by vocalist Ashwini Bhide Deshpande at Mumbai’s National Centre for the Performing Arts.

In a small, but cosy, musical gathering, Deshpande presented the different styles of the Todi raga that is traditionally sung during the morning hours. Todi is believed to be one of main parent scales in Hindustani classical music, and is also famously associated with legendary musician Tansen of Mughal emperor Akbar’s royal court.

The late sitarist Pandit Ravi Shankar has also contributed to a recent exploration of this raga, Deshpande said at the beginning of the concert. But it was a composition by the late Pandit Bhimsen Joshi that she listened to during her short trip to the concert venue that morning, she told the audience.

The compositions based on Todi, as Deshpande’s recital demonstrated, evoke a gamut of emotions: from romantic/devotional love to compassion, serenity and intense sorrow. During her performance, she narrated the story of a vocalist who began to weep while rendering a Todi song. Such was the magnitude of his grief that his wife had to pour cold water for him to calm down. But it took him twenty four hours to return to a state of normalcy, which brought upon him an inexplicable sense of peace.

The performance of Deshpande, a vocalist for more than three decades, was received by the audience with such intensity that many were found to be overwhelmed by her music. Here is one of Todi-based compositions available on YouTube:

Pictures from Mumbai’s theatres

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

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

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

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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

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

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

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Beholding the sea…

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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

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Marine Drive, South Mumbai

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Cuffe Parade Garden, South Mumbai

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Cuffe Parade Garden, South Mumbai

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Worli Seaface, one of the seven islands of Mumbai

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Cuffe Parade reclamation area

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Cuffe Parade Garden, South Mumbai

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Cuffe Parade Garden, South Mumbai

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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

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Cuffe Parade Garden, South Mumbai

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Municipal Corporation Building in South Mumbai

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

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A jogger’s park in Dadar area

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Oval Maidan in South Mumbai

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National Gallery of Modern Art, Mumbai

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Prithvi Theatre, Juhu suburb

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The trees of Mumbai!

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

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Inside the World Centre Complex of Cuffe Parade, South Mumbai

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View of the Meethi River from Mahim Nature Park

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Afghan Church

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Dadar Parsi Colony

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

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

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

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

The visual perks of a Cuffe Parade office in Mumbai

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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.

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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

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The World Trade Centre

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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

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Anonymous artwork at the World Trade Centre

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The World Trade Centre complex

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Outside the Maker Shopping Arcade

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The Cuffe Parade Garden

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View of the Arabian sea from the Cuffe Parade garden

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The World Trade Centre

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The World Trade Centre shopping arcade

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The World Trade Centre shopping arcade

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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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The fragile wilderness of Maharashtra Nature Park

The Maharashtra Nature Park, more popular by the name of Mahim Nature Park, is a modern-day achievement of a landfill site transformed into a green haven.

As you follow the meandering trails of this mildly dense forest, you wonder if an animal is lurking behind those tree barks. There are various kinds of reptiles in this park though, which is also a habitat of a large species of trees, birds, butterflies and spiders.

Indian conservationist Pradip Patade, known for documenting marine life along Mumbai’s coast, is credited with identifying a large number of species of butterflies there.

This man-made forest, located by the Mithi River, is spread over an area of 37 acres in Dharavi. The park was inaugurated in 1994, but it was proposed in 1977 by a group of Mumbai-based employees of the World Wildlife Fund. The first set of trees and mangrove saplings were planted in 1983, which led to the process of converting the dumping ground into a park.

For its watering needs, the park has developed a rainwater harvesting system atop their main office building, and inside the courtyard. The collected rainwater is diverted to a pond, which supplies the water to the rest of the park.

Located between the neighbourhoods of Dharavi and Sion, the park is a getaway for seekers of natural surroundings, photographers, and wildlife experts/enthusiasts.

I walked into this park without any expectations. Twenty minutes into following one of the pathways, I found a spot under a tree and began writing about this green wonder, with child-like curiosity. A gentle breeze continued to blow, often varying in intensity; and, as if on a cue, the branches and leaves swayed. Birds chirped, competing against the distant city noise.

A couple of Mumbai cops arrived in their jeep. One of them stepped out, spread his mat on a wide walkway, and prepared for a siesta under a tree. A bunch of security guards kept an eye on some out-of-bound trails, where the reptiles were found. But the park was all but deserted.

The city, however, is inescapable. On the other side of the Mithi river, office buildings at the Bandra-Kurla Complex can be seen, with the NSE logo never fading away despite the distance from the park. That distance might be bridged, once the park’s redevelopment kicks off — and that might cost the park its characteristic anonymity.

Here’s what Hindustan Times reported on July 30, 2017:

“The Mumbai Metropolitan Regional Development Authority (MMRDA) wants to redevelop the park and beautify it with a pedestrian-cycling bridge — connecting Bandra-Kurla-Complex with the nature park — a water-front promenade all along a one and a half kilometre stretch of the Mithi river, a multi-storey parking lot, build new office buildings, play area for children, library, watchtower, cafe, bird walk and a butterfly park.”

The contract for the park’s makeover has been awarded to Mumbai-based firm Sameep Padora and Associates (sP+a), The Hindu reported earlier this year.

Here are some pictures from my visit to the Park:

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The park is open to visitors from 8:30 am to 3:30 pm, with a fee of 10 rupees applicable per person. Photography charges may apply.