A photo-walk through Dadar’s Parsi colony in Mumbai

How do you escape the non-stop movement of a metropolis like Mumbai, while living in it?

Well, finish that Sunday brunch of yours and head out to Dadar’s verdant Parsi colony area for a countryside-like experience, ironically, in the centre of Mumbai city. Dotted with tree-lined pavements, the colony is more than a hundred years old, and is seen as a “paradise” of the endangered Parsi community; a fading remnant of its glorious past.

In 2015, the colony made it to the news as its residents protested an official onslaught on their heritage, which would have cluttered this pristine area with hawkers and street stalls. The plan was soon withdrawn.

The exclusivity of this enclave, where around 10,000 Parsis live, has remained intact. In 2009, its residents won a six-year-long lawsuit that restrained a builder from selling flats to non-Parsis.

When compared to the rest of an over-crowded and polluted city, the Dadar Parsi colony appears unreal and suspended in time; its old-world charm fragile in its existence. The threat of hawkers and an urban redevelopment is part of the existential crisis confronting Indian Parsis today.

“Locally, this central urban enclave is everything that this great Indian city [Mumbai] is not: low-rise, languorous, its 25 acres embracing 14 gardens, its roads lined with pavements and 30 species of trees including the rare mahogany and ebony. Bird-call triumphs over traffic-honk. Most exceptionally, it is untouched by Mumbai’s signature slums…but for how long can this urban idyll remain?” wrote Bachi Karkaria, a Parsi, in The Guardian.

The Indian Parsis owe their ancestry to Zoroastrian refugees, who fled Iran due to the Islamic persecution and arrived on the western coast of Gujarat around 8th century. The Indian census of 2011 put their number to less than 60,000, from more than 100,000 before the independence. Mumbai has the largest concentration of Parsis in India, and according to some estimates they are numbered around 45,000 in the city. Parsi colonies are located in different parts of the “Town”, as it is popularly called; some enclaves are also situated in suburban areas such as Andheri and Goregaon.

A culturally refined and entrepreneurial race, this close-knit community’s contribution to the making of colonial Bombay has been often documented. However, a “combination of racial pride and fear…of being appropriated by half castes” has blocked the ethnic community’s expansion.

IMG_0933

IMG_0936

IMG_0937

IMG_0957

IMG_0986

IMG_0992

IMG_0982

IMG_0996

IMG_0972

IMG_0971

IMG_0967

IMG_0964

IMG_0959

IMG_0946

IMG_0999

Alibag’s artsy affair

It was an advertisement of an art exhibition that led me to Alibag, a sleepy coastal town south of Mumbai.

Famous for its scenic beaches and sprawling properties of the rich, Alibag is also a holiday destination for art and culture aficionados, besides being a weekend respite for Mumbai residents. I spent a day looking at — collectibles and contemporary art-works at The Guild gallery, the multi-disciplinary repertoire of artist Dashrath Patel, and a permanent showcase of Vinayak Pandurag Karmarkar’s sculptures.

IMG_0800The Guild art gallery, Alibag

IMG_0805Collectibles at The Guild

IMG_0804Collectibles at The Guild

IMG_0806The Guild courtyard

IMG_0845Dashrath Patel Museum, Alibag

IMG_0842Painting by Dashrath Patel

IMG_0831Sculptures by Vinayak Pandurang Karmarkar

An elaborate brunch awaited us at Bohemyan Blue, a garden café nestled in the wilderness of Alibag. Sitting in the verandah, we gorged on a large meal, which comprised of scrambled eggs, aloo paranthas, chicken sandwich, pots of coffee, and carrot beetroot juice. It poured heavily; there were no other guests to be seen, besides a friend and myself. As we ate, we beheld the luxuriant foliage of the property, and found ourselves captivated by the stillness of Alibag.

We walked towards a patch of wild vegetation, near the café, which hosted the stay area of a dozen luxury tents for tourists. The land had a swimming pool and an al fresco restaurant, where the radio was playing. There were no listeners, however.

IMG_0765Bohemyan Blue café

IMG_0771Bohemyan Blue café

IMG_0767Bohemyan Blue café

IMG_0799Bohemyan Blue gift shop

IMG_0797Bohemyan Blue café

The Alibag spell was soon broken when we reached Mumbai the following night. We grabbed a table at Café Universal, one of the city’s famous Parsi restaurants. The century-old café’s charming interior was a sight of redemption amid the stadium-like boisterousness of the guests.

That night, on my way back to my apartment from the café, I thought of the early morning in Alibag. It was a little before 6 a.m., when I had woken up to the sight of palm fronds soaked in rain. The morning felt crisp and tranquil, as if I’d never been tired. The short trip made me realise what we’re missing out on by living in cities like Mumbai and Delhi, and the harm they are causing us.

IMG_0756Drive around Kihim village

IMG_0761Drive around Kihim village

IMG_0859Sasawane village 

IMG_0856Varsoli beach

IMG_0852Varsoli beach

IMG_0860Varsoli beach

The 50:50 Home – Journeys beyond Mumbai and back

IMG_0652

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.

IMG_0673

“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.

IMG_0674

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.

IMG_0662

IMG_0655

IMG_0656

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.

FullSizeRender

The exhibition closes on July 31, 2017.  

Rani Bagh, Mumbai’s green haven

IMG_0623

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.

IMG_0577

IMG_0646

IMG_0571

IMG_0579

IMG_0581

IMG_0582

IMG_0599

IMG_0602

IMG_0642

IMG_0636

IMG_0626

IMG_0622

IMG_0619

IMG_0613