Gopal MS, who explores the city through his camera, tried to peel away the layers of the city using photographs.
Five experts from different fields, but working closely with the city’s architectural values and modifications, took a closer look at the different historically interesting areas of the city. Photographer Gopal MS, cultural theorist Ranjit Hoskote, a practitioner working on the city’s urbanisation Ranjit Kandalgaonkar, anthropologist Sarovar Zaidi and the co-founder of The Busride Design Studio Zameer Basrai, spoke about different parts of the city such as Bhendi Bazaar, Dongri, Bandra, Dadar and Panvel, that showcase local histories and the everyday lives of the people.
In a two-hour-long discussion, at the National Gallery of Modern Art, old Bombay’s cosmopolitan history was presented to the audience by the Ministry of Culture, Government of India and Avid Learning, under the series Multipolis Mumbai: Mapping the Towns within the City. The discussion travelled into the many by-lanes of erstwhile ‘old towns’, exploring buildings, stories and themes that exemplify Bombay’s many alternate histories.
As a moderator of the session, Ranjit Hoskote asked certain questions about the aesthetics and political sense of the city’s urbanisation. Initiating the discussion, Sarovar spoke about a nostalgic vision of Bombay’s past spread across the Fort, Kala Ghoda, and Colaba neighbourhoods, which today bourgeons with high-end restaurants, cafes and shops. “Nowadays, the ‘native town’ is tucked under the JJ Overpass — the bridge asserting a clear, vertical sovereignty, that allows those heading to the colonial town from the rest of Bombay to hop right over the congested and dilapidated neighbourhoods of Bhendi Bazaar, Dongri, Umerkhadi, Nagpada and Pydhonie,” informed Sarovar, referring to some extracts from her essay Where There is No Architect.
Gopal MS, who explores the city through his camera, tried to peel away the layers of the city using photographs. In his presentation, Gopal showed the city’s inhabitants clinging gracefully to a sense of self in the face of adversity and change. “Once you start exploring the city, you sense a kind of history and different aspects of the places,” said the photographer, adding that the smell on the streets, and the vernacular language of the working class are changing the city every day.
On the other hand, Zameer talked about upgrading the small villages adjoining the suburban area. “What we see as villages have a new line being formed, and they are a part of the cosmopolitan city,” he said. Similarly, Ranjit Khandalgaonkar spoke about some of the philanthropic trusts divided into three categories: religious, cosmopolitan and guild trusts. “Everything is clubbed together, they’re not working towards fermenting the small spaces,” said Ranjit, who primarily focuses on the unseen and ignored processes of urbanisation.
At the end of the session, when the mic travelled to the audience, Sarovar was attacked for the distinctions in her statements when she said, “There is a community which survives in the area and they decide for themselves.” When asked to explain if the political pandering and strategies lead to slow rejuvenation of the city and the neighbourhood, Sarovar defended herself saying that her statement was made from an academic point of view. “There are many issues that I have found. There is an idea of complete homogenisation of that space as a part of the plan.” She also opens up about her learnings, while working in that area, that there is an ongoing tension between the Bohras and non-Bohras.
According to the last census, 45 per cent of people are living in informal housing, in deprived conditions, despite the fact that the same population are working to serve the economy. In the Behrampada area, the locals have enough investments done to rejuvenate the area but development seems to be negative. In Bombay, not just in an aesthetic sense but also as an economic phenomenon, the slums have been a complete blind spot, though every service that the city needs comes from there. “So, are we guilty as a city of completely bypassing this whole notion that the slums are virtually equal? And are we getting charmed by urbanisation?” asked a member of the audience. Sharing his views Zameer explained that a ground approach is needed to maintain the city assuring that basic structure is not harmed. On the other hand, Gopal asserted that empathy is missing for the people living in slums, “The government and the people we have elected have no empathy.” He also shared that people in the Govandi area want to move to Panvel at any given opportunity since they are deprived of basic necessities like a toilet in the house. “We are treating people as a market, not as humans,” concluded Gopal.