A life in images

Rishi Majumder

rafeeq ellias

What does a coffee table book containing 30 years of a photographer’s work represent? If Rafeeq Ellias’ career as award-winning documentary filmmaker and famous photographer provokes amazed befuddlement, then this showcase brings into focus his statement. “I would professionally restrict my skills to photography and filmmaking only.” Personally his interest zooms further into categories chosen for an upcoming exhibition on November 5 (Musuem Gallery, Chhatrapati Shivaji Museum): Travel and Portraiture. “There are overlaps between these ‘categories’,” Ellias clarifies. “Portraiture can happen while traveling or in a studio. They form a common oeuvre.” Yet traveling by itself remains an addiction, being the best way to “eliminate prejudices and bridge divides”. He also talks about how this addiction was intertwined with his photographing the ballet and opera, over a decade: “My fashion photographs prompted a dance festival company to invite me to shoot a ballet in Uzbekistan. On seeing the results, I was invited again, and again, to Eastern Europe, Russia, Hungary…”
Vying for pride of place beside the ballerinas is the depiction of communities by the maker of The Legend Of Fat Mama (on the Chinese community in Kolkata). “We have singular and multiple identities,” Ellias explains. “While the Jews in Brooklyn merge their Hungarian origin with being New Yorkers and the Punjabis in Southall with being Londoners, the Chinese in Calcutta love Luchis as much as Bengalis do.” Even more identities arise on his images with age: “I remember working with two distinct generations in England – a Punjabi grandmother who was occupied by old Hindi films on Zee, and her completely modern, nearly British granddaughter.”
The pages turn over, as does the conversation, to fashion: “This has limitations, being advertising photography. You have to work with a commercial brief.” And yet, in his portrayal of saree draped models besides rural folk wearing complementary colours, or a black model standing in sharp focus before a dissolving landscape, he adds elements to his frame as deftly as he would have captured them while photographing that suit clad Palestinian smoking a hookah, or the portrait of a poet in Gulzar. “That’s because I’m lucky to work with clients who allow me to experiment because of long standing relationship,” he answers, humbly.

This article originally appeared in Mumbai Mirror, Times Of India: http://alturl.com/743x

STRIKING GOLD IN DHARAVI

On discovering an unlikely El Dorado in the city’s sprawling shanty town

RISHI MAJUMDER

Photographer: Rana Chakraborty

Bhola sets gold in a plaster of paris mould

Bengali Kharigar gold plating a silver coin

Tamil Kharigar fixing golden threads together


Eight-year-old Gopal grins, holding a freshly set gold chain up against the light of a welding flame setting another. His eyes gleam from the shimmer of gold reflected in them. Originally from Bengal, he joined Kanai’s gold workshop at Sakinabai Chawl as a handy boy a year ago. The workshop has five people working and living in a five by five foot loft. Under a low wattage bulb these karigars are
melting gold ingots on a primitive coal stove beneath a chimney, pouring the molten gold into plaster of Paris moulds shaped as per jewellery design, and using a machine to pull the gold out into glimmering threads. Kanai, who now has his own workshop, started off as a worker himself 15 years ago. He employs only men known to him or his family from villages around his hometown.
Each of the 500 odd workshops in Sakinabai Chawl, one of Dharavi’s oldest, follow the same rules of trade. All are headed by ex-karigars, who get those known to them to live and work with them. This springs an ethnic mix from Maharashtra, Rajasthan, UP, Bihar, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Bengal, who can mostly talk only in their mother tongue. Tamil karigars, who’ve been here since 60 years form 80 per cent of the workers. The Bengalis, who came in 15 years ago come second in number. Each karigar excels in traditional jewellery from his region, but has learned to adapt to new trends too. “While newer designs can be executed easily on machines, traditional ones can only be done by hand,” Ram Chandran, a goldsmith from Tamil Nadu, explains.
The fact that almost everyone in the chawl is a goldsmith leads to security, prompting most workshops to leave doors open to let in light (some don’t have doors), with a minimum of Rs 2,00,000 worth of gold inside. A walk down the narrow lanes brings forth a surrealist’s El Dorado. In dingy rooms, men in lungis and vests fold golden threads (as women would a sari) or melt gold on a fireplace or polish a heap of jewellery in a stained plastic basin.
All the jewellery made is as per job work commissioned by the 100 odd jewellery stores lined outside Dharavi Main Road. “Gold is the primary investment of the poor, who don’t know about
mutual funds and cannot afford diamonds or property,” a shopkeeper says. So many of the shops have shifted focus from the heavy expensive South Indian jewellery earlier made to suit the slum’s Tamil population to lighter cheaper North Indian ware — affordable to Dharavi’s poor, or rather its elite.
“I have given two interviews before this,” Bholanath, another Bengali goldsmith, says. And many a media person and writer have exclaimed over Sakinabai Chawl as being exemplary of the Dharavi’s entrepreneurship, the gold in itself a metaphor for prosperity. Others have decried the unsafe and inhuman working conditions, adding child labour for effect. But unsafe working conditions and child labour is a present state
of affairs which cannot be addressed without an eye on the future. It is admirable that the population accumulated here have capitalised on two of the world’s oldest constants of value – gold and property. Yet labour as a resource still has a long way to go; this is, after all, Dharavi. The uneducated artisans of Sakinabai Chawl accept the pittance they receive as payment (around Rs 4,000 profit per workshop per month) for being unable to market their skills anywhere beyond the Dharavi Main Road stores. A training programme incorporating languages and marketing, beyond the simplistic vocational training touted by NGOs might change this. Just as education might grant many a bright child like Gopal, a worker here, a direction to shine in.

This article first appeared in Mumbai Mirror, Times Of India: http://alturl.com/9phh

Be dazzled

Zardosi workmen of Indira Qureishi Nagar weave their way into the city’s wardrobes

RISHI MAJUMDER

Photographer: Rana Chakraborty

Zardosi design

A10-minute walk away from Sion station leads to Indira Qureishi Nagar. A climb up an iron ladder here culminates in a 20 by 10 feet room with faded walls lined intermittently with hooks, each holding a dusty, dull shirt, kurta or trouser. The owners of this line of clothing sit around large frames in fives or sixes, stitching onto a common cloth the curves of a unified design, with gold or silver coloured threads, beads and mirrors. The style is ari zardosi, lighter than actual zardosi, which uses far heavier material. The former sells far more than the latter because it’s more wearable in hot, humid weather and is less expensive. In and around Indira Qureishi Nagar, every second house has its upper floor converted into such a workshop, making it one of Mumbai’s largest centres for ari zardosi work.

The workmen say they procure all the material — beads, threads, mirrors, needles — from the area itself because it’s cheapest here. “Even the cutting chai here costs Rs 2 instead of Rs 2.50,” the chaiwaala complains. “If I raise the price, they’ll stop buying.” And so on for other basic necessities, which makes the average zardosi worker’s income of Rs 5,000 a month (including overtime) barely sufficient to keep body and soul together. Many claim a dhani, or owner of these workshops can earn upto Rs 25,000 monthly going by the business around: “Even the needle makers who make specialised needle for ari zardosi work have a daily turnover of Rs 1,500.” The finished ari zardosi work is supplied to con
sumers cutting across class barrior, from stores in Ghatkopar and exclusive showrooms in town, to designers in Europe and the US. The workers embroider their designs on the material provided, ranging from cotton and silk, to even denim, as per marked outlines, but don’t cut or shape the final product.
Twenty-six-year-old Mudassir has been a worker for seven years. Attracted by the craftsmanship from a young age, he gave up school, after his matriculation exams for this profession,
wanting to earn soon. “I learnt zardosi work here itself, but worked in Madanpura for a while before shifting back three years ago,” he says. Mudassir is very savvy and as adventurous as he is ambitious. He introduces us to Waseem Akhtar, an 18-year-old, who owns and manages one of the area’s oldest workshops. “My father shifted to Kolkata recently, with the family because my grandparents were there, leaving me in charge,” he explains. Waseem is studying for his BSc degree hoping to do a course in fashion designing thereafter, to take his business to greater heights.
This settlement, originated over 30 years ago with people from UP. Few workshops consisted, and still do, of Bengali workmen. But recently there’s been a large influx of workers from Bihar, who today make up nearly half the population. Why did hundreds of workshops spring up here? Some put it down to people belonging to the same profession living and working together, so as to pose a united front against extortion and rioting. Some to the connectivity and cheap availability of raw material in the area. But the truth to the mushrooming of this settlement of diverse migrants stitching similar threads, lies in the story of any family tree, as much as in the story of Mumbai: One unit employed 10 men, most of whom saved and started their own units, and so on. In a time when everyone accuses poor migrants of leeching into productive areas, the productivity of this erstwhile marshland stands apart as having grown from the enterprise of migrants, spurring the government to provide connectivity so that cheap craftsmanship, among other services, could meet the city’s demand. To continue doing so, the migrants, in turn, ensure that the effect of rupee appreciation on exports is less felt by them — by beating down the prices of their raw materials, and their chai.

A Zardosi worker

This article first appeared in Mumbai Mirror, Times Of India: http://alturl.com/8k36

Let the inks flow

The dying art of Arabic calligraphy finds a new breath of life, thanks to the efforts of its custodians in the city

RISHI MAJUMDER

Photographer: Rana Chakraborty

Arabic calligraphy - Sulu style


The medium is the message
— Marshall McLuhan
So said the metaphysician of media as he wrote in his Gutenberg Galaxy how the spreading of the written word meant communication among humans, a race earlier used to oral communication. The written form, in turn, reduced or elevated the alphabet to an “abstract visual code”. The visual idiom of “word” has been utilized since long before McLuhan by statesmen, artists and scientists. None, however, exploit its hynotic power as calligraphers do. But the numbers of this ancient tribe dwindle by the day. Urdu and Arabic calligraphers in Mumbai, once a force of 250 a decade ago, now stand at merely eight in such times.

Mehmood Ahmed Shaikh


Mehmood Ahmed Shaikh and Iqtedar Husain, whose offices lie close to one another on Tandel Street Dongri, are two of these eight. They came into the profession in very different ways, and work differently today. Shaikh, was prompted to become a calligrapher because his father was one. He began with a course in Anjuman Islam College, to work for a host of Urdu newspapers, learn further from renowned Ustads, teach in Maharashtra College and work for ten years in Saudi Arabia. His feathers include three Quran
Sharifs and an array of poetry. A knee problem has disabled him from transcribing on the floor in the traditional way, and after a year’s practice, he’s gotten used to a chair and table.
Husain sits on the floor. He claims, “It takes three years for a calligrapher to just learn ‘how to sit’.” The only family he had in the field was a distant cousin, who taught him after he expressed his interest. Then came a variety of Urdu newspapers and magazines, before branching out on his own.
The tools of these artists comprise calligraphic nibs or a piece of bamboo, both cut to shape. Inks range from Camel to water colour paint to the German Rotring. Arabic styles consist of Sulus, Naskh (further divided into the Indian, Egyptian and Arabic Naskh), Kufi, Riq’a and Diwani. Urdu is penned only in
Nastaliq. In Arabic, while Naskh is the most popular and used for scribing religious texts, Sulus is every calligrapher’s favourite. “With Sulus, one has the liberty of giving ‘shape to the beauty’,” Shaikh says, displaying a leaf of his work. A religious phrase is written so it shapes into a religious structure. The beginning of the phrase is a minaret, the name of the prophet is emphasized in the dome, and the rest of the phrase forms its base. Even, for plain writing, Sulus allows the calligrapher far more scope for improvisation.
The future of this art is symbolized in an old lithographic machine lying junked in Husain’s room. When the Urdu papers did not possess computerized font, such machines were used daily to convert the calligrapher’s work into print. Today these surviving calligraphers continue to get work that cannot be done on the computer. But for such work only an experienced hand is required, and so while they manage, youngsters in the field, bereft of a liveli
hood once provided by the newspapers have shifted professions. Yet both calligraphers point out, that no breakthrough in any art can occur on the computer, which means that with their generation’s end Indian calligraphic innovation in Urdu and Arabic will stagnate. Besides, patronage akin to that provided by governments in the Middle East (or by Hindu and Jain foundations here for Sanskrit calligraphy) remains absent. Even the meagre Rs 5000 cash prizes once handed by the Urdu Academy have been revoked. Already, in the distinct style which marks Shaikh finishing another tower in Sulus, one sees another Babel, unfinished.

Calligrapher's ink...

This article first appeared in Mumbai Mirror, Times Of India: http://alturl.com/s6ze

Touchwood!

From Vijay Mallya to Ravi Shastri, this small shop in Lakda Market boasts of an enviable celebrity register, finds Rishi Majumder

Photographer: Rana Chakraborty

lakda craft - opening doors...

Business nowadays is slow because people aren’t going for ‘recyled wood’. They want ‘custom made’,” sighs a timber mart manager while offloading a stack of large broken wooden door, window and closet pieces from a truck. Welcome to Mohammadi Timber Market, alias ‘lakda’ market – a colony of near-ancient timber shops off M S Ali Road. They scrape, chop and chisel wooden doors and windows from demolished buildings to sell them as new. “Rs 200 per square foot.” “What about Rs 150?” “Not one rupee less than 200, and you’ll pay for transport.” Meet Girish Rai, alias ‘Girish Bhai’ bargaining in his antique teakwood canopied cabin set amidst endless woodwork and raw wood in the 95-year-old Om Timber Mart. In an otherwise
floundering market, Rai makes an enviable profit providing doors, windows and staircases to some of Mumbai, Alibaug and Lonavla’s best known bungalows. How? The buildings he demolishes have “antique fittings”. “Making a Burma Teak masterpiece like I provide, will coast you Rs 600 per square feet, hai na?” Girish Bhai parades his inimitable Gujarati business sense in his inimitable Gujarati accent. “But I’ll give it to you for Rs 300 per square feet!” Saru Che…
The idea struck him when an Irish decorator bought an entire container load of French and Georgian windows. “I then contacted the Mumbai decorators and architects I knew who were doing ‘reech’ homes and sold them the idea.” His break came with Neelam Kothari’s Lonavla home. And then: “The ‘rich and famous’
move in a fixed set, hai na? So anyone who saw my stuff in another’s house, asked for it!” And since, this dingy ‘lakda’ store has furnished the homes of “Admiral Ramnath, Vijay Mallya, Ravi Shastri, Aishwarya Rai, Sushmita Sen, Alisha Chinai, Leslie Lewis, Anjali Menon… and many more. Main kitna bataoon.” The demand for such antiques that Rai claims he started, now centers around delicately curved French windows with motifs, Georgian doors and windows with arched tops, traditional Rajasthani and Gujarati house gates and Swiss spiral staircases. “We first clean them, scraping the old paint off. Then smoothen them before handing them over to an architect or interior designer,” smiles Rai proudly, caressing a white Georgian door as a child would his favourite doll, even his booming voice drops to a murmur. “And I have some of the best decorators and architects on my client list.” Indeed, for liaisons with such was this machiavellian wood seller’s next move. “Hai na?” Rai laughs in agreement. “There is Niti Merchant, Shimul Zaveri, Daras Rafat, Hafeez Contractor.” Small wonder then, that his supplies to distant Delhi and Uttaranchal grew as he got to know designers in these cities.
Enter Rai’s son Amit: “My father handled the business before me. And now Amit is already 10 years in it!” he smiles, using Amit’s help to stand up. “You see, since this accident, I can’t walk – else I’d move my stuff myself!” And what’s Amit’s most precious lesson from his father? “Frankness. Tell people who you do business with, everything you expect and know. It always saves losses,” he answers. Hai na?

a shop worker

This article first appeared in Mumbai Mirror, Times Of India: http://alturl.com/rikv

The high fliers of Bandra

This kite-sellers muhalla draws both the rich and the penniless, finds Rishi Majumder

Photographer: Rana Chakraborty

King Kite Centre's Qureishi

Give me a 12½ inch kite,” says a customer. “You won’t get that for one rupee, two is the going price,” answers Qureishi Masood Ahmed. “So, can you make us a kite for our advertisement,” asks another. “Maybe, but the cost could be up to Rs 3,000.” The two purchasers vying for King Kite Centre owner Qureishi’s attention are a slum child and a corporate executive. And that sums up the dichotomy surrounding the ensemble of kite shops next to Lucky Restaurant, Bandra, extending into the narrow M R Sawant Road. The kites in question range from one rupee small Bombay Fighter kites to huge ornate cloth kites from
China for a r o u n d Rs 300 to cust o m – m a d e kites for festivals or advertisements that go up to Rs 5,000 ( Q u r e i s h i ’s quote was on the cheaper side).
While a dingy Bharat Kites, the oldest shop in the vicinity, dates back to 1912, most of the seven odd shops are be
tween 40 and 60 years old. “Seventy per cent of our customers have always been and are children from the poorer sections who buy fighter kites,” Ahmed Qazi, who owns Bharat Kites, points out. “Kite-flying is one of their few recreations—no TV or video games”. So what goes into the making of this fighting machine? Kite-sellers swear by ‘maanja’ (kite thread) from Bareilly and the actual kite from Rampur. “The true ustaads sit there, with many centuries and generations of kite making behind them,” enlightens Nizam Ali whose shop specialises in fighter kites. Shamsher Khan whose shop calls itself Indian Fighter Kites, distinguishes between two kinds of maanjas: “There’s a Nine Taar which is exceptionally sturdy and a sharp thin Number 30.” “The sturdy one is for trapping your opponents kite (ghaseetna) while not cutting your own, and the sharp one for cutting through his maanja (dheel dena),” Qureishi enumerates excitedly. But kite-flying is not always about competing. “We have over 200 designs in different colours for those who want to buy kites for celebration or decoration,” Shaukat Ali Khan of Standard Kites boasts. There are ‘designer’ kites and typical ones. The former spans a huge range from diamond kites with long tails to kites made of metallic paper which glint against the sun. But soaring into fashion of late are Chinese kites, of which Qureishi’s King Kite Centre has the largest array. “ T h e y ’ r e made of plastic, silk and canvas and come in every design from a snake, butterfly and lion to a jet plane, a superhero or a greeting like Id Mubarak,” Qureishi displays, adding that during M a k a r S a n k r a n t i , there’s such a bustle in his small cubbyhole of a shop that most call in to reserve their kites.
While some of these shops are only for the season starting August 15 to January 14 (the Makar Sankranti Festival), others are perennial. “My first love was films,” informs Shaukat Ali Khan ruing the seasonal tenor of this ‘dhanda’ he chose unwittingly. “I used to hang out with Amitabh Bachchan in Ranjit Studios. I made the set of Razia Sultana. Now this… to earn something.”
Qureishi is more upbeat: “If a business can yield money, why not focus on it! Everyone from Amir Khan, Salim Khan and Javed Akhtar and an Oxford professor have bought from us!” Also, the street urchin still haggling for his one rupee…

manjha...

This article originally appeared in Mumbai Mirror, Times Of India: http://alturl.com/bs6f

FLOWER POWER

Rishi Majumder finds Hena Rahimtulla, a woman who helps people overcome life-altering crises with Ikebana

Photographer: Rana Chakraborty

Hena Rahimtulla in her living room

So we have kamini branches, variegated money plant leaves and anthuriums. Now keep in mind: rhythm, movement, balance, harmony, elegance and gorgeousness. Begin with three lines. For the ‘subject’, the ‘secondary’ and the ‘object’. Then more lines which enhance main three. You follow na?”
That’s how the above 80 Hena Rahimtulla instructs her students of over 30 years — mostly housewives — in the Japanese flower arranging art of Ikebana that unlike western flower arrangement schools (which focus on the blossoms) uses leaves, stems and branches to accentuate design. Avoiding excessive movement since she lost one leg to diabetes four years ago, she often asks a helper to get a container closer to her, so she can demonstrate. These students with Rahimtulla organise Ike
bana exhibitions to attract donations for charitable causes. For the last exhibition held some weeks ago, the donations received amounted to Rs 4,00,000 which helped repair an orphanage’s building and added funds to a home for the blind. No one would have thought a group of South Bombay housewives arranging leaves and stems in Oriental design would have come such a long way.
Rahimtulla grew close to flowers as a child when she saw the local phoolwallahs fill her mother’s vases with local flavours. “I grew close to Ikebana on my honeymoon in Japan,” she reminisces, this culminating in “my husband buying me books on the subject…” Then came applying to the Japanese consulate for
a teacher — going through the various levels involved to achieve the highest honour of 1st Master’s Degree and heading the Indian Chapter of The Ohana School of Ikebana. She resigned from the chapter in 1986, and two years later formed the Ohana Concept: “We wanted to do something for a cause, so we thought about what we knew best. You follow na?” Ohana is a Japanese word used to refer to a flower. “We wanted to integrate what we knew — Ikebana — and what we wanted to do — support something purposeful,” Rahimtulla sums up, tapping her plastic foot as she recollects. “We wanted to come alive in every way that we could.” Ikebana is a Japanese word which means “making a dead flower come alive again.”
The first hurdle for the Ohana Concept was getting the publicity in place. “Me, my students,
my friends spread the word like wild fire. As for the media, you have to learn to charm… you follow?” the woman who’s been featured in a dozen channels and papers, including BBC and Radio Japan, giggles and winks simultaneously. Post publicity, the next hurdle was what to do with the money: “We started with checking out places we’d heard or read about personally. We would only give our money to someone who we felt needed it.” So the first sum of Rs 1,00,000 went to a home for terminally ill cancer patients: “What clinched it for us was seeing how well the nuns there were running the show.” Since 1989, the carefully sifted “causes” have piled up and diversified in category: Rs 25,000 for the Shri Vivekanand Research Institute For Orissa Relief; Rs 50,000 for Gujarat Earth Quake relief; Rs 30,000 for the medical treatment of an orphan; Rs 1,00,000 for the rehabilitation of crippled children. “Also,” adds the lady while getting up to end the discussion: “Rs 5,000 for an artificial limb.”

Rahimtulla at a charity ikebana event organised by her

This article first appeared in Mumbai Mirror, Times Of India: http://alturl.com/c3nh

RASTA ART ON AUTO-DRIVE

Rishi Majumder meets the Vishwakarma brothers, who have made a mark in creating pop art for three-wheelers in the city

Photographer: Rana Chakraborty

smaller stick-ons

Naresh (names changed) has a giant Emraan Hashmi face stuck on his auto-rickshaw because he’s his favourite star. Surjeet symbolises his devotion in a full body image of Sai Baba with “Sai Kripa” written in Hindi. Sanjay has a sticker reading simply “Chintu”, his son’s name. Raju has
a large pistol with a bullet coming out of it. Mannu, a married man, has in proud defiance stuck the name of his “Chaavi” – a woman he’s in a relationship with. Kailash has gone one step beyond – he’s stuck on the name of a woman he wants, but cannot have. “So when we ask him where he is going, he says ‘I’m going to ride *****’.” The auto-waalas laugh.
“Marking their identity” and “Drawing customers attention” are two reasons Suresh Vishwakarma, co-owner of DK Arts, cites for auto drivers purchasing these stickers. D K Arts is one of the oldest makers of the stickers, and one of the rare ones in of the breed who continue their art by hand. Forty per cent of autos in the suburbs, according to Suresh, brandish stickers by DK Arts. But there’s a third reason that drives this need: In the city of aspirations where many an auto-driver is a migrant, each sticker is representative of a desire. So interpret the above listing respectively: Bollywood, God, home, power, love and sexual repression.

Suresh Vishwakarma of D K Arts
Dinesh Vishwakarma set up DK Arts in 1992. He was a “paint brush artist doing posters and banners” before he spotted potential in this trade. His brother Suresh, also “having a creative mind from childhood”, left the interior design dhanda to join him in 1996. In 1994 as radium stickers gained in popularity, DK Arts redefined ‘pop art’. Suresh recounts: “We had complete freedom – we applied everything we’d thought about ‘painting’ to carving
through radium and sun-control film.” With the advent of computerisation and the mass production of stickers supplied at cheaper rates, the brothers have bought a computer and cutting machine. “But any complicated work still has to be done by hand,” Suresh insists. He displays a popular godman’s face – where the hair, moustache and facial wrinkles are executed by cutting each feature intricately out of a different colour of radium and sticking one layer on the other.
“We use a system of dots to create face shadows, where required,” he explains. “Give us your photograph, and we’ll make an identical sticker,” Girish Kumar, Suresh’s assistant, challenges. “Our best handwork – done by Dinesh (Vishwakarma) Bhai is that good!” Their subjects are each as different as a trishul and lion can be from a Bollywood star. “Earlier, we had a huge demand for Amitabh Bachchan – especially post Kaalia,” Suresh observes. “Today it’s Salman Khan or Emraan Hasmi.” Machismo, among autowallahs still determines their icon’s ultimate appeal.
The price for each sticker ranges between Rs 300 to Rs 3000. “And even if we charged Rs 160 where others charged Rs 60, we’d have six autos lined up and waiting constantly,” Suresh boasts. But today the price as well as demand for his work has fallen. While an auto-driver attributes this to so many cheap ready-made stickers being sold all over the city, Suresh has another argument: “Permits are given easily now-a-days, so the number of auto drivers have increased—lowering individual income. They can’t afford our art.” Also, government restrictions on windshield stickers bring down heavy fines on an autodriver with the desire to experiment. But even as Suresh grumbles, a rickshaw wallah places an
expensive order. He asks for the hand-crafted reproduction of the 1983 film Hero’s poster—with Jackie Shroff and Meenakshi Sheshadri in the fore-front and a bike in the background. The customer claims the dated film was a “favourite past memory”… which he has used an old art to preserve.

religious auto art

This article first appeared in Mumbai Mirror, Times Of India: http://alturl.com/ifjo

CIRCA CHOR BAZAAR

Posters, paintings, photographs, signage, Chor Bazaar has it all, genuine or as you like it, says Rishi Majumder

Photographer: Rana Chakraborty

madhubala

Madhubala smiles, characteristically coy, and teasing at the same time. The caption: “Masking her pain”. A jolly white-bearded man in red top hat and black overcoat grins and raises an overflowing ale mug to advertise ‘Schwabhauer Bier’. A 1930s Hollywood horror release screams in graphic black and white: “Return of the Terror! John Halliday…” Closeby lies an ’80s Bollywood horror, spouting B-grade glory—”Jalte Badan”. And by this, a head-to-toe picture of His Highness (ex), the Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir, with moustache and sword—drawn taut and sized extra large. Then there is a 1950s family portrait of the Rangwallas—their anonymity recycled as ethnic mystique. A large lithographed photograph from 1911, records the historic Coronation Durbar at New Delhi where George V announced transfer of the government seat from Calcutta to New Delhi. An original Pyaasa poster records Guru Dutt’s angst as filmmaker and poet as a Mughal miniature replica simultaneously depicts Aurangzeb’s lack of such. As Bombay’s biggest punter of signage, paintings, photographs, postcards and posters from shops (named or merely numbered), Chor Bazaar markets its images as it markets itself: stolen from time, date unknown.

nargis
Afzal Mansoor at shop number 141 —selling signage over a century old, has taken over from his father: “The signage was available freely post independence—when foreign companies leaving town rendered their advertisements useless.” Recently, with Indian décor veering towards the adventurous, antique metal boards with a ‘His Master’s Voice’ next to a gramophone and a dog, or a ‘Horlicks Malted’ next to a cheery-picked kid have become
fashionable acquisitions. Noorubhai at shop number 115 draws his photographs from the feriwaalas who turn up during the ‘Friday sale’ and these feriwaalas, in turn, pick them up at a pittance from old Parsi and Muslim homes. A striking piece is an ancient casual group photo with a Maharashtrian Hindu, a Muslim, a Parsi and a Christian smiling jointly in their traditional attire as a goodwill gesture – beckoning back business the area has never regained since the riots. Mughal Bazaar owner Abdul Wahid possesses the antique Coronation Durbar photograph, “not for sale, but as a kind of heirloom – since my family is traditionally from Delhi.” For sale, though, are antique maps and more photographs – one of a steamer, no longer in plying, bound from Bombay to Jedda. Which brings us to Bollywood and Shahid Mansoori’s three shops: Mini Market, Bollywood Bazaar and Super Sale (holding “original movie posters of over 3000 titles and their replica prints in varying sizes” if you please.)

invitation to the Coronation Durbar
A primary research source behind famous books on the Hindi film industry such as Living Pictures and The Man of Many Moods, Mansoori spells
the reason for the sudden popularity posters enjoy: “Hand painted posters are history today—none of today’s computer generated promotions can be categorized as art in the traditional sense.” Then there’s shop number 3, that despite being labelled ‘Mansoori’, has among its framed images Hindu gods drawn as per tantric geometry, astrological alphabet interspersed.
The dichotomy continues. While shops at Chor Bazaar Mutton Street are often accused of pulling off replicas as fakes, one can’t help but wonder if they sometimes store originals…calling them replicas instead. A passage next to shop number 67, for instance, leads to a room with packed paintings lying around. The same gentlemen who smiled benignly while spotting a potential customer, however, frowned on us upon hearing the word ‘press’. Hurriedly he muttered, “Sorry. No paintings. All gone.”

Royal Art - painting store at Chor Bazaar

This article originally appeared in Mumbai Mirror, Times Of India: http://alturl.com/dcfj

VEGETABLE ART

Rishi Majumder meets Indu Shedde who has carved a niche for herself in fashioning intricate figurines out of the household subjis

Photographer: Rana Chakraborty

Indu Shedde

A Bharatnatyam dancer positions herself as the symbol of balance, her tiny feet together. The symmetrical folds of her saree wrapped carefully around hang tautly, anticipating the next movement. Her hands, poised for performance take position, bangled in red and green. Her eyes gaze out from a round face, flawless wheatish in complexion, towards the audience. A flaming tilak matches her lips. Her hair is perfectly combed, held together by a string of white flowers. Her feet and hands are made of carrot; her saree of cabbage, especially tender where it drapes her shoulder; the bangles of multi-hued chillies; the white of her eyes fashioned from onion and the black of
brinjal; the tilak and lips from red chilly; the hair from more brinjal; the flowers from cauliflower; and the face, well, from potato. Her centre of gravity is a knitting pin. A twinkle alights in 80-yearold Indu Shedde’s eyes when she talks of art. Applauded variously for her vegetable sculptures, she uses her kitchenware to excel — like herself or like a Bharatnatyam dancer — in extracting joy from the mundane and the transient.
This is how she remembers her moment of discovery in 1960, accentuated by her daughters’ elucidations: “When working in the kitchen, the shapes and colours of different vegetables strike me— the karela being rough… the baingan being smooth…” So one day she experimented with an onion. “Its inherent circles make me think of a flower!” A single onion cut into two, made two flowers… “And dipping one in haldi water makes it yellow…” Add green onion leaves, and you have a stem!
“I started translating everything into vegetables,” Shedde recounts. So fashioned more flowers, a peacock, fishes, a woman, a family, Santa Claus… and over 200 uniquely different sculptures. The minute detailing on Bharatnatyam and Manipuri dancers to bring out each style led
famed dancer Rukmini Devi to remark: “You’ve given the Bharatnatyam dancer South Indian features!” Another challenge was bringing to life a Boeing via vegetable (read gourd) to match an Air India Maharaja similarly conceived. She has similarly produced a hippie replete with long hair, and guitar.
She feels that she could not have done it without divine intervention. “The lord guided me to do it!” is how she remembers creating Krishna out of brinjal, cabbage leaves, cauliflower, curry leaves and carrot. After winning flower shows like those thrown by the Friends Of Trees, Fruit And Flower continuously, her exhibitions led her through regular displays in Span, Eve’s Weekly.
Dharmyug and Manorama and hotels like the Taj Mahal and Centaur, till she finally represented India at the World Vegetarian Congress in the US. “Here the Japanese saw my sculptures and said — being nature lovers, they’d never realised nature could be used in such a way.” The Americans in turn, asked her to teach a long list of the country’s top chefs this art.
But Shedde refused
and returned. “I wanted to be there for my two daughters,” explains the woman who chiselled her potential only after 10 pm, when her children were asleep. Also, being self-taught herself, she doesn’t believe art can be transferred so easily: “I can show them how to do it, but it’s all about ideas… which come from within.” Shedde, who grew up in Dharwad, which gave rise to artists of the stature of Bhimsen Joshi, was since childhood involved with one art form or the other. She’s moved on now, and very successfully, to paper mache sculptures and bags. “They last, unlike vegetables which wither. Also I’m too old to carve details in vegetables.” Can paper mache capture the fleeting moment of a dancer’s joy though? Or does age have a reservation against transience?

One of Shedde's creations

This article originally appeared in Mumbai Mirror, Times Of India: http://alturl.com/8kon