A yatra for healing Bharat

Azad Bharat Rail Yatra, to celebrate 60 years of Independence and spread the idea of social enterprise, will take off from city


Photographer: Deepak Turbhekar

Shashank Mani

Shashank Mani, a management consultant, took a journey called the Azad Bharat Rail Yatra on the 50th year of Indian Independence with a train full of Indian youth bursting out of their coaches to define their country. The detour led him beyond Bharat’s latitudes to write India — A Journey Through A Healing Civilization.
Ten years later, the quest continues. The Tata Jagriti Yatra 2008, will celebrate the 60th year of our Independence by taking 400 youngsters, in the 18-25 age group, to 13 cities in 18 days from December 24, 2008 to January 10, 2009. Only, this yatra will focus on social entrepreneurship by introducing Generation Next to R K Pachauri, Bunker Roy and Kiran Bedi. Mani, now chairman, Jagriti Sewa Sansthan, tells us more…

Why does the selection procedure involve only essays instead of meetings?
The candidates are allowed to
submit essays in languages they’re comfortable with, which are translated for us.
As for meetings, some candidates are as far out as the North-East and don’t have either the means or time to come to Mumbai. And we don’t have the manpower to visit them.
We hope to develop an alumni base spread out across the country to be able to meet candidates in their hometowns.

Urban middle class youth find it difficult to connect to small town, rural or belowthe-poverty-line urban India. Social enterprise must come from those it affects.
Our target is those earning Rs 40 to 120 a day. They are not destitute, but not middle class in the sense you and I are. They have a lot of josh and want to benefit from the nine per cent GDP growth.
We want to encourage them to start their enterprises instead of looking for jobs. We also want them to have a sense of purpose – a passion
that only money can’t bring. We want 70 per cent of yatris to belong to this group — though anyone’s welcome to apply. But I suspect attaining such a participation percentage will take more awareness … and about five more yatras.

The revelatory nationalistic yatras of Gandhi and Guevara were stuff of legend. But they travelled in small groups. Such a large group will become insulated, with people interacting with each other instead of locals they visit…
That’s why we are choosing people proportionately from different states to create an Indian microcosm on the train. We’ll make sure that no two people from the same state share a compartment. This will create an undercurrent of tension — especially where language barriers exist — but we want that. So besides interactions with locals, interactions with companions will create a ‘revelatory nationalistic yatra’.
To add to this spirit, we will
have group debates on issues at hand at various destinations with respective locals involved.

You’re starting your trip from Mumbai. How does the city fit in?
Mumbai consists of a variety of people with one common denomination — enterprise. How it copes with this influx of people is still a wonder. Many on the trip would be visiting Mumbai for the first time and we’re planning to visit many sites, including Dharavi — to bring out the beauty and, sometimes, the beast that the city can be.
Discussions will centre around migration — how it adds adventure and individuality to entrepreneurship, while being a stark reminder of the deprivation that exists in the villages and small towns that these migrants come from. Discussions will also centre on how many small towns will grow into cities in the next 20 years, and how their growth must be better planned than previously.

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

His master’s voice

The sonorous voice opening the chart busters with ‘behnon aur bhaiyon’ has inspired generations of RJs and film music buffs

Roshan Abbas (l) and Ameen Sayani


It’s a Sunday morning and driving from Versova to Marine Lines is a breeze. I wish every Mumbai morning could be like this one. But when you have a date with a legend, the universe conspires to make the meeting memorable. A radio jockey is playing retro hits, which seems befitting as I am about to meet Ameen Sayani, the father of Indian broadcasting. Generations have grown up listening to Geetmala with his sonorous voice opening the chart busters with `behnon aur bhaiyon’. As the affable Ameen saab opens his doors for me, it’s time to switch off the world and tune in.

Ameen saab, you’ve had a career in radio, spanning more than half a century…
That’s right; I started commercial broadcasting in ’49. But I’ve been a broadcaster since ’39.
When you were just seven.
(Laughs) When I was just seven.
If you can tell us how you started out…
It all began with the AIR (All India Radio), where I had the opportunity to work with a number of stalwarts in broadcasting. I was an English broadcaster, mainly for children’s pro
grammes. There were people like Sultan Padamsee, also the creator of a theatre group, Adi Marzban, one of the finest radio producers ever; Derek Geoffries who was one of the best radio mixers, excellent with sound effects and mood music; and finally Hameed bhai (Hameed Sayani), an excellent radio drama artist and my own brother.

You’ve seen the best and the worst times of radio. This is the era of television. When do you think the loyalties shifted?
Radio did not suffer because of television. Both have their own distinct slots. You could be going about your routine listening to the radio. I’ve had thousands of students saying, `We could not study unless the radio was playing in the background.’
The popularity of AIR suffered because of wrong policies – the I&B minister’s decision to ban Indian film songs, was one. This also meant less sponsored programmes which hurt radio. These programmes could be produced outside by different people, scriptwriters and programmers, so you didn’t get bored with the same RJs all the time. Also, the crème de la crème of intelligentsia used to work for the AIR, and with Indian film music going, listen
er-ship went, and so did these people. Finally, a kind of pseudo-sobriety was imposed upon the presentation. Broadcasters were not allowed to use the words ‘I’ or ‘me’ or ‘we’.

And in doing that they were taking away the personality of the presenters.
Absolutely. They were killing radio stars. People were not to smile unnecessarily! You had to be very sober and announce a romantic song in a deep mournful voice, as if to indicate that some great national leader had popped it.

And what about Radio Ceylon?
The popularity of Radio Ceylon, which had sponsored programmes and was the people’s radio, petered out because of a different reason — the neglect of the transmitter by the station at a time when Peking and Moscow were broadcasting in Hindi and English, and had started a transmitter which was at least 10 times more powerful on the same meter band, to knock others out.
This adversely affected Radio Ceylon’s reception.

So how did AIR come back into its saddle?

It brought back film music through Vividh Bharati. But in 1979, (minister) Vasant Sathe selected a few individuals to form a working group to advice AIR and Doordarshan. Subsequently, they raised the AIR sponsorship rates by almost 500 per cent to compete with Doordarshan! TV being a visual medium, it attracted greater sponsorship. In the first few months, business dropped in AIR by 25 per cent. The revenue might have remained the same, but they lost a lot of listeners. Also, people at the helm were good administrators but had no broadcasting background. So radio did not suffer because of television, but because of radio!

FM has given me a dedicated listenership in Mumbai and Delhi, but I cannot replicate the formula nationwide, as you did. Is that an advantage or a disadvantage?
Both. Geet Mala got people glued to the radio, from both Hindi-speaking and non-Hindi speaking belts. With FM, you can create niche listening or you can go into languages. Also, you can take a programme and play it on other stations again, like with the one I had on FM, in Mumbai and Kolkata which was played

in three other stations. Thus, you get diverse inputs with programmes recorded from outside the organisation.

But there’s a huge debate about prerecording as it leaves no scope for interactivity, unlike localising.
Have both. Have local programmes, and slip in one programme a day recorded outside. Life, civilization or radio, has to have continuum. Take what is suitable for today, turn it into a contemporary programme and pitch anywhere. I had pre-recorded programmes in several countries of the world and even today am negotiating with five countries.

Speaking about audiences, I sometimes feel the quick consumption culture does not benefit anyone. Do they get the radio or television they deserve?
The quick consumption culture is all pervasive. People don’t have the time to enjoy the money they earn. Top that with the tremendous pressure of corruption and mis-management in every stage of life. This is the youth’s loss — as they’ve never had time to understand the depth, intensity or passion that drive certain endeavours. Except a passion for sex or to make money.

The tragedy of wealth! (Both laugh) So how do you enjoy your time now, with all the money you’ve made…
I actually haven’t made much money, though I have done a fantastic body of work. I couldn’t put my son through medical school because I could not pay the capitation fee.

But now, at 73, with this wealth of work, how do you spend your time?
I do a lot of spots and jingles abroad. I’m syndicating my programmes; I have two in Dubai and New Zealand and am working on others. I’m trying to get Roshan Abbas, who’s very difficult to get. (Roshan laughs) Otherwise, I’m very fond of crosswords and puzzles.

And how would you solve the puzzle called Mumbai? Are you happy with contemporary Mumbai?
I feel the basis of confusion in Mumbai is unclear communication. Our rules and regulations are so confusing that you never know how to plan things. So you shoot up and fall down like our Sensex. Radio is an important medium for communication, provided it isn’t shackled. FM is like a breath of fresh air.

There are 13 languages in use at the Radio Advertising and Practitioner’s Association (RAPA), which you’re involved with. Do you think language diversity will help FM?
In some big cities, English is understood, or one goes into Hindi or Hinglish. But, in other cities, say in Tamil Nadu or Orissa, you can’t expect to broadcast in Hindi. You have to have the regional language as well as English.

Even in Kolkata, though Hindi is well known, Bengali is preferred.

You’ve developed a good association with film personalities through your interviews. Any enduring memories?
A lot, but I’ll name only one – Kishore Kumar. He was the most unpredictable, crazy, fabulous and multi-talented person, I ever knew. It was very difficult to corner him and I just did two interviews, which were my life’s best. During the first interview he came and said, “You sit in one corner. I’ll do the whole interview.” He did four voices: a judge, an old villain, Kishore as a child and an old man. The second interview was when Dada Burman passed away. I approached him hesitantly for a twominute interview. He asked me to switch the recorder off and spoke for one and a half hours. He promised to return to the studio the next day. He gave me two sessions as he couldn’t finish at one shot. He died way before his time.

Roshan AbbasWhat do you think of a show with the Ameen Sayani and today’s stars?
Ameen SayaniIt would be good. But I treat most of them as my nieces and nephews. Beside, filmstars are very busy and (smiles) I don’t have the time to run after them anymore, and couldn’t possibly ask them to come to my Colaba studio, all the way from the other end of town. Things should change. I’ve had my day. (Smiles) Why shouldn’t Roshan Abbas take over now?

Editorial co-ordinator Rishi Majumder;
Photographer: Shriya Patil

This article first appeared in Mumbai Mirror, Times Of India: http://alturl.com/du6c

Mahim’s homeless play out their woes


Photographer: Pal Pillai

sunday street, or beach play

SHWETAANK Mishra and Abhishek Bhardwaj of Alternative Realities, an NGO, organised a street play scripted, directed by a group of homeless people who also acted in it. It was performed near Mahim Reti Bunder on Mahim Beach on Sunday evening to create unity and awareness of rights among the homeless citizens of Mahim beach (amounting to nearly 2,000). The NGO hopes to mobilise them into collectively demanding suitable living conditions from the government.
The play highlighted issues faced by the homeless like discrimination by society, robbery, corruption and sexual assault.
Ironically, these people claim that most of their worries stem from policemen. “Even if one person does something wrong, hundreds are disturbed” complains Saleem Khan, who installs banners for a living and sleeps on the beach. “They charge us under beggary (Bombay Prevention of Begging Act 1959), but most of those charged aren’t beggars — we work to earn our living.”
Another frustrating experience is visiting gov
ernment hospitals. “First the compounders say things like ‘why do you people come to Bombay to die?’” elucidates Ajay Mistry, a worker in the catering business, “Then the doctor tells us he can’t help us because we don’t have any other family member to stand by if something happens.”
Mishra is upset that a television news channel suggested in a telecast that these homeless people were responsible for the rubbish lining Mahim beach. “They are so poor and scared of getting robbed, they don’t even bother keeping a ration card with them,” exclaims Mishra. “Where will they find garbage to throw on the beach?”
Alternative Realities is supported by the Mumbai For Change Campaign of Action Aid, an international welfare organisation.
Its three-pronged approach is to create awareness and unity among the homeless, bring their condition to light before the public and approach government authorities such as the Social Welfare secretary for aid.
“The only solution is for the government to build shelters for these people, like the Rahen Baseras in Delhi,” says Bhardwaj.


This article first appeared in Mumbai Mirror, Times Of India: http://alturl.com/d3zh


Poverty drives city footballer to attempt record for balancing a football on his head; he walked, ate, drank and even exercised with the ball balanced on his head


Photographer: Sachin Haralkar

the man and the football

On Friday, Manoj Mishra sought to challenge a Guinness record by balancing a football on his head for two hours and 15 minutes. Then, instead of removing the football, he moved around with it on his head for another nine and a half hours. During this time, he ate, drank water, visited the toilet and even performed a set of stretching exercises!
Although Mishra will have to perform his feat again for the Guinness team, he considers his effort record-breaking.
A footballer himself, Mishra said, “The reason I endeavoured to break this record is very simple – poverty. The clubs I play football for don’t pay me enough. By breaking this record, I hope to attract some sponsorship so I can play football and make some money.”
Mishra, who hails from a Mednapur village, near Kolkata, used to play football for clubs in Kolkata. “But even there they didn’t pay me anything. So I had to quit the city in search for a job.”
Mishra came to Mumbai one and a half years ago and landed a job as a sweeper with the Samarth Vyayam Mandir, a club that teaches kho-kho and gymnastics. He then approached bigger clubs like Bombay Port Trust for sponsorship, but they didn’t have place for him as they “had to provide for their regular players”.
“These clubs assist players so that they can work for three hours a day and play football for the club the rest of the time and yet draw a monthly pay to support them,” explains Mishra.
He was lead player for Dadar 11, a smaller football club, which he quit as they paid
him a mere Rs 50 per match. “So I had to go back to my sweeper’s job, which pays me Rs 1,000 a month,” Mishra said.
Mishra chose the world record he targeted carefully. “I could juggle a football in between my head, hands, thighs and feet continuously for 3 hours, but the world record for doing the same was 20 hours, so I gave it up,” Mishra explained. “Instead, I decided to go for balancing the football on my head while standing at one spot.”
For this, Mishra trained for three months, running on sand for hours on end to increase stamina and performing yoga exercises for balance. “It may not seem so, but stamina is as important as balance for something like holding a ball on your head,” Mishra explained.
The event was sponsored by different people, all friends of Mishra. “One friend sponsored the seats for the press to sit on, while another sponsored a camera so we could shoot,” laughs Mishra. “Now after we send this evidence to the Guinness committee they will come down and I’ll have to do it again to officially verify it.”

suns, of the soil...

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


Gulzar and Janta carom clubs in Dongri are among the oldest and still the busiest in the city


Photographer: Rana Chakraborty

Mohammad Arif managing things at Janta Carrom Club

Mohammad Imtiyaz eyes the red puck alias ‘rani’, aims, and then changes his mind to go for a white puck instead. He’s playing defensive. His opponent Mohammad Hanif has only two pieces left and clearing the ‘rani’ would ease his route to victory. Now Hanif will have to clear the ‘rani’ and another black puck in continuation to win. Imtiyaz and Hanif are both furniture dealers, both in their 40s, and friends. They’ve been meeting since their youth to play carom in the evenings, and the routine continues.
They’re playing at Gulzar Carom Club, Dongri’s second oldest, and still running a full house. Also full is Janta Carom Club, Dongri’s oldest. Begun in 1963, it earlier had six pocket carom boards with six players. “That has changed since,” says Mohammad Arif, who runs Janta Carom Club. “Just as carom boards earlier made of sheesham wood are now made of ply.” And just as carom clubs which were once seen at most Bombay street corners, are now replaced by pool and video game parlours. Dongri’s seven clubs is one of the last ‘pockets’ for the game being played as a community ‘time pass’ in the city. Shabbir Hussain, who with his father manages Gulzar Carom Club
boasts: “Dongri is today synonymous with carom as Mumbai is with the Gateway Of India.”
Two dusty trophies bear witness to the great tournament winners who inhabited Janta once. They’re now dead. Shahwaas, a Maharashtra tournament winner, still inhabits Gulzar on some evenings. “When he does, the room is packed with people fighting to watch the game,” says Shabir. Such events serve as a hot spot for discussing and exchanging strategies and technique. While carom’s mechanics share a similarity with pool, many experts argue that the actual game is tougher, since here fingers are used instead of a linear cue, necessitating a greater degree of control. Also, pool and video games at approximately Rs 30 for half an hour, costs about ten times as much as carom where rates are stuck at Rs 3 in some clubs.
Yet, the reason for carom flourishing in this locality is simple. It’s an impoverished neighbourhood. The clubs operate in bustling Dharavi as well. The wealthier localities have given up on the game. Why? Carom club owners point out a reflection of a similar attitude in the way other indigenous Indian sports like mud wrestling, kabaddi and gulli danda are dying out. But the reflection goes beyond. The same attitude per
sists in today’s teenager being clueless about the closest Khadi Bhandaar while knowing about the Levi’s sale two months ahead. It persists in Narendra Modi, our symbol of ‘swadeshi pride’ smiling smugly not so long ago in his Bulgari glasses. Just as many of us take pride in the fact that Lakshmi Mittal lives next to the queen, and that we finally have our Mango showroom.
A nation’s sports are suggestive of its self esteem. Which is why baseball and ‘American’ football is backed by the world’s unipolar power. And why the UK, having spawned football, hockey and cricket, can get excited for either at will. Our aversion to sports we have created and our corresponding desire to compete in those others have, is no different from our craze for the latest DKNY or
Louis Vuitton. Will we have to be impoverished to retain our right of identity? Perhaps not, for even in Dongri, this attitude seeps in. Next to Gulzar Carom Club, where Imtiyaz and Hanif play, has sprung up a videogame centre without a name! Ten year olds, not to be seen at the carom centres abound here. One shouts: “Arre uska chor. Mera picture le. Apun cool hai.”

This article first appeared in Mumbai Mirror, Times Of India: http://alturl.com/xf6i


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


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


Right in the middle of the muck and dross in this suburb, exists the WHO-certified Ideal Trading Company, exporter of sutures


Photographer: Rana Chakraborty

Abdul Baqua, at his factory

“Around 15,000 people surrounded the Koli basti nearby to burn it. I went with DCP Yadav and climbed atop his jeep. I clasped my hands together and said, ‘Just two things. If you want to burn Dharavi, please burn me as well. I want to die here’.”
Seventy-seven-year-old Abdul Baqua’s voice breaks as he recounts this incident from the ‘92-’93 riots, and a stream of tears course down his face. In a few months time, he’ll shift his factory from Dharavi to Ambarnath, which he’s hoping to build sans financial aid, with the help of a bank loan. The government needs his land for the Dharavi Rehabilitation Programme. Baqua’s Ideal Trading Company, manufactures sutures (used for medical stitches and to attach meat sausages to one another) for export to Japan, Europe and South Africa. His clinically clean factory is certified as per EU and WHO standards, despite being located in the midst of Dharavi’s open gutters and unattended garbage dumps.
Baqua flaunts photographs of a team comprising doctors and officials from the Agriculture And Processed Food Products Export Development Authority inspecting his factory for these certifications in 1997: “They were impressed with the standard of hygiene. We were lucky they only visited Dharavi till where our factory is located. Touring the whole of Dharavi might have forced them to think otherwise.”
Business is down now, because his foreign clients don’t want to place orders till the factory’s location is certain. Still, four workers in a 500 square feet room reeking of phenyl sort the sutures as per diameter, washing off the slime. Large windows are screened to prevent dust or smoke entering the room. Hence the walls, though faded aren’t blackened. The sutures (originally
goat or sheep intestine) are then mixed with salt and stored in plastic barrels in a godown below. This room and the godown is the entire factory.
Baqua came to Dharavi from his village in UP, at age 13 to earn and support his family. He mastered the sutures trade in a friend’s Coimbatore factory, before setting his own in Mumbai. An Italian exporter then took him on as partner to form Ideal Trading Company with a Dharavi factory, but left India soon after, leaving Baqua only with an international address book of suture importers. Inducting his brother, Kalim Shoaib into the business, they approached each contact till a Japanese company asked them for 2,00,000 yards of sutures, as mere sample. “It was a huge risk, but we sent it,” Shoaib remembers, recounting how they then invited delegates to Mumbai, paying for their conveyance and stay in the Taj so they could inspect their factory. A nod from this company was the culmination of Baqua’s long struggle,
with many international orders following.
Moving to Ambernath means added transport cost for their raw material, thus pushing their prices up, and granting an advantage to already competing Chinese suture manufacturers. It also means laying off most of their 30-odd workers (some women) who won’t be able to afford the daily commute. But Baqua speaks on the effect of rehabilitation on Dharavi at large: “Will the disruption of all these lives and livelihoods be compensated adequately?”
Baqua’s unit, like every such in Dharavi resembles Japan’s matchbox factories which utilise each square inch. Even homes are used or let out for work, with one table being enough to start an enterprise. A rough estimate of the productivity of these unrecognised industries was stated at over Rs 5000 crores. Much of this amount is earned from export, bringing foreign exchange into the country. By these criteria, Dharavi attained the status of SEZ — which everyone’s screaming for today — many years ago. A decline in crime rate post the Vardharajan era, has seen the area become only as unsafe as certain pockets of Juhu, or Bandra.
The only thing that prevents Dharavi’s recognition as an industrial estate then, is the dirt. Besides the fact that companies like Baqua’s have constantly overcome this constraint, the larger problem of filth in Dharavi could be solved by reconstruction, with proper drainage and road facility from the BMC. “Japan’s factories are as crowded and congested, but they are located in clean areas,” Baqua points out. He also points out that most banks in Japan claim interest on their loans only after the entrepreneur sets up his unit, unlike Indian banks which, despite being ‘nationalised’, bleed the poor aspiring entrepreneur without giving him a chance. Baqua talks Tokyo, even as the government cites Shanghai. But the former, strangely, seems far closer to Dharavi’s definition.

Baqua's factory entrance

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


Dharavi’s small-time manufacturer Mustaqueem, a supplier to Wal Mart, brings hope to the unemployed in the suburb


Photographer: Rana Chakraborty

Mustaqueem at one of his Dharavi units

At a factory near the T junction on Mahim highway, we watch Mustaqueem carefully sort mint leaves to flavour our liquor teas, made painstakingly to order. “When I came to this city at age 13 to work, I was not paid for the first four months,” he remembers. His work, at a Kamathipura garments factory, consisted of serving tea, besides cleaning the factory, washing the machines and carrying orders to places from 7 am till after midnight. This was when, after the workers left, he would be allowed to learn how to work a machine for half an hour. He slept on the road outside the factory. His meal consisted of roti and salan, from a nearby restaurant or home. After becoming a paid worker, he branched out on his own at age 16 with two sewing machines in a relative’s hutment at Dharavi.
Today, Mustaqueem runs 12 manufacturing units (including sister concerns of the parent company) in Dharavi. Seven of them, owned by him, comprise 3200 square feet of space each. The unit we are on, on rented area, stretches to 8000 square feet. He employs 900 people. All his garments, mostly feminine tops, skirts
and capris, are exported to the US, and sold by names like MKM and Burlington. He earlier supplied goods to K Mart and Wal Mart as well, but discontinued because they were “too inconsistent with their order quotations”.
How did he get here? Mustaqueem’s eyes, study us even as he talks, with piercing intelligence. Having stood first in every class till class VI, his principal and relatives went into mourning when he had to quit studies to earn for family. But once on the job, the same intelligence prompted him to learn his trade quickly. Also radiating from his eyes is quiet confidence. As a worker he elicited many guffaws from his seniors when he proclaimed that he’d have his own factory someday. Their rejoinder was: “We’ll work for you!” Which they did eventually. He wasn’t let down when his friends dissuaded him from deliberating on exports. Yet this confidence is tempered by a strong faith in God. He says, “There are many more talented than me. I’ve succeeded because Allah has honoured me.”
But that is every successful entrepreneur’s story. What distinguishes Mustaqueem is what surrounds him. Workers as well as managers employed in his factories are taken on by Mus
taqueem not on the basis of degrees, but on their ability to read. This approach is reminiscent of another man who rose from the garments trade, Dhirubai Ambani. He had hired a clerk, Indu Sheth, to spearhead his export strategy; a petroleum product salesman, Natwarlal Sanghvi, as his marketing manager; and an auto parts salesman as his knitting manager. These men went on to be counted among India’s best business brains. Also reeking of this approach is the modus operandi of Sam Walton, whose company till recently was Mustaqueem’s customer.
‘Mustaqueeem Seth’ in Dharavi is a respected name. He helps many with problems ranging from those with the municipal corporation to healthcare. He is a man known well by the police, government officials and politicians. But his decision to continue to centre his business here stems from beyond this ring of influence. Through his own past, he understands a talent pool of Indian youth that is unable to obtain MBA, CA or CFA degrees. And that pool, hired as worker and inching towards ‘supervisor’, ‘manager’ and then ‘owner’, understand ‘Mustaqueem Seth’ through their present… and longingly, through their future.

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

Be dazzled

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


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


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