Bombay – Mumbai

March 30, 2010

Picture Bombay – Landmarks of a New Generation is probably the only lyrical and honest photographic depiction of this city, it was part of an international effort by the Getty Conservation Institute in LA to get young people between the ages of twelve and eighteen to define and articulate visually and textually what was important, beautiful, significant, repugnant, worth preserving and relevant to them. Half way while printing the catalogue Bombay changed to Mumbai and Picture Mumbai then became probably the first documentary of the changing facade and politics of this city. Not since the iconic Family of Man was photography celebrated so acutely. The then Prince of Wales Museum saw 4000 people engage with it daily for three months. Despite Bollywoods omnipresence, the city has never been depicted with any realness. Even as background it has remained another Nitin Desai set.

The process of Picture Mumbai was probably more significant than its superb outcome, thousands of young people representing as many diversified backgrounds as possible from across the city were interviewed, the common factor that selected them was their eagerness to express themselves alternatively.  In that microcosm of diversity with all its ensuing pulls of  age, caste, creed, economic station, and gender was a critical commonality, a desire not to compete with others, rather, with themselves. The twelve year old and youngest, turned out to be the most chivalrous and the protector of the group, confirming a  Richard Avedon sentiment that we do not lead chronological lives.

While migration continues to be the hottest debate around, we all conveniently forget that each and everyone of us on the planet is a product of a migration and some or other religious conversion. All our ancestors black, white, brown, blond or blue eyed, a mere two thousand generations ago probably smoked ganja together on the plains of Africa. Race is non existent, its all a figment of a propaganda and some artificial construct just as borders are.

(the human genome project : the YouTube video has been taken off the net)

But these divides are becoming sharper and more polarised. Where you photograph, whom you photograph, who is photographing, are turning locations into paranoid districts. There is a prickly thin skinedness now that gives almost anyone to right to ask you whether you have ‘permission’, even if you are in a public space in broad daylight, photographing the alleged innocuous. Being patient and coming up with long winded explanations for things that should not need explaining can be frustrating and a huge waste of time. Everyone feels they have the right to whisk  you off to the police station. It is merciful when sometimes the police show boredom and fatigue.

Its all the more interesting as just about everyone has a camera embedded in their cell phones. When you can google map a car registration plate via satellite, photographing on Marine drive with a tripod becomes a municipal, traffic and police issue. Everything is a ‘sensitive’ area.

The only creature that stands up to all the political insensitivity ironically has a soft backbone, it lurks off our coasts and is delicious crumb fried. The Bombay Duck not mombil continues to be our quirky, indigenous, delectable mascot chased down by Bombay Gin you are likely to retain an original flavour of the city.

140 years

Book cover

geology - fossils

Blatter herbarium - lithographs - malabar coast botanica


entomology - life sciences


200 pages, exquisitely printed. A must have for every Xaverite, 20 gatefolds.

Never seen before photographs of Blatter Herbarium, Geology, Heras Institute, Malhar and Life-Sciences depts.

Available at XDP, first floor St. Xavier’s college, next to the principals office.

Rs 3000/-

Re 1. Entrepreneur

March 19, 2010

Don’t we all remember, damn! it is possible to forget that a large section of India are under 20 where the latest nokias and motos give one instant amnesia, but for the rest of the growing minority, with memories of socialism and ‘nonalignment’, embedded in our national subconsciousness, is the fact that until rather recently it took up-to 5 years to get a ‘legal’ landline. When the phone did arrive it invariably was black bakelite and could be used to bludgeon the ubiquitous MTNL Yadav on the noggin when it didn’t work, and that was often enough.

The pay-phone was a large equally ugly, black device with a rotary dial and a chain that kept the hand-piece attached to the caged telephone, dont we remember cussing and swearing and kicking the instrument when it swallowed your last rupee coin and you had to report home that you were going to be late.

Chirodeep Chowdary’s exhibition of photographs is of a current generation of I Rupee Phones that are not black and not yet mobile enough to wander un tethered. The photographs document playfully the way Indians will use every square inch of space available to them to put in devices to increase revenue. All the while depicting the indian aesthetic that remains vehemently non geometric, where straight lines and ‘finish’ are only meant for engineers.

We’ve seen all the phones before, the locations, the incongruity, the ubiquitousness, and the ridiculousness sometimes, but because they have just been so utility orientated no one till Chirodeep has thought to make of them an artistic statement. Phones pop up in red and yellow in the most unlikely of places.

The photographs are tack sharp and beautifully composed, but that you would expect anyway from a photographer who has been making images professionally for as long as he has. What is also striking is the use of colour and shape, the telephone and coconuts is one of the better images, its less cluttered and graphically interesting monochromatic for the most part except for the bright red, shiny phone.

Perhaps the best image is of the telephone and haircutting saloon.

The telephone and meat-shop is another beautiful image, again relatively less crowded and less colourful, where the colour tells its own story.

While the photographs are attractive they disappoint, for several reasons, one expects a new way of seeing the familiar especially from a veteran of editorial photography . The photographs are uni-dimensional in that you see – you like, you may not want to re-visit. There could have been a suggestion of the phone, since the idea has been established, it could have been more abstract where the viewer is encouraged to wonder and discern, rather than tell all and leave no room for the viewer’s involvement.

Two way Mirror

March 19, 2010


When is a table lamp not a table lamp or a squirrel not a rodent? When does a handkerchief become a cat, Schrödinger notwithstanding? When is the Truth a half-truth?

Debraj Goswami’s acrylic on canvasses have that sort of sleight of hand quality; blink and something else might appear in its place.

“It all started with small 1 square foot canvasses of symbols and forms that would not go away just as the Godhra nightmare still comes back to shake us up”. Debraj’s close proximity to Godhra both in geography, he lives and works out of Baroda, and his ‘socio-political’ bent made him investigate the reality and illusion of war, its carnage and its weapons. The accusatory, finger-pointing hand of Michelangelo’s god is omniscient and ubiquitous. 20 small canvasses mosaic-morph into My experiments with Half Truths.

In Godly Fingers, that hand is being hurled at an Adam, who could easily be replaced by you the viewer, standing helpless against a pegboard. The hand-dart intentionally misses the target with some divine magic. Adam lives another day to tell more lies or not reveal the whole truth.

The spin doctors and six-pack muscular media-politicians protect themselves from a barren, nuclear polluted word with rose-tinted gas masks pretending with a magician’s candor that war does not exist, Guernica however is leaking from under the table like a bribe. There is a childish boast – realization in ‘See I’m growing up mummy’

The squirrel in the divine equation is a hapless innocent creature, a bhakti, the common man oblivious of the Ram-politics.  It travels through several matrixes and emerges unwittingly at the other end as Alice in the looking glass. Now you see me now you don’t.

Patho(s)logical, the painting, is graphic and narrative, what goes in does come out albeit altered. But you don’t quite know which is the beginning or the end, do you read the work from right to left as in the Islamic world or the other way around. Does the truth become a falsity or do lies interface with the truth, the animate becomes the inanimate. The linear – circular.

All Goswami’s work leaves you with a feeling of déjà vu. The title to the show a take on Gandhi’s – Experiments with the Full Truth, the symbols, the metaphors, the surrealist genre, Rene Margarite, Salvador Dali, Picasso are all there lurking or spilling out perforce. The surprise element therefore is a bit dampened.  The work A Brief Mystery of Time reverses scale and mass in a Hawking-Einsteinian way, a nuclear mushroom cloud diminishes the global atlas to an amniotic puppy, and you don’t need conventional weapons of mass destruction, market forces and an insurance plan can do you in.

The intrepid quadruped has a Fallacy of Four Terms, is it a dog? is it a horse? The illuminating table lamp that is supposed to shed light on the subject obfuscates the reality with a fork-filament, enlightenment is about survival and your next meal. Yet mysteriously the headless, creature-beast moves onwards to the sound of a distant drummer.

If you went in grim you’d emerge with a half frown-smile.


March 19, 2010



When corporate MTV with its hard-bitten bottom line wanted to Indianise the channel what exactly did we get, some very exciting, clever, creative and cool promos that show we are like this only. Then we got Club MTV and the Grind, we got V’s Close-Up Close Encounters and its Singled Out inspiration with the uninhibited, sex bomb Jenny McCarthy, virtual or real accoutrements intact, pouring herself into a body sock. Isn’t this Indianising thing a bit of a mask, a chimera, a carrot, a snakes and sadhu wrapper, a smoke screen for the contents, a prophylactic drug that like Prozac gives us a feeling of stability, of Okness especially when we are reeling from post colonial hang ups.

Close-Up Close Encounter is a bit too much. Firstly I have not figured out why these NRI gorgeous bimbettes with surrogate or wannabe accents are chosen as Vjs. Or rather I think I cracked it (and get a PhD in one fell swoop). Its all got to do with the Grind and its Indian avatar Club MTV. The grind (circa 1996) is where we want to be at, Club MTV is where we are at. I watch Club MTV as a barometer (yeah…Yeah….) to indicate just how far we can push the de´colletage of our mores that surround our traditional/modern conflicts. I too have Pepsi bets of my own, see. Somehow the mask of okness seems to be to dance, gyrate, grind into crotches in the daytime. Yes its ok if your mom can see you.

Laila Rouass and Malaika bore-e-alis are the two principal contributors in this I’m bimbetter-than-thou. I find that the TQ (taste quotient) that ephemeral, nethi nethiness , that who-makes-the-rules, sometimes hierarchical, sometimes elitist, hard to define thing, The Thing. Most often you drink it in with your mother’s milk and then go to finishing school wherever that place in your head is, and bone up. You either got it or you don’t. Its that quality that uplifts. I use the ‘u’ word a lot these days only because there is so little of it around. I’d like to see MTV and V and Zee and Zed put the uh , buh ,  cuh ,  back into anth-akshari, use its reach and its ever widening foot print, its umbra and wonderbra, back into uplifting (oops) , with the most cross cultural, slam dunking, death defying, head banging, unifying phenomenon in the universe, music.

There I’ve come Out Of The Box and done a fillip and shown you my empty V. Can you handle it? Is the Flicks team out there? I got brief but I no got money. I am like this only……temporarily.

water water everywhere

March 19, 2010


Numerologists must be laughing all the way to the counter. After SMS has truncated and de-grammerised the way people communicate, language has become a series of numerals and disturbingly Americanized, 24×7, 9/11, 7/11, 26/7.

The show on at the Piramal Gallery curated by Fawzan Husain is called Mumbai 26/7.

Isn’t it bad enough that most photographers talk numerals, f8, F50, 1/125, 400 ISO, 3200K! The 40 or so photographers whose work in on display hopefully speak a thousand words give or take a few more for the captions.

You would expect to see images showing a lot of water given that the monsoon that year decided to out perform its 100-year-old history and precipitate 954 inches in a day and you perhaps wont be disappointed. There is water on the tracks, water in people’s homes, streets and flowing unceremoniously onto and out of spaces where it has no business to be there in such quantities.

But the most amazing fact is that photographers were there. When such a spectacular photo opportunity presents itself most sane and well mannered photographers might want to protect their expensive equipment against the biggest enemy of fine optics and electronics, moisture, and wrap their precious Nikons and Canons in silica gel and curl up with a stiff drink, that they were out there given the fact that all transportation came to a liquid halt, and making images that are at least documentary is nothing short of wonderful. Happy of course that news agencies provide the equipment and the insurance, there were the odd free lancers taking the bigger risks.

Some of the images make you wonder about serendipity or is it that chance favours the prepared mind. Nitin Sonawane – Economic Times has a beautiful shot of Rukhmini Mankar stranded in a train at CST with her new born child after having just been discharged from the Cama and Albess hospital. Sweet photo to have in your baby scrapbook.

Mandar Deodhar – Bombay Times, has a spectacularly sharp, monochromatic image near Nilje station  of the tracks submerged on the Konkan Railway that looks like an etching.

Soumik Kar – Business Today has an image that could not escape the irony of the day with the commissioner of police A. N. Roy sitting heroically dry in an inflatable dingy while his flunkies in wet suits and other locals in very sodden tee shirts waded waist deep, pulling his survey craft through the deluge. After the comedy you begin to wonder where Soumik was to make that shot.

There are some awesome compositions in all that misery of loss of persons and property, Santosh Harare – Hindustan Times, has a beautiful shot of the residents of Diva recovering from the deluge that had their homes completely submerged. You wonder at the decisive moment or was it great art direction. There is a lot going on in the frame.

There is a ghastly/wonderful photograph of a gangrenous hand emerging out of the wet with a reflection of a man and a bus. What is going on outside the frame is suggestive and intriguing.

There are dead persons, live persons, dead buffaloes, dead transport while Neeraj Priyadarshini – Indian Express has a decapitated man pushing his bicycle laden with bedraggled chickens through a Venice like street.

And of course there is always someone who is going to make ‘vasool’ while the rain pours, a person leaping into the ad hoc swimming pool that just got constructed on the busy thoroughfare was captured in a wonderful 1/250th splash.

The images have their own stories, sometimes the captions are the only way of knowing what is going on. And on the demographic front it is perhaps noteworthy that there was a 1:39 ratio of women photographers out there.


The Photograph : Painted, Posed and of the moment, an exhibition currently on at the NGMA is perhaps the most significant piece of photography to manifest itself all in one place. The exhibition is wonderfully curated with not a single image being out of place or superfluous. In that sense if you want to ‘trip’ as in a Pablo Barthomew, come prepared with comfortable shoes and at least 3 hours to spare. You cannot or should not rush through this show. In many ways, the exhibition on at the NGMA will be a harbinger of things to come, all bode well for photography and the arts.

The photographs are arranged in a very finite order at every ‘etage’ of the gallery. On the ground floor as you enter, you will be messmerised by images that have messmerised us for many years now, that have in some ways etched themselves into the collective unconscious. All the photographs on this floor have been seen before, but when you stand in front of an original Henri Cartier Bresson bromide, its like meeting an old friend, an aristocrat, and a god. Everything that can be said about Bresson has been said so it would be completely dangerous to tread this territory, however there are magnificent texts by artists, sociologists, historians, musicians, editors, photographers, writers and theatre personalities among others who give the viewer another insight via language where at times the silence of the still image could speak more eloquently.

Kobo Abe in one of those placards says that a Bresson image –  is not a window into space rather into Time. That sentiment could be parsed differently, most of Bresson’s images exceed the Einsteinian restrictions of space/time, they move into a zone of timelessness, The geography and specificity of that Title – Mexico 1934 become redundant. Ferdinando Scianca speaks of another image of a veiled woman with child – Mexico 1934, he celebrates the ‘lack of sentimentality or the picturesque’ in that image and is spared of the ‘blackmail of rhetoric’. He says pithily, that the image was ‘taken in Mexico but devoid of mexicanisation’. This might well be a lesson to all those photographers who trump the ethnic. Andre Pieyne  writes about what he calls the ‘love spiders’ the image of two lesbian women revealing tastefully just enough without being salacious. The issue of photographer as voyeur does crop up repeatedly, Eduardo Arroyo notes that the humorous photograph of two men in Brussels 1932, ‘one peeping through a hole at reality that is concealed from us and the other in a bowler hat looking around suspiciously at being observed’, reminds us that we, the per-viewer of the camera’s view are all in the picture. The notion of photograph as premonition is revealed by  Leonardo Sciasia with the famous image Sevilla, Spain 1933, the children depicted seem to be ‘playing with war, a war they do not yet know’.

Interestingly Bresson gave up photography for 15 years till his death, his decisive finger was sketching instead. No doubt Bresson would be one of the most vivisected photographers that ever lived, his work will be scanned for psychological, social, anthropological and aesthetic nuances, its best to sum him up with one sentence, Cartier Bresson is not a photographer, he is a Photography(sic)

Pablo Batholomew who we knew and loved from the junior world press days and with sporadic visual interventions, was perhaps significant by his absence. You got the feeling that he was lost and unable to find a new way of telling old stories. The second floor digs through his archive and in all those years of sex drugs and rock and roll reveal what he found worthy of imaging, this is a sort of confession, laying open his private diary. There are some matter of fact photos of a lavatory 1975, bed sheets, Carmen’s house, Bathroom shelf and a college dining room that speak of honesty and non pretentiousness that invade most of our modern ways of seeing. The fungus on his self portrait negatives are in some ways as telling. The Jawa motorcycle and the rounded cornered Allwyn refrigerator are visual semiotics of an era.

Dayanita Singh’s Sent a Letter moves away from the arrogance of the limited edition archival print to a more engaging, human, quiet, understated, accordion series of books that you can posses when you leave the gallery, these are small jewels of private communication, all the images are in a square format and contact size. there is an intimacy, beauty and stillness to them. She shares space with Nony Singh her mother whose need to archive the family is beautifully depicted. The portraits are exquisite.

On the fourth floor is Umrao Singh Sher- Gil whos many self portraits and gorgeous little sepia contact prints speak of His Misery, His Manuscripts and narcissism. The autochrome back-lit images of family are stunningly beautiful.

The only other colour photographs ironically are the ones that predate colour photography, they belong to the Alkazi collection, there are the familiar colonial Deen Dayal type images but more interesting are the hand tinted photos which a decade later sometimes, gave the original, black and white photographs, a new context and added a layer of the aesthetic of a different decade. The exhibit is under lit not surprisingly, the pigments and dyes would be prone to fading. There are astonishing images that could be an inspiration to a whole generation of contemporary photographers and artists alike, but the jewel in the crown is a hand coloured Daguerrotype, you register a double take and in its mirrored image across two hundred years you can get a glimpse of yourself.