Postcards from Bombay

Postcards from Bombay
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First Published: Tue, Feb 02 2010. 01 15 AM IST

 The old and new images of Khada Parsi, Byculla.
The old and new images of Khada Parsi, Byculla.
Updated: Fri, Feb 05 2010. 05 13 PM IST
Does not this place tempt you? I think you had better pack up and come here with mother.
The old and new images of Khada Parsi, Byculla.
With love,
Leovine.
Leovine, a Britisher who was perhaps visiting or even a resident of Bombay (now Mumbai), scribbled this on a postcard to England on 30 November 1907. The black-and-white postcard has an image of the view of Malabar Hill in Bombay. This postcard is now part of Ajay Goyal’s large album, which contains many such sweet messages sent out of Bombay.
For 15 years Goyal, a flour-mill owner, has been globetrotting and collecting such postcards. But the Bombay of these postcards bears little resemblance to today’s Mumbai. Bombay to Mumbai—an exhibition of black and white photographs—tries to explore the journey from Bombay to Mumbai, to be held during the week-long Kala Ghoda Festival, Mumbai, starting 6 February. The exhibition displays 28 sets of photographs; each set containing an enlarged image of a photographic postcard and a recent photograph of that location. The postcards capture scenes of Bombay between 1900 and 1930 while the newer photographs were shot in December. The aim, says the exhibition’s curator Jagdish Agarwal, is to document the transformation of the city.
Even the new images were shot in black and white. Agarwal explains that this was done to ensure that colour didn’t become the obvious distinction between new and old. “I felt colour would be too distracting,” he says.
The old and new images of Kala Ghoda.
The obvious narrative is of crowding. Eighty years ago the streets were less congested, with bullock carts dotting them instead of cars swamping them, and people were dressed in dhotis and turbans. But these changes are obvious and in line with our expectations of a growing city. The meta-narrative, says Agarwal, is that of chaos, especially in the city’s architecture.
The photograph of Horiman Circle is a good example. The postcard shows the idyllic structure of the Mercentile Bank building with three horse-carriages peppering the scene. In the new photograph, the busy street adjoining the structure, with taxis and buses plying on it, doesn’t seem too out of sync. “What sticks out as a sore thumb,” says Agarwal “is the Stock Exchange building jutting out of the horizon.” When you compare the photographs, the ugliness of the latter scene becomes obvious.
Agarwal is the founder of Dinodia, a stock photography picture library. When he and Goyal decided to hold the exhibition, he chose three of Dinodia’s photographers—Abhishek Gupta, Tuka Karve and Vishwanath Mishra—for the task. Photocopies of the postcards were given to these photographers and they were asked to replicate the image from the same angle and at the same time of day to get the same light effect. “This was to provide the viewer with the correct perspective,” says Agarwal. It has resulted in some unusual photographs. The best, according to Goyal, Agarwal and Karve, are the ones of Kala Ghoda (black horse). The postcard has the statue of King Edward VII on a horse in the centre. To the left is the two-storeyed Temple Bar Hotel and to the right, the Rampart Row building. In the new photograph, the Rampart Row stands where it is. The Temple Bar Hotel has grown a few floors taller and behind it is the omnipresent Bombay Stock Exchange. The striking factor, of course, that the Kala Ghoda is missing—there is a car park instead. The only black horse anywhere in the vicinity is the image on Temple Bar’s signboard. The statue was removed from Kala Ghoda and placed in Jijamata Udyaan in Byculla. “It’s the most striking image as the centrepiece itself is missing,” says Goyal.
He has another favourite—the statue of Cursetjee Maneckjee, also known as the Khada Parsi (standing Parsi), in Byculla. In the postcard, Maneckjee’s statue stands towards the right, with the Byculla Fire Brigade House at the centre. In the new photograph, the fire brigade house is missing. There is a tower in its place and flyovers swirl on both sides of the statue. “It feels like the entire time zone just simply circled around him,” exclaims Goyal. The Parsi stands weary in what is now called Abdul Hamid Ansari Chowk.
“The city seems to have grown around a few structures and that too completely out of sync,” says Agarwal. Having lived in Mumbai for 50 years, he’s worried about the manner in which the city is growing and aims to create awareness about this through the exhibition. “It’s a beautiful city, it used to be beautiful even in design. We can’t undo what we have tarnished but at least we can build aesthetically in the future,” he says.
Bombay to Mumbai will be held from 6-14 February (11am-7pm) at Hacienda Art Gallery, next to Artists Centre, Kala Ghoda, Mumbai. The images will be for sale at Rs6,000 for a 8x24-inch print, Rs7,000 for 12x36, Rs8,000 for 18x24, and Rs9,000 for 24x36.
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First Published: Tue, Feb 02 2010. 01 15 AM IST