Mumbai’s geography is increasingly invisible to those who navigate its arteries every day. Construction has not only altered the city’s skyline but, combined with population density, has made it difficult to connect the dots between and within neighbourhoods, and across the city’s sprawl. The second edition of Jehangir Sorabjee’s Above Bombay, a coffee-table book of aerial shots of Mumbai, helps make sense of its dwarfed geography. The view from the top also reveals the green patches punctuating the cement and the asphalt—adding to the joy of watching and marvelling at the city’s original blueprint, despite the distractions.
The first edition, which came out in 2006, has more than 200 photographs. The second edition is in a more compact size, but the number of photographs, including old ones and around 70 new ones, remains the same. A practising physician by profession, Sorabjee had only about five days to shoot for each edition—at the end of May and a few days after the monsoon, when views of the city can be best captured on camera because of atmospheric clarity.
The second edition has richer production values and is visually more appealing because Sorabjee spent more time in the processing laboratory, so the final reproductions are superior to those in the first edition.
Sorabjee captures the eastern shorefront of Colaba, which now has the Mumbai Port Trust Garden maintained by the Mumbai Port Trust, the sunset from the Imperial Towers or the Tardeo “twin towers”, the city’s tallest building designed by architect Hafeez Contractor, the Vallabhai Patel Indoor Sports Stadium near Wankhede Stadium in south Mumbai, which used to be an open cycling track until recently, the Bandra Kurla business district, recognizable because of its expanse of similar looking buildings covered by refracted glass, which has narrowed the estuary of the Mithi river, and, of course, the Bandra-Worli Sea Link, Mumbai’s only transformative architectural marvel in the past decade.
“The thing that struck me most about the Mumbai that I was photographing now was the amazing density of population. Everyone talks of vertical construction and it is the most obvious one, but the number of people has increased dramatically since 2006. It’s amazing to see how many people come to the city all the time,” says Sorabjee. He observes this even without having photographed the suburbs much—the only addition is the Bandra Kurla Complex. The first edition’s views of the western suburbs Versova and Lokhandwala and the shanties around the Western Expressway Highway are included in the second edition too. They perhaps had clutches of green in 2006.
Including more suburbs would have been an accurate portrait of a city imploding, and struggling to breathe— the top-angle views which planners need to redeem the city from doom. But as Sorabjee says, “Most new buildings are an eyesore, but I still think the view from up there tells you how alive and beautiful the city is.”
Above Bombay by Jehangir Sorabjee, published by Eminence Designs, is available in book stores for Rs 2,500.
Photographs by Jehangir Sorabjee