Armed with a sketchbook and a camera, architect Savio Lobo spent the last monsoon roaming the streets of Bandra, Mumbai. He had visited the suburb many times before but realised he knew nothing about its history and structures. Here, the dozens of small booklets and guides he had spent more than a decade collecting, came in handy. As he navigated through the narrow lanes gazing at the bungalows, churches and schools, he would squat on the sidewalk — not caring that they are rain-soaked — and whip out his sketchbook to quickly draw a structure that caught his fancy.
Twelve months of these street excursions have resulted in a 180-page book titled Bandra By Hand. Launched on Sunday, the book contains over 100 black-and-white sketches of known and lesser-known structures in Bandra. “People don’t know how significant it is to record these buildings,” says Darryl D’Monte, an environmentalist and a writer who worked closely with Lobo for the book. “Bandra has a number of quaint and lovely constructions that might not be around in the next 10-20 years. There is now some relief in the knowledge that they have at least been recorded as a part of the city’s art and architectural history,” he adds.
Once Lobo started sketching, he felt like he was missing something. “I wanted people to know these structures as intimately as I got to know them,” says Lobo. So after sketching the building, Lobo knocked on people’s doors to dig for anecdotes: when were they built, when did the family move in, and how many generations have lived there and so on.
Lobo soon aroused a mix of curiosity and suspicion from the residents, which didn’t make the documentation easier. “They had builders throwing visiting cards at them trying to buy them out of their buildings,” he says. When people got over their suspicion, some turned out to be quite helpful.
The architecture in Bandra, Lobo says, doesn’t have its own characteristic style, but has evolved from an amalgamation of whatever each family who moved there brought with it. “So you will see that no two verandahs or frames on balconies are the same. Their interiors differ — some have spiral staircases, others have open terraces. The irony is that now because of the influence of global architecture even that is changing,” says Lobo.
Lobo’s sketches are meticulous — he has recorded the smallest features from a manhole on the road to cobbled streets outside the building. In the book, each sketch comes with a small brief about the place where Lobo tries to trace its history.
The book has been self-published by Lobo and his wife Gina, a graphic designer who worked on its design. Lobo has a collection of more than 10,000 photographs, and has also recorded his conversation with more than 300 residents. He holds hours of footage of them talking about growing up and bringing their children up in the locality, about their houses and favourite spaces in the city, capturing the changing face of the locality. If Lobo has his way, his collection might soon become a documentary.