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Saturday, April 10, 2021

The calm before the chaos: A new book of photographs and essays takes readers through Mumbai’s mornings and a city on the move

The photographs are sequenced across a mixed bag of themes. Sometimes it’s an emotion or a memory; at other times, they are parts of the city or their urban aesthetic.

Written by Benita Fernando | Mumbai |
Updated: March 24, 2021 9:19:49 am
Graphic designer Mayur Tekchandaney at his studio

In late 2015, recovering from a major leg injury, Mayur Tekchandaney began walking through his neighbourhood of Bandra. It was meant as light, easy physiotherapy. Tekchandaney, a graphic designer and former advertising professional, was intimately familiar with the suburb’s quaint lanes but was surprised to learn that there was more to the space. Keeping him company was his camera and, two months into his daily walks, he thought of a book of images of the city. His photographs, like his walks, began extending beyond the little bubble of Bandra, finally resulting in Still Bombay, published by Tara Books.

“I am a fan of cities, whether it is Mumbai or New York, where i was a student once,” says Tekchandaney, 43. Having lived solely in Bandra, except for the years that he spent studying abroad, Tekchandaney was acutely aware of its changing landscape, how the names of buildings went from whimsical to ridiculous, such as “Excellenza” or “Pallazzo”. Still Bombay starts with frames of Bandra’s yesteryear villas, but swiftly moves on to consider the rest of the city, the vignettes accompanied by short essays and musings written by Tekchandaney.

“I am a fan of cities, whether it is Mumbai or New York, where i was a student once,” says Tekchandaney, 43.

Though the shooting process was fairly regimented, lasting till early 2019, there was a sense of adventure, he recalls. “I felt I was falling in love with the city again. When you are commuting to work, and you are only worried about the potholes and the bad infrastructure, then you forget how nice it is.”

Still Bombay was shot mostly between 7 am to 11 am, starting a little after Tekchandaney’s children had been deposited in the school-bus and before the start of client meetings. The timing reflects the quieter tones of the city, a Mumbai calm that is so rare to find. Among the images, of particular interest are of people on foot, the morning light dappled across their surroundings. These Mumbaikars-on-the-move pop up ever so often in the book, walking across the length of the frame, somehow embodying that movement is the primary preoccupation of the city’s residents. They are singled out from the crowd by the camera, dwarfed against the giant canvas of the city, creating that sense of stillness even in movement.

 

Though the shooting process was fairly regimented, lasting till early 2019, there was a sense of adventure, he recalls.

The photographs are sequenced across a mixed bag of themes. Sometimes it’s an emotion or a memory; at other times, they are parts of the city or their urban aesthetic. In a section on ‘Parel’, the photographs take a shot at the controversial mill-lands, while ‘Banganga’ pays homage to Mumbai’s most famous temple pool. ‘Time Travel’ presents nods to a colonial past, and ‘Fantasy’ leads Tekchandaney to consider Mumbai as “a compressed version of Bollywood”. Doing so, Still Bombay takes into account some familiar tropes — the Sea Link and Worli Koliwada, the lowly chawls and the soaring skyscrapers, expectation versus reality—but it’s also a very personal experience of Mumbai.

Producing new writing or images of a cosmopolis that has been documented and interpreted over the centuries is admittedly a daunting task today. Did Tekchandaney find his exercise particularly challenging? No, he says, mainly because he didn’t think about it in those terms. “I am just attracted to this city, and irritated and confounded”. Tekchandaney did not set out to map the city as much as wander through it and create a “photographic travelogue”.

Producing new writing or images of a cosmopolis that has been documented and interpreted over the centuries is admittedly a daunting task today.

Tekchandaney initially approached the city as a designer might, observing its many colours and contrasts. He had originally wanted to produce a “rainbow book” of colour swatches of the city, but Tara Books felt that there was more to his images than just aesthetics, he says. The title also came from the publisher’s suggestion, a nod to Tekchandaney’s attachment to the city of his childhood, before its name was changed. However, Tekchandaney is not a nostalgist. He says, “People hold on to heritage and are a bit averse to change, but the reasons for this seem to be ownership or title; not because of the real value of something. I have a point of view on redevelopment or the kind of development but there is a need to redevelop. One can’t hold on to certain ideas of the past which have no relevance to the present. I look at that as movement in the book.”

Still Bombay is priced at Rs1,100 and will be available from April 4.

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