Paul Fernandes remembers the Bombay of a simpler time. Living in the city from 1978 to 1983, “when the rent for a room was Rs 700 but one needed to take up three jobs to pay the amount”, he would cycle from Colaba to Flora Fountain for work. It was a beautiful ride — down Causeway, dropping by one of the Irani cafes for breakfast, watching couples queue up for the day’s first show at Regal and dodging the traffic at Flora Fountain. Evenings would be spent at Bade Miyan, where a single grill would churn out delicious kebabs while he contemplated catching the night show at Eros. “In those days, Bombay had an old world charm, but that’s fading away now,” says Fernandes.
However, what the city’s lost, the artist has preserved — in the cartoons he drew over 20 years. These now hang at the 700 sq ft aPaulogy Gallery in Worli, which opens today. aPaulogy will permanently house 100 watercolour works by Fernandes that are reminiscent of the years spent in the four cities he lived in — Bangalore, Mumbai, Goa and Mangalore — capturing the peculiarities of the cities and quirks of its people.
It will also sell merchandise — laptop bags, mugs, table tops — with his sketches printed on them. In addition, Fernandes is contemplating turning the space into a creative hub for the city youth, open to a variety of activities.
An advertising professional, Fernandes always had a leaning towards art but he started to sketch the scenes from the cities only after he moved to his hometown Bangalore from Bombay. It became a means of reminiscing about his early years. He narrates the incident that inspired him to sketch: “Upon a visit to my aunt’s place, she told me how many years ago she went for a night show at Bangalore’s Plaza cinema. When she emerged from the theatre, she found her ambassador standing on a pile of bricks, all four tyres stolen,” he says, laughing.
That day, Fernandes sketched his aunt’s story, drawing the cinema, its sleepy watchman and the old box-office window from memory. “The cinema was no longer around having been torn down years ago,” he says. On showing it to family and friends, Fernandes evoked a sense of nostalgia. Everyone had a Plaza story — some had watched their first adult film there, others remember people-watching in the lobby. One memory triggered another and soon, Fernandes had 70 sketches of old buildings that no longer stood on the streets
Sketching from memory is what added to its charm. In Mumbai, Fernandes would sit for hours on Marine Drive trying to imagine it in the ’70s. He hunted for old pictures and borrowed details of old buildings and structures from friends’ stories.
In his Mumbai collection is a cartoon that shows Marine Drive with the restaurant Talk of the Town (now Pizza by the Bay) and the famous signage by Nana Chudasama that continues to display one-liners on current affairs. A sketch of Leopold shows a clutter-free road with a man on a scooter with his wife perched in the side car. “I often saw this couple on Causeway. When the man had to stop or take a turn, he would raise his right hand. Immediately, the wife’s hand would go up too,” he recounts.
While one goes through his sketches, Fernandes advises against looking for social commentary in his works. He suggests that viewers allow themselves to look at a Bombay when not just the city but even the humour was simple.