First of all, Bombay is now known as Mumbai, (Bombay was the official name until 1995, but many people are still attached to it) and is the capital city of the Indian state of Maharashtra. Being the financial, commercial, and entertainment capital, it is the most populous city in India. Just as USA is a ‘land of opportunities’ for people all over the world, Mumbai is the same for those Indian citizens who don’t have the means or the want to travel abroad. Mumbai’s business opportunities, as well as its potential to offer a higher standard of living, attract migrants from all over India, making the city a melting pot of many communities and cultures.
Now, we have all heard of Humans of New York, but what is Humans of Bombay?
Inspired by Brandon Stanton’s widely shared photo blog, Humans of New York, Karishma Mehta’s Humans of Bombay offers an insightful view of Mumbai through a people-led photo series. The 24-year-old street photographer and city chronicler who started Humans of Bombay in January 2014 says, “I love being the point of contact between someone who tells a story and the ones who like to listen.”
A firm believer in the philosophy that everyone has a story, Mehta, a self-taught photographer, is known for sharing vignettes of everyday life in Mumbai. The photo-blog has over 600,000 followers and has garnered a great amount of acclaim for its beautifully captured portraits and anecdotes of thousands of people of Mumbai. And now, you can have the heartwarming anecdotes and pictures as a beautiful coffee table book. Humans of Bombay, written by Mehta, features 100 never-seen-before images, besides popular gems that chronicle everyone from a nonagenarian couple’s ultimate love story to a philanthropic cab driver’s life.
An exceptional read, it tells you tales of people of different walks of life with utmost ingenuity and is a real page turner. In an interview, she talks about her experiences of how this journey started and the stories that really moved her:
The most important life lesson Humans of Bombay has taught you?
The whole journey for me has been about following my passion. I was a business and economics major, and not a trained photojournalist. So I believe that if you follow your passion, things will come to you. It’s just a feeling I started with—holding on to my passion—and it’s something that has been validated after meeting all these people.
The story that moved you the most?
I spoke to a woman who shared with me an intimate story of her time in an abusive relationship and how she got out of it. Over time, we have become great friends. And back then she offered one of the best advice—don’t rush into a marriage.
How do you decide who makes it to the book or the blog?
I feel that every person has a story. In fact, every person I’ve shot till date has been part of my series or the book. Over the years, I’ve mastered this art of extracting stories. In Mumbai, people are always in a rush, so typically they don’t speak longer than two-three minutes, but sometimes conversations get intense and go on for 45 minutes. Some can even be emotionally draining for the speaker and listener. So I start my conversations with “Hi, can I talk to you for two minutes?” and listen without judgment, hoping they open up and find it comforting.
Here are some excerpts from the book:
When I was 14, I used to talk to boys; drive motor cycles, smoke cigarettes and people in Bandra would often call me a whore because of those things. I never understood the term back then, but sure if doing all those things made me a whore– I’d take it gladly. After my father’s death, I moved to Chicago where there were so many like me and it gave me the freedom to get inked, experiment with my hair and just be myself.
One Christmas Eve in Chicago, I walked out of a bar alone late at night in a short dress and red lipstick. I was 24 and had been drinking, when from a dumpster, a group of guys walked up to me and put a gun to my head asking me to give them blow jobs, eventually leading to gang rape. I remember walking home, showering and pushing this incident to the back of my mind for years and never letting it break my spirit – I still wear short dresses and the brightest red on my lips.
In years to come, I got married to my high school sweetheart, faced domestic violence and walked out of the marriage wondering how this could happen to ME, a feminist? It’s because sometimes there are things that are beyond your control. We live in a world where everyone stresses the importance of voicing yourself or walking out of tough situations, but I just want to say this – no one wants to be beaten up, get raped or sell their bodies.
It took me 20 years to voice my incident, but for me a woman keeping it all within her because she has no other choice isn’t a sign of weakness – it’s a mark of strength and something we need to start respecting.”
I’m an 80 year old unmarried woman, and at this stage all I really want is a reason to be happy every day.
What’s that reason for you?
I’m my biggest reason to be happy…celebrating the fact that I’m here, alive and healthy. I don’t think happiness depends on whether you’re married or not, unlike what the Indian society thinks. I’m living with my sister and niece and every single day we’re doing new things to grow and I think that’s what happiness is about– growth and appreciating how fantastic life is.
What are you appreciating today?
The huge piece of cake I’m going to be having after dinner!
I’ve loved painting since I was a little boy and adding color to people’s lives whichever way I can, gives me immense happiness. A few years ago after we finished painting a bungalow the owner took us to a restaurant to celebrate. This had never happened to any of us before– usually we don’t even meet the owner, the contractor pays us off and that’s it.
I was mesmerized because it was the first time I had even seen a fancy restaurant from the inside and given respect. All my life I had eaten only tea and bread, but that day we ate paneer and daal. That has been the highlight of my life, and I pray for that man every single day.
For more poignant stories of Bombay, follow this link:
Photo source: Humans of Bombay