Lensman Jatan Atara helps you re-discover some of Mumbai's iconic neighbourhoods not just by walking though its bylanes but also by capturing images that showcase the true stories that lie hidden around every corner. Dhvani Solani went on one such trigger-happy trail that threw new light on Kumbharwada (Potter's Colony) in Dharavi
The reticent man with a skull cap and kurta-pyjama slapped the clay on a manually-driven potter's wheel, whirring it around with a stick. In a couple of minutes, a shapeless lump of clay took form, growing almost magically to form an earthen flowerpot. Every few minutes, the man in front of us donned the avatar of a creator, with a little help from his nimble, well-trained fingers and palms. For us, though, he was an apathetic subject of a photo walk that was underway in the busy, circuitous bylanes of Kumbhar-wada in Dharavi.
We were with Jatan Atara -- a photographer with a penchant for portrait and travel photography -- who has been taking people around neighbourhoods with a character, for over a year. As you walk around these places, Jatan urges you to use your camera to shoot telling images of the place and its people. Typically, such walks take place over a couple of hours on a weekend, where the group meets with Jatan either a day or an hour earlier to know the basic technicalities that go into making a good photograph.
After the initiation, the Matunga-based photographer leads the group into the heart of the neighbourhood, giving them a free rein to shoot, converse with the locals, pepper their info with nuggets of trivia and round it all up with a review session of the photographs clicked by the participants.
When we began our walk in the famous Potter's Colony at Dharavi, immediately, we got busy clicking the first interesting stack of freshly moulded pots on offer. After we were done with this set, Jatan encouraged us to look around, ensuring we took notes of the earthy tones and rugged textures around us.
Jatan Atara with Dhvani Solani inside Kumbharwada. Pics/ Sayed
Soon, we were taught to see one element from different angles, and realised how close-minded we are as we approach such subjects in our daily lives. Clearly, had we been ambling around this neighbourhood, chances of noticing interesting textures of the corrugated tin sheets, the mould taking residence on one of the pots, a petite woman dwarfed by hundreds of earthen matkas or the electric wires above would have been lost in the din.
In the community mould
Kumbharwada is home to generations of families who have migrated from Saurashtra in Gujarat; these families work with clay to mould pots, diyas and flowerpots while residing inside tiny houses in this buzzing neighbourhood. From pounding the clay with bare feet, to moulding it, laying it out to dry and baking it in kilns, it's done within this friendly colony. The kumbhars (potters) will welcome you into their houses, ready for a chat, as they offer you chai in a clay tumbler and readily give you a free session in pottery.
Since Jatan is fluent in Gujarati, it makes it easier for him and his group to break into the potters' comfort zone and shoot them uninhibitedly. Focus, framing, light, compositions, textures, patterns, angles and portraits -- it's fun dabbling in outdoor photography alongside uncovering a layer of the city we inhabit. In our case, it felt good to make a muse of a place where the common man turns creator.
Call: Jatan Atara on 9833904465
Cost: Most walks are Rs 1,200 per head
Walk the talk
Jatan also conducts photo walks across other Mumbai landmarks:
> Kanheri Caves at Sanjay Gandhi National Park
> Elephanta Caves
> Around CST Station and Crawford Market
> Flora Fountain