An author, who shuffles between Ottawa and Mumbai, invites you to walk with him on the city's fascinating sidewalks in a new book
Harsha Dehejia looks at paintings by street artists on the Kala Ghoda stretch leading to Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya. Pic/Sayyed Sameer Abedi
Sitting under a tree on a footpath that connects Jehangir Art Gallery with CSMVS, an astrologer reads the kundalis and palms of those keen to know their future. Nearby, a quack sells jadi buti (herbal medicines) sourced from the jungles of India. "Sometimes, will digging up medicines, a snake or scorpion jumps at me," he regales Harsha V Dehejia, as the latter strikes up a conversation with him.
A hawker at Ranade Road in Dadar. “Even art comes alive on a footpath,” says Dehejia. Pic/Datta Kumbhar
These anecdotes that Dehejia, 79, indulges in while strolling down the heritage precinct of Kala Ghoda are part of a 30-minute DVD that accompanies the second edition of his book, Walk With Me On Mumbai Footpaths (Wilco), launched recently.
In the DVD, you'll also find tete-a-tetes with Amin Sayani and Shobhaa De. "Mumbai's footpaths have a life of their own. Many people have started their careers and lives on these footpaths and gone on to become billionaires and movie stars," says De in the video.
Look closer at Pedder Road: On an afternoon stroll on the street in 1980s, Dehejia spotted a cobbler solving a crossword puzzle and down the road, a man sleeping in a bathtub. Pics courtesy/Harsha Dehejia
Blast from the past
Born and bred in Malabar Hill, Dehejia's fascination with footpaths traces back to his college days when he would walk down from Flora Fountain to elphinstone College. That's where he first met the aforementioned astrologer and quack. "I would spend a lot of a time at a street bookstore near Central Telegraph Office. I would also spot artists sketching on the pavements. Today, even 50 years later, you still find these treasures on footpaths. If you talk to those who work or live on them, you'll realise that their courage in trying to make a living is exemplary," says Dehejia, who has a double doctorate, one in medicine and another in ancient Indian culture. Previously, he has authored books on Krishna.
In 1970, he shifted base to Ottawa (Canada) in 1970 where is a faculty member at Carleton University, and also runs a radio show. "However, I hold a strong connect with Mumbai, visiting it at least once a year."
What's in the book?
A condensed version of the previous edition (2011), the book features over 100 photographs, which capture interesting people, and activities that take place on the city's footpaths on a daily basis. In one, a typist sits with his instrument drafting a letter near GPO, while a man naps in a bathtub-turned-bed on Pedder Road in another. The frames also showcase clay pots filled with water placed at a footpath in Chembur, a student preparing for an exam under a street lamp in Worli and kids using a pavement to play gully cricket in Borivali.
"Mumbai's footpaths are full of life, brotherhood, colours, enterprise and commerce, and religion. You'll spot many roadside shrines, which may be illegal from the municipal sense, but offer solace to those living and walking on the footpaths. You'll often see passersby stop at the shrine to offer a prayer. However, to discover their true beauty, you need to rid yourself of the notion that they are chaotic and dirty, and meet them with an open heart."
Many frames date back to 1980s, when Dehejia would pick up his camera and roam around the streets of Mumbai. "Then, in 2007, I was at a coffee shop, showing these photographs to [late historian] Sharada Dwivedi, who suggested that I bring out a book. That's how the project began," he recalls. The book also features photographs contributed by his friends and photographers, Rafiq elias, Chirodeep Chaudhroi and Sailesh Mule among others, along with illustrations by cartoonist Hemant Morparia.
Did you know?
According to Dehejia, the street opposite Wilson College at Chowpatty is the only one in Mumbai named after a footpath
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