Mumbai's historic Sassoon Docks gets a makeover

Updated: Nov 18, 2017, 15:08 IST | Shunashir Sen

The historic fishing area has been given a makeover. But let's hope that it's not a temporary one

A long line of warehouses lie in a state of disrepair in one corner of Sassoon Docks, next to where the fishermen anchor their boats after the morning's catch. They were used to store sundry goods like cotton and hemp around 1910, with the Koli community later taking over to clean the piles of fish that constitute their bread and butter. Today, however, most of them are filled with nothing but the sea-washed sands of time. They tower over the other structures around them as an insignia to an industrial past that made the city what it is in modern times.

A bird's-eye view of the area where the Dock Jam will be held
A bird's-eye view of the area where the Dock Jam will be held

But one of them, the one closest to the sea at the western end, has been given a new lease of life. St+art India Foundation, an organisation that champions the cause of street art, has turned the precincts of this warehouse into a temporary hub of contemporary culture till December 30. You enter the imposing three-storey space to find some form of art installation or the other at every turn. That apart, the venue will host an assortment of workshops, along with a hip-hop event slated for Sunday.

A fisherman outside a transformed warehouse. Pic/Datta Kumbhar
A fisherman outside a transformed warehouse. Pic/Datta Kumbhar

The hope, though, is to persist with this makeover for a longer period of time. "It is nothing but a hope at present," says Giulia Ambrogi, the organisation's 33-year-old co-founder, adding, "The venue was initially supposed to be returned to the fishing community. But now the state government and MbPT (Mumbai Port Trust) seem keen to create a cultural hub there."

A crew that is part of SlumGods, which is organising The Dock Jam. Pic/Vineet Nair
A crew that is part of SlumGods, which is organising The Dock Jam. Pic/Vineet Nair

This means, then, that after the promising start and eventual fade-out of Richardson and Crudass in Byculla, Mumbai might just get another industrial warehouse where the city's cultural cognoscenti can host events. The final word on this, of course, lies with the authorities. But if they do give the go-ahead, the programming at the venue would have to be carefully curated, Ambrogi says.

"If we get the place for a longer period of time, we will open it up to all the major colleges of Mumbai and NGOs who are working in fields aligned to ours. We will also host workshops and other forms of art, like music and dance performances. It is an infinite pool that can be exploited to make it a larger cultural space. But, again, this is just a hope we have, which the chairman and trustees of MbPT [which has jurisdiction over the place] also shared at the opening since they were happy about how things have shaped up," she says.

The MbPT's nod of approval apart, other entities connected with the event - including the fishing community, says Ambrogi - are also seeing the turnaround of the defunct warehouse in a favourable light. We contacted Vineet Nair aka Poetik Justis of SlumGods, a hip-hop collective that is organising the rap cypher and b-boy battle slated for Sunday, and he says, "The Dock Jam [as the event is called] is unique because it is the first time such an event will be held at Sassoon Docks since its inception hundreds of years ago... it means a lot for the people who will be performing there."

Ambrogi adds, "Everyone knows about Sassoon Docks, but very few have actually stepped in there. So, we wanted to unlock it. When we were first shown around the place, it was literally a pile of trash. The warehouses were half broken down and it was really dirty. But we felt the energy and the strong character of the place. So, we restructured it with the help of fisherwomen because we wanted to work with the community."

The most important point she makes, however, is about how places that once helped shape the urban fabric of a city are discarded from its memory as the decades roll by. "Industrial spaces are really charming because they have a history, with massive structures and a roughness of spirit. But there are so many of these places that we are neglecting, and that is something we all have to think about," she says.

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