India Insight

from Photographers' Blog:

Farewell old lady of Mumbai

By Vivek Prakash

Many things are uncertain in Mumbai - the weather, the possibility of an appointment actually happening on time, the chance of getting through the city without hitting some obstacle or other…

But one thing is perfectly certain: you’re wanted at the traffic jam, they're saving you a seat.

If, like me, you think owning a car in Mumbai is a pointless waste of time, you will take a taxi several times a week. So your place in Mumbai’s permanent gridlock is likely to be inside a Premier Padmini taxi, a vehicle I have come to think of as the grand old dame of Mumbai's streets.

The car is not a sexy young model. It is a solid, dependable companion. Clad in a black and yellow uniform, it is an anachronism still plodding through the city streets nearly fifty years after it was first designed.

Gallery: Mumbai's ancient taxis

But nothing lasts forever. A couple of years ago, the government issued an order that all taxis over 25 years old have to be retired. So before they vanish from Mumbai's streets forever, I set out to find out everything I could about these taxis.

Spending time in ‘Narcopolis’ with Jeet Thayil

I spent some time talking with Jeet Thayil, whose book on Mumbai and opium culture is a contender for this year’s Man Booker Prize, which will be awarded on Oct. 16. You can read the interview that we published on the Reuters news wire. Here are some excerpts:

Q: Does this make you feel strongly about the city?

A: “Bombay does that to people. It makes a (connection) with you. It makes it difficult for you. It bludgeons you. I’ve been reading about that area, Shuklaji street. It is disappearing now – Kamatipura, Shuklaji street, (the) entire area between Mumbai Central and Grant Road is disappearing, being bought away by real estate sharks who are buying up all the broken-down houses and making tall buildings. So very soon that entire district will disappear, and with it a million stories.

Q: In an interview you used the word “seductive” for Bombay. In “Narcopolis”, words seem to come from under a cloud of smoke. Is there a parallel you have drawn between opium and Mumbai?

Do Indians need a licence to drink?

After police busted a rave in a swanky part of Mumbai last week, the city’s drinkers have woken up with an almighty legal hangover.

Authorities have decided to enforce a 63-year-old law that requires every adult above the age of 25 to own a permit for alcohol consumption.

According to the Bombay Prohibition Act, introduced in 1949, every drinker in Mumbai needs a government permit — 5 rupees for a daily licence and 1,000 rupees ($18) for a lifetime permit.

More than Lokpal, does Anna need a speech writer?

By Diksha Madhok

The self-styled crusader against corruption, the “modern Gandhi”  — Anna Hazare — has managed to pick on one of the most marginalized sections of Indian society. While pitching for a strong Lokpal Bill on Tuesday, Hazare resorted to an unfortunate idiom about childless women, when he said, “Banjh kya jaane prasuti vedana (what would an infertile woman know about labour pain)?”

However the word in Hindi, “banjh”, does not have the same clean and scientific connotation as “infertile” or “sterile”. It means “barren” and is used as a derogatory term for women who fail to bear children. A woman who does not produce a child loses her social status inside and outside the house. While the ostracism in urban India may not be as obvious, contempt for childless women is reinforced through colloquialism and Bollywood.

Popular culture still depicts women who don’t reproduce, even if it is out of choice, as incomplete and good-for-nothing. It is not uncommon for infertile women to be barred from baby shower or child-naming ceremonies as they are considered the harbingers of ill-omen. Even if the husband is infertile, the wife ends up shouldering the blame for a childless marriage and is often subjected to treatments ranging from exorcism to numerology. Subordination, violence and estrangement are all likely consequences of infertility for a woman.

from Photographers' Blog:

License to kill

By Danish Siddiqui

 

Mumbai provides everyone living in it with an opportunity to earn and survive. Be it a white-collared job in a multinational company located in one of the city’s plush high rise buildings or killing rats by night in the filthiest and dirtiest parts of India's financial capital. This time, my tryst was with the latter.

I decided I wanted to meet Mumbai's rat-killer army employed by the city's civic body. Very little is known about this tireless force that works the bylanes of the metropolis every night. Mumbai's municipal corporation employs 44 rat killers and also has a freelance contingent, who aspire to be on the payrolls one day. Employees of the pest control department receive a salary of 15,000 to 17,000 Indian Rupees ($294 to 333) while contract laborers are paid 5 Indian rupees ($0.10) per rat they kill. The rat killers are expected to kill at least 30 rodents per night and hand over the carcasses to civic officials in the morning. If they fall short by even one rodent, they are expected to make it up the next night or else they stand to lose a day’s pay.

I zeroed in on a family living in the eastern suburbs of Mumbai, six of whom kill rats for a living. The oldest of them is Javed Sheikh, 61, who has been killing rats for the last four decades. The youngest rat-killer, on the other hand, is Javed's son, 12-year old Waseem Sheikh. Only the father and the eldest son are employed by the sanitation department of Mumbai’s municipal corporation; the rest work as freelancers.

from Photographers' Blog:

Circus nostalgia

By Vivek Prakash

There are a couple of stories I've been waiting to do since I heard that I'd be moving to India last year. Maybe it's part nostalgia, part fascination, but I'm happy to be able to interpret these stories visually, finally.

The last time I was at a circus was some twenty-five years ago. My father brought me to the Bandra Reclamation in Mumbai to see it. I can't remember which one it was, maybe the Apollo Circus? I remember the smell of fresh dirt and popcorn. There were fireworks. There was a dome where three people on motorbikes rode on the walls without crashing into each other. There were big cats; lions and tigers with some jumping through flaming hoops. I was wide-eyed and thrilled. I've dreamed of seeing and photographing that show for years.

Twenty-five years later, I came to the very same location, with a camera in hand. When the Rambo Circus pitched tent, I jumped at the chance to spend a few days documenting what Indian circuses are like. This place has been in my imagination for so long.

from Photographers' Blog:

Jostling for space in Mumbai

By Danish Siddiqui

To live in the world’s second most populous country and city is itself an experience. When I was asked to do a feature story on the world's population crossing the 7 billion mark, I realized it wasn’t going to be an easy task. This was simply because there were so many stories to tell in this city of dreams, Mumbai.

I chose to do a story on the living conditions of Mumbai’s migrant population who pour in to the city by the hour.

I decided to go to a slum which is inhabited mostly by migrants arriving from the northern part of India in search of a better future. Most of the migrants who live there work as taxi drivers and manual laborers. It was difficult to get access as they were always apprehensive of journalists. But I was able to convince a couple of them over a cup of tea after which they opened the doors of their one room world to me.

U.S. consulate for sale, in India’s daily paper

For sale: a spacious, well-built Mumbai townhouse with beautiful views, well-heeled neighbours and one considerate, well-respected former owner.

Lodged between an advert for hair loss treatment and an article on illicit after-hours drinking in India’s commercial hub, the U.S. government consulate in Mumbai invited bids for its two consulate properties in Tuesday’s Times of India newspaper.

The consulate building, located at a much sought-after address in the exclusive Breach Candy neighbourhood in the south of the city, has long been outgrown by its inhabitants, who already have a new location in Mumbai’s northern business district.

from Photographers' Blog:

Editing thousands of cricket pictures a day

Sports and Action photography is all about timing. It’s about reacting. It’s about being in the right place at the right time and it’s about execution.

India's Gautam Gambhir is bowled by Sri Lanka's Thisara Perera during their ICC Cricket World Cup final match in Mumbai April 2, 2011.                          REUTERS/Philip Brown

These are all qualities of the athlete and those of the photographer covering them as well. Each sport has predictable and unpredictable moments. For instance, in cricket, photographers will have opportunities to capture jump shots, players diving to make the crease, diving to take a catch, diving to field the ball, a bowler leaping in the air as he bowls, a batsman screaming in joy on reaching his century, etc. Understanding the timing of these predictable actions allows a photographer to capture the peak moment; when the action is most dramatic.

Before I start editing I always have a brief chat with the photographers about what could be the day’s great picture. The staff never fail to deliver and meet expectations. I briefed two photographers covering matches from the quarter-finals onwards not to forget to look for emotion in the players and the fans. A good number of the best shots come from the crowd. I received a bunch of nice pictures of the crowd from the final.

from Summit Notebook:

A bubble in the real estate market?

INDIA-URBANISATION/Have you tried buying or renting a house in Mumbai recently? If so, then I won’t be surprised if you think real estate prices are plain expensive, and incredibly so. But that’s almost always been the case in India’s commercial capital. After all, when was the last time someone told you they got a cheap house in the city?

So is the real estate market in a bubble? We asked Adi Godrej, the man who controls Godrej Properties, if things could get bubblicious. This is what he had to say: “I don’t think we are in a bubble, because demand is strong, but we could get into a bubble.”

Godrej, whose family fortune is estimated to be about $5.2 billion, doesn’t really care if prices go up in south Mumbai’s old-money neighbourhoods such as Malabar Hill or Altamont Road, where Reliance Industries chairman, billionaire Mukesh Ambani, is building a 27-storey $1 billion home.

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