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Chawl crawl

Atul Loke’s pictures lend a peek into the shared lives inside a 100-year-old, cramped chawl in Mumbai.

art and culture Updated: Feb 13, 2010 01:15 IST
Atul Loke

I grew up in a chawl. We were 10 of us, living in two rooms, each of which was 10 X 10 feet. I have been a photojournalist for over a decade; but this work is more of a personal diary. These images, titled ‘My Chawl: One Big Family’, are those of my home, family, friends, neighbours and their children.

I started shooting when I decided to move out of the chawl into a bigger space. The idea was to preserve the memories of my life in the chawl; its residents who were almost like an extended family to me. I wanted to capture their way of life in my camera.

In my chawl, the doors of the 45 houses are always open. They overlook a common extended balcony. Even toilets are shared. Today, this communal culture is fast fading in Mumbai. Many chawls have already been demolished. The chawl where I lived, and shot these photographs, is 100 years old now. It stands on the cusp of the city’s changing architecture — with the old structures on one hand, and the high-rise buildings on the other — evoking an instant flashback to my chawl days.

(Atul Loke is a freelance photojournalist represented by Panos Pictures UK. He has also been a recipient of the Young Portfolio Award in Japan. He was one of the ten photojournalists to work on the book project ‘New Stories’ based on the millennium development goals with the World Press Photo. These days, Loke is working on his book project in Mumbai.)

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Most families living in Mumbai’s chawls have a minimum of 10 members. And at night, they all share the same space

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Kids play with toy guns in the common balcony. It is in this space that some of the first and everlasting friendships take shape

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A woman enacts the role of goddess Durga. Her husband (left) is supposed to ‘worship’ her as part of an annual chawl ritual