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A city changes

Third of a series, Bombay Then, Mumbai Now attempts to capture the metamorphosis of the metropolis, reports Purva Mehra.

books Updated: Dec 06, 2009 01:33 IST
Purva Mehra

Third of a series, Bombay Then, Mumbai Now attempts to capture the metamorphosis of the metropolis

In 2006, Roli Books came out with a lavishly produced coffee table book called India: Then and Now intended for readers to discover India’s rich cultural and historical heritage pre- and post-Independence.

Judging by its success, the formula was duplicated for cities such as Delhi (Delhi: Then and Now) and Mumbai that have contributed the chequered mosaic of India’s past. Bombay Then and Mumbai Now, third in the continuing series and Roli’s latest offering, is at once unique as it highlights starkly the city’s duality pre- and post-Independence as suggested by the city’s two names.

In Bombay Then, historian Jim Masselos plunges into the city’s textured past starting with the ‘insignificant cluster of islets’ that metamorphose into one of Asia’s most promising cultural destinations.

In Mumbai Now, author Naresh Fernandes draws on the memories and personal histories of his grandparents and parents who moved to Bombay from Goa and recounts through his own fortunate reportage events that led to the genesis of Mumbai.

Each section has been richly illustrated with photographs curated by Pramod Kapoor (Bombay Then) and Chirodeep Chaudhuri (Mumbai Now) that best highlight the city’s timeless past and chaotic present.

About the contributors...

Naresh Fernandes

Editor-in-chief of Time Out India and co-editor of Bombay Meri Jaan

Fernandes has previously worked with The Times of India in Mumbai and the Wall Street Journal in New York. In the essay Mumbai Now, Fernandes speaks of a single moment that dramatically changes the character of a metropolis. According to him the violence that resulted in Mumbai in 1992-93 after the demolition of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya, is that defining moment in the contemporary history of the city.

“It took me weeks to tackle the subject because on my book shelf alone are 250 other books on the city. It wasn’t easy to isolate what I wanted to write especially since I had to provide broad snapshots of the past 50 years, which is why I thought of weaving in the personal element as a narrative thread,” said Fernandes.

Chirodeep Chaudhari

National Photo Editor of Time Out India

Chaudhuri’s work is part of the permanent collections of the Kiyosato Museum of Photographic Arts (Japan) and the Museum of Fine Arts (Houston, USA).

“Here we were looking at a popular portrait of Mumbai, in terms of its communities, messed up infrastructure and political issues. I’ve tried to create episodes through the pictures as the book largely tells the story through them. Like we have pictures of the whole Mahim-water-turning-sweet episode. Through these images we wanted to communicate failure of infrastructure due to which citizens turned to divine intervention. When working on the book, the sealink was under construction, so we had very different images of the bridge from the ones you see today,” said Chaudhuri.

Pramod Kapoor

Publisher and collector of historical records and photographs

Kapoor has compiled books like the Unforgettable Maharajas and India: Then and Now.
“Because of the strong British presence in Bombay I found excellent material in the archives of the Asiatic Society of London, such as unusual images of how docks were built. I also acquired very charming images from Chor Bazaar, original.

To avoid overlap with other photographic books on the city we concentrated on people images instead of buildings. The cover image for instance was sourced from the Tata Archives and we realised after publishing that the little boy in the picture is Jamshetji Tata, a fact not known to many at the archives either, we stumbled on the information serendipitously,” said Kapoor.

Jim Masselos

Historian and honorary reader in history at the University of Sydney

Masselos did his BA at the University of Sydney and came to Bombay on a Government of India Commonwealth Scholarship to study for a doctorate at the Heras Institute of Indian History and Culture and St. Xavier’s College.
Masselos has co-authored Indian Nationalism: An History and has also co-edited Bombay and Mumbai: The City in Transition.

“I have been researching Bombay/Mumbai since I was a student. I hope what people get from reading the essay is a sense that it is the city as they know it and have known it in the past but also get a sense of freshness in seeing, of the way it grew and changed and what it has become,” said Masselos.