about1.jpgInspired by contemporary Indian authors, Betsy Karel went to Bombay to find visual equivalents of the humanity, humor, mystery and psychological energy of these writers’ stories. Unlike many photographers who are drawn to the cacophony of urban India, she focused, often in an intensely personal way, on individuals going about their everyday lives in the streets of this singular city. Patiently waiting amidst the bustle of Bombay, home to more people than the entire continent of Australia, she captures a poignant lyricism in the familiar. As individuals transform public spaces into private places, forging islands of intimacy, she encounters the true jadoo (Hindi for magic) of Bombay and its people. To accompany the photographs, Suketu Mehta has written a companion piece about his boyhood in Bombay. The book also includes an excerpt from Ardashir Vakil’s Beach Boy.

about3.jpg“Once upon a time, Bombay … My gateway to India has been its contemporary writers and their passions for yesterday’s Bombay, a city now known as Mumbai. The humanity, humor, and psychological intensity of their stories fire my imagination. I challenge myself to try to find visual equivalents of the jadoo – Hindi for magic – found in their novels. I have fallen in love with the mythic mid-twentieth century Bombay…

…I am at the center of a swirling, urban fairy tale on a peninsula in the Arabian Sea, one dotted with pockets of enchanted gardens as well as darker, more threateningly mysterious realms. Gods and spirits are consulted and invoked. In a blink, public spaces become private places – islands of intimacy.”

— from Betsy Karel’s introduction to Bombay Jadoo

about5.jpg“We rented bicycles for a rupee at Teen Batti – we could select from the assortment, and the lucky ones got a racer, the rest the sturdy black Heros. We would ride the bikes up Ridge Road, past Hanging Gardens, and then down the hill to Kemps Corner. That hill was where we let the bikes free, like horses on an easy stretch of road. Only the slightest pressure of the fingers was needed to guide the wheel; often we rode with hands at our sides. When you go very fast everything becomes silent…

The sound, color, and moods of the sea lent heft and weight to my childhood. There were rocks, where the boys from our building would go to catch little fish, trapped in the hollows of the rocks when the tide went out, with our hands (and immediately let them go – we were Gujarati and Marwari Hindus and Jains). As boys, we went to the ground near the sea and tried to describe the sunset. The only comparison my best friend Nitin could come up with was with the ending of a Hindi horror movie, in which there was a similar sunset – blood all over the sky – which might have been allegorical, reflecting the carnage that the hero and the heroine had just passed through. When we went into Eros, Maratha Mandir, Metro, we walked into the theater and saw a mirror. Looking into that mirror, we groomed ourselves accordingly…”

— from My Bombay by Suketu Mehta, author of Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found, Winner, 2005, Kiriyama Prize, Pulitzer Prize Finalist, 2005

about4.jpg“And in the evening, the sea brings people home. The tired thousands who traverse the city on the Western or the Central line, the overland trains, watching the water come and go below their feet, passing by the cars that creep along the curving causeways of Marine Drive, Mahalaxmi, and Mahim. The overcrowded Leyland buses tearing past queues of waiting commuters. The vacant strollers eating air, the lovers along the beaches, the vendors turning up their gas lamps and primping their snacks. Mountains of puffed rice, yellow sev, purple onions, crisp puris, earthenware matkas full of spiced water. As the light softens, fully-clad families amble on the sea front. Men who might roll up their trousers to dip their feet in a wave that obligingly slides their way, pulling the sand from under their toes. Women wrapped in saris, out for a jaunt, not afraid to jump in and wet their heavy clothes. Beggars weaving around the stalls, pleading for a little leftover.

The evening sky descends on them all and the tide goes out without a fuss.”

— from Beach Boy by Ardashir Vakil, Winner of the 1997 Betty Trask Award and short-listed for the Whitbread Award