Look Up, Mumbai’s Kaali-Peeli Cabs Have the Coolest Ceilings Ever!
You may have lived in Mumbai for years, or visited it as a tourist, but chances are that you haven’t observed the wonderful, vibrant world of design right above your head when you sit in the maximum city’s kaali-peeli taxis. Don’t believe me, right?
Thirty-seven-year-old Rachel Lopez is a Mumbaikar who has been clicking photos of these amazing taxi ceilings and posting them on her Instagram account @thegreaterbombay, converting it into a veritable art gallery. Her work was on display at the recently concluded Kala Ghoda Arts Festival in Mumbai too, drawing massive interest from city-dwellers who had travelled in many a Mumbai taxi, but yet never quite noticed this fascinating overhead gallery.
Finding the Overhead Gallery
That one kaali-peeli cab ride got Rachel, a journalist by profession, hooked onto the artwork on taxi ceilings. “It’s such a wealth of designs, of so many patterns, that seems to have no method to the madness, that no one seems to be noticing in its entirety. And I said to myself, let me see how many pictures I can take. The joke’s on me, because it’s been almost two years now, and I still haven’t run out of designs!”
Where Do These Designs Come From?
So how is it that the taxis in Mumbai have such varied designs on their ceilings, and where do cab-owners get these designs?
Rachel explains, “When a new taxi comes from the factory, it comes with a felt ceiling – a thick blanket-like material. So what the owner of the cab does is that he gives the car to the garage, and then the garage turns that vehicle into a taxi – by fitting a meter, attaching the ‘For Hire’ sign, putting a luggage carrier on the roof, and covering the ceiling with plastic. If the ceiling is not covered, it would get dirty more easily. So it’s the garages that put those decorative taxi ceilings on.”
Why such decoration? Rachel feels it’s because “we are a design, decoration and pattern-loving country.” She adds, “Think about it – why does the back of a truck need to have fountains and hills painted on it? It’s because we love to decorate.”
“My theory is that the same designs that would have otherwise gone on cheap shower curtains and tablecloths are the same ones that have been used in these ceiling covers. So, I suspect that they’re made in warehouses that also print tablecloths, shower curtains and the like. Most of them are made of plastic or vinyl.”Rachel Lopez
Favourite Designs: Flowers, Fruits, Geometry (And Gabbar?)
Over the past couple of years, Rachel says she has found such designs on two out of every three Mumbai cabs. So which are her favourite designs?
“I love fruits. The fruit designs are beautiful, loud and fantastic. The geometric designs are very pretty too, as are the ones with flowers. Fruits, flowers and geometric designs are my favourites. I’m always looking out for more designs – even when I’m sitting in a cab with friends or family, I often get distracted mid-conversation because I’ve spotted a cool design I haven’t seen before in a cab that’s going past me!”
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‘This Art is Pedestrian, and Accessible’
Rachel explains why she chose a street art festival as the first place to exhibit her work. “A lot of people had approached me to showcase this project in art galleries, and I refused because this taxi art gallery is pedestrian in every way – it’s out on the streets, and it’s conventionally “lowbrow.” It’s been over our heads but it’s been under the radar.”
“So, I had this entire collection and I didn’t want 25 intellectuals to hypothesise on it endlessly while the rest of the city didn’t see it. There’s definitely a case for intellectualising it, it’s beautiful and it’s worthy of study – but before that happens, I wanted the world to see it.”Rachel Lopez
“That is why I chose to showcase it at the Kala Ghoda Arts Festival before I showed it anywhere else – because the number of people who walk in to the street festival but have never been to an art gallery, is so high. There were thousands of people who came and saw the installation – and so many of them were shocked, “Oh my God, these are taxis! I’ve lived in Mumbai all my life but never noticed this.”
And I would tell them, “Look, art is all around you, you just have to look sometimes.””