Major cities with major ambitions – isn’t that the narrative of India’s promising cities these days?
But somewhere between the industrial and the fast-paced, we’ve ignored the slow moving, the non-mechanical and the leisurely bits of our cities.
It takes a special labour, a deep sense of purpose, some steely nerve ( and lots of time and patience!) to track such stories and bring them to life.
Ask Nisha Nair Gupta, Founder and Curator of The People Place Project, who has been diligently documenting the stories of people from across Indian cities. Her first, People Called Mumbai, was launched in January last year, and she is now moving a state above, to bring out People Called Ahmedabad next.
Now, there is no dearth of storytellers in the ‘Maximum City’ and so, those living outside of it too are acquainted well with the different kinds of Mumbai – right from Bandra’s bourgeoisie to Dongri’s bylanes and its infamous bhais.
But Ahmedabad? Aside from its unfortunate location of being at the epicenter of India’s ghastliest riots in recent history, and its location as the hub of India’s design schools (MICA and NID) and even the most fanciful IIM, and of course its “dry”, parched status, little else is known of it. Exactly what Nisha hopes to demolish, through her sharp curation of life in Ahmedabad.
As Budharbhai’s daughter Manju walks out of their little shack with bhaji puri on a plate, the question as to why the settlement is called Hollywood basti quickly disappears. The rustic beauty of the women here is often compared to that of women in Hollywood.People Called Ahmedabad
Would we ever get to know of Budharbhai Bhati, a construction worker and the sixth generation of his family to live in the basti who, like many in the slum, makes Ganesha idols, and sometimes even an occasional Hulk?
“The kids already know a lot about making the moulds, casting, and painting the idols once they are ready. I hope they continue to do so. I hope everyone here does so. I cannot imagine this basti without the idols now.”Budharbhai Bhati, Construction Worker
Then there’s Esther David, a woman with Jewish roots but Ahmedabad running through her veins, who has been documenting the stories of the Bene Israel community living in the state for many years.
Esther is conscious of different religious identities. Here’s an excerpt from the book that tells us more.
She (Esther) goes on to tell me a legend of Ahmedabad connected with the worship of Lakshmi in the old city. The city’s inhabitants believe that it is the presence of the goddess in the city that helps shops and businesses prosper – the lighting of the Lakshmi lamp is a very old tradition, something that Jafferbhai’s family have been doing for generations.Sriram Natarajan on Esther David in People Called Ahmedabad
The La Bella aunty, who has been dishing out Goan style curries for affordable prices in Mirzapur, the old part of the city, is now one of the few Roman Catholics left in the Surya Mills Compound, an area that was badly affected by the 2002 riots.
Once upon a time, La Bella would often became an informal venue of sorts – for impromptu screenings of short films by NID students the day after their juries, loud discussions about freedom of expression, and even a post-match team meeting during college football tournaments. In the background, at all times, was the presence of Auntie – her short, frail frame pottering about in that tiny kitchen, always wearing a knee length skirt and those socks, even in the summer. Auntie is a beloved figure amongst Ahmedabad’s student crowd, especially outstate students with occasional chicken cutlet cravings in the predominantly vegetarian city. She is beloved for never raising the prices of dishes, even when ingredient costs went up, because she wanted it to remain affordable for students. She is beloved for never forgetting her regular customers and doting over them as if they were her own children.People Called Ahmedabad
The arid regions of Gujarat house a plethora of colour, textiles, and a rich costume heritage, something that Archana Shah has been focusing on through her brand Bandhej since the past three decades.
Bandhej presents sarees and stoles in khadi, organic cotton, tie dye bandhanis, ikats, patolas, and indigenous Gujarati embroideries.
Gujarat shares its border with Pakistan at a mere distance of 300 kilometers from Ahmedabad. The dirty face of partition brought infinite communities in the state. One such community that settled in Ahmedabad was Meghwal. The community is known for residing in small hamlets of colorful round, mud-brick huts. The primitive Meghwal women boast of traditions of intricate mirror inlays, weaving, and embroidery of wool and cotton, detailed costumes and jewelry and woodcarving which continue to uphold the integrity of the community.People Called Ahmedabad
55 characters such as these, that might not be unusual but are certainly distinct, will find permanence through this book, that has still not been fully published, as the team is currently crowdfunding through Wishberry to launch its Ahmedabad chapter.
Next on Nisha’s mind are projects documenting the people of Kochi and the people of Shillong.
Started in 2014 as an academic exercise in the Design Variable Architecture Studio, the People Place Project has come to be a catalogue of dream.