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A story of Mumbaikars

An unparalleled collection by Mumbai-based design students discovers the nuances of the city's people

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A story of Mumbaikars
Salman Khan, a Victoria driver
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    A tangewala who arrived in Mumbai as a tourist himself; the owner of the famed Café Military; a lady in khaki; an artist on the pavements of Kala Ghoda—what weaves these people together? A compilation of stories of 55 individuals, who made Mumbai their home and have contributed to the fabric of the city in their own way. People Called Mumbai is a project undertaken by ten students of design under the tutelage of Nisha Nair Gupta, established architect and founder of Design Variable. "Through this book, we have tried to look beyond the traditional geographical mapping of a city that an architect tends to do. We have tried to explore the humane aspect of design so that it can form a softer basis of architecture and design," says Gupta.

    Behram Khosravi, owner of Café Military and the protagonist of this story reminisces, "My father changed our name from Golabi to Khosravi to avoid trouble in the future. The city was very different back then; it was nicer. Landlords would willingly sell shops. So, my father bought this place and Café Military was born in 1933. My father brought brun maska, omelettes and bhurji, which weren't made in those days, to Bombay. The place slowly became popular." Khosravi's biggest worry is that with passing time, the old will be replaced by the new. But will Mumbai ever be the same without raspberry soda and brun maska?

    Salim Vagher, a shopkeeper whose business is at Chor Bazaar for the past 35 years, believes that "if you lose something in Mumbai, you can buy it back at Chor Bazaar. As the name suggests, the market was once said to be the home of many stolen goods. You develop a good eye along with experience, which helps you distinguish between the real and the fake." Born to an Ayurvedic doctor and a soft-spoken mother in Jamnagar, Vagher is one of five brothers and the first to step out of his hometown to earn a living. Since then, there has been no looking back for this part-time vaid and 'expert' on antiques and paintings.

    Looking back on his childhood, 48-year-old conservation architect Vikas Dilawari, says, "One of the favourite pastimes during our childhood was to play with dragonflies and butterflies. In those days, there were no compound walls for buildings, so my friends and I often spilled out on to the road to play cricket. There were a few talaos and many trees and birds. Mumbai gave me a beautiful childhood. However, the birds started disappearing slowly and the residents started building compounds walls for safety. Then came the car parks in the compound along with box windows, grills, CCTV cameras and the list goes on. The concept of neighbourhood friends does not exist anymore." Rajabai Clock Tower, Bhau Daji Lad Museum, Flora Fountain and Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus are some of the iconic structures restored by this skilled Kashmiri-turned -Mumbaikar.

    Ahmednagar resident Pramila Kshirsagar came to Mumbai to take charge as a sub-inspector at the Gamdevi police station, next to Kamathipura, an area that women shy away from even in broad daylight. "I entered the police force because I lived in poverty and there was no family to support me. After a gruelling training period, I attained this post. I have ambitions of becoming a DYSP," elaborates Kshirsagar. Having fought against societal pressures as a married woman expected to take care of domestic duties, Kshirsagar today joins ranks with her male counterparts with pride.

    Salman Khan was orphaned a day after arriving in Mumbai from Chennai when his parents and two sisters were murdered during the 90s riots. Since then, he has turned to odd jobs to keep himself afloat in this, often cruel, city, including leading a life of crime. Khan has now turned a new leaf. He began supporting himself by riding the Victoria around the Gateway of India. Now, married and father to a six-month-old daughter, he hopes to "take my family to Chennai so that my daughter doesn't get to see the side of Mumbai that I have seen. It seems like a journey that will take me back to where it all began."

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