One of the many treats at the ongoing Bhendi Bazaar Urdu Festival is a photography exhibition by Rizwan Mithawala, which gives us views of the Mumbai neighbourhood from within. Mithawala, a 29-yewar-old photojournalist with the Times of India newspaper, lives on Mohammed Ali Road, and has been working on the images that comprise A Journey Through Bhendi Bazaar for several years. One set of pictures were shown at last year’s Bhendi Bazaar Festival. Mithawala hopes to collect enough photographs to publish a book some day.
The photographs have been shot in Bhendi Bazar, Pydhonie, Dongri and Mohammed Ali Road. “I was born here in Mohammed Ali Road and I have been documenting my neighbourhood for the past seven to eight years,” Mithawala said. “I started taking pictures because there was a disconnect with my area – I didn’t have too many friends here and I could not relate that much to many people.” Some of the pictures were taken while he was working as an analyst before he became a photojournalist.
The photographs depict scenes that will be familiar to Mumbai residents who descend on the neighbourhood once a year during Ramzan to feast on the meat preparations and sweetmeats that are sold after fasting has ended. “I am still peeling the layers,” Mithawala said. “I am toying with the idea of exploring lived spaces. This will go on.”
He dealt with the challenges of working amidst the legendary bustle of the neighbourhood by using wide lenses for the close-ups, but the bigger obstacle was to overcome the awkwardness of shooting his backyard. “Sometimes, it is difficult to take out your camera in the area in which you live,” Mithawala said.
His insider status – he lives in Memon Mohalla, or the quarter that houses the Memon community, helped him gain access to the religious places shown in the series. “For instance, it would have been difficult to take pictures of the women at the Abdul Rehman Shah Baba dargah in Dongri, but I managed to do so because I am an insider.”
Parts of the neighbourhood, especially the Bohri Mohalla, where the Bohra community lives, are already in the process of being irrevocably altered by redevelopment projects.
“My project will also depend on how fast this redevelopment happens,” Mithawala said. “Already, you can see the demolitions in the Bohri Mohalla as part of the Saifee Burhani Upliftment Project. This project won’t just affect the Bohri Mohalla, but even the areas around the Minara Masjid and Pydhonie. I will be there to witness it with my camera.”
Image at the top: Moghul Masjid in Dongri, which has verses from the Quran carved on the walls