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Photos: In just one generation, Mumbai has forgotten that it has four rivers

A photography instructor documents the change along Dahisar river.

Mumbai’s relation with water is complex, and nowhere is this most apparent than in the metropolis’ treatment of the four rivers – Dahisar, Poisar, Oshiwara and Mithi – which run through it. Over the years, they have come to be ravaged by pollution and urbanisation and scarcely resemble what they once were. It is this transformation that photographer Aslam Saiyad wanted to capture in his photo project Discovering The Forgotten Rivers Of Bombay.

The 39-year-old, who is a photography instructor and a manager at an animation school, recalled a happy childhood spent visiting the Dahisar river inside the Sanjay Gandhi National Park in Borivali, where he grew up. He remembered a pristine environment where families could once go for picnics. Old-timers he spoke to reminisce about swimming in its once crystal-clear waters.

“Now you talk to today’s generation and they don’t even remember that the city has four rivers,” Saiyad said. “Everyone knows Mithi river but that has become a nalla.”

Image credit: Aslam Saiyad
Image credit: Aslam Saiyad
Image credit: Aslam Saiyad
Image credit: Aslam Saiyad

Saiyad began visiting the Dahisar river while documenting the work of the River March project, whose goal was to clean up Mumbai’s rivers. During that time, he came across Adivasi communities who lived inside the national park. “I noticed some children standing in school uniforms a few kilometres inside the park,” Saiyad recalled. “They were getting ready to go to a school which was 7km away. And it surprised me because people living in one of the world’s richest municipalities didn’t have a basic mode of transportation to go to school.”

So Saiyad began to spend time on weekends in the national park, getting to know the communities. The focus of his project was not just the river but the communities around it. “Many of the communities here are dying out,” the self-taught photographer said. “I remember going for a function organised by the East Indian community where one of the banners read: ‘If our language dies out, with that we will also die out.’ So I want to tell stories of the river through the communities that live around it.”

Image credit: Aslam Saiyad
Image credit: Aslam Saiyad

The photographs document the livelihoods of the communities. Quite a few of them include portraits of lovers who are a world away from the bustle of the metropolis. “I feel like they make an ironic comment on the state of the river,” Saiyad said. “No-one will imagine that at the source of a gutter, lovers can have a quiet moment. People in the city don’t believe me when I tell them that the river is beautiful. Only my pictures serve as proof.”

Saiyad is planning to collect photographs taken by other people who visited the river in better times, as a documentation of their memories. This is why the title of his series Discovering The Forgotten Rivers Of Bombay includes Bombay, because the rivers that were forgotten existed in the time when Mumbai was known by its other name.

Image credit: Aslam Saiyad
Image credit: Aslam Saiyad
Image credit: Aslam Saiyad
Image credit: Aslam Saiyad

The first part of Discovering The Forgotten Rivers Of Bombay is centered around Dahisar river, and was exhibited early in March on the banks of his subject. “Sadness is an understatement for the feeling you get when you see the exhibition and the river behind it,” said Padmashree winner Sudharak Olwe, who inaugurated the project. “The pictures are there and the river is flowing and you question yourself, really what we are doing with the river? In most cities, rivers are the lifeline and in Mumbai, our lifeline has become the gutter.” Along with photographers Chirodeep Chaudhuri, Indrajit Khambe and Ritesh Uttamchandani, Olwe guided Saiyad on the project.

Saiyad is also working on a photography series called Finding Tukaram, which will explore the route that devotees of the saint take, but he has no plans to exhibit this work in an art gallery. “I have always thought that if I ever do a photography project, I will show it to the people who are part of it,” he offered by way of explanation. “I want to take this project to the street and only then can a dialogue be built around it.”

Image credit: Aslam Saiyad
Image credit: Aslam Saiyad
Image credit: Aslam Saiyad
Image credit: Aslam Saiyad

For now, Saiyad sees no end in sight. “Many photographers have told me it’s a lifetime project,” Saiyad said referring to his forgotten rivers project. “I am going to do it as long as I don’t get bored. The geographies are constantly changing and there are lot of dynamics to it so I don’t think I ever will.”

Image credit: Aslam Saiyad
Image credit: Aslam Saiyad
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From Indian pizzas in San Francisco to bhangra competitions in Boston

A guide to the Indian heart of these American cities.

The United States of America has for long been more than a tourist destination for Indians. With Indians making up the second largest immigrant group in the USA, North American cities have a lot to offer to the travel weary Indian tourist. There are umpteen reasons for an Indian to visit vibrant education and cultural hubs like Boston and San Francisco. But if you don’t have a well-adjusted cousin to guide you through the well-kept Indian secrets, this guide to the Indian heart of Boston and San Francisco should suffice for when you crave your fix.

Boston

If you aren’t easily spooked, Boston is the best place to be at in October due to its proximity to Salem. You can visit the Salem Witch Village to learn about present-day wiccans and authentic witchcraft, or attend séances and Halloween parades with ghosts, ghouls and other frightening creatures giving you a true glimpse of America during Halloween. But the macabre spirit soon gives way to a dazzling array of Christmas lighting for the next two months. The famed big Christmas trees are accompanied by festive celebrations and traditions. Don’t miss The Nutcracker, the sugar-laced Christmas adventure.

While it upholds its traditions, Boston is a highly inclusive and experimental university town. It welcomes scores of Indian students every year. Its inclusiveness can be gauged from the fact that Berklee College of Music released a well-received cover of AR Rahman’s Jiya Jale. The group, called the Berklee Indian Ensemble, creates compositions inspired by Indian musical styles like the Carnatic thillana and qawwali.

Boston’s Bollywood craze is quite widespread beyond the campuses too. Apple Cinemas in Cambridge and Regal Fenway Cinemas in Fenway can be your weekly fix as they screen all the major upcoming Bollywood movies. Boston tends to be the fighting ground for South Asian Showdowns in which teams from all over the North-Eastern coast gather for Bollywood-themed dance offs. The Bhangra competitions, especially, are held with the same energy and vigour as back home and are open to locals and tourists alike. If nothing else, there are always Bollywood flash mob projects you can take part in to feel proudly desi in a foreign land.

While travellers love to experiment with food, most Indian travellers will agree that they need their spice fix in the middle of any foreign trip. In that respect, Boston has enough to satisfy cravings for Indian food. North Indian cuisine is popular and widely available, but delicious South Indian fare can also be found at Udupi Bhavan. At Punjab Palace, you can dig into a typical North Indian meal while catching a Bollywood flick on one of their TVs. Head to Barbecue International for cross-continental fusion experiments, like fire-roasted Punjabi-style wings with mint and chilli sauce.

Boston is prominent on the radar of Indian parents scouting for universities abroad and the admission season especially sees a lot of prospective students and parents looking for campus tours and visits. To plan your visit, click here.

San Francisco

San Francisco is an art lover’s delight. The admission-free Trolley Dances, performed in October, focus on engaging with the communities via site-specific choreographies that reflect the city’s cultural diversity. Literature lovers can experience a Dickensian Christmas and a Victorian holiday party at The Great Dickens Christmas Fair, a month-long gala affair starting in November.

As an Indian, you’ll be spoilt for choice in San Francisco, especially with regards to food. San Francisco’s sizeable Indian population, for example, has several aces hidden up its sleeve. Take this video by Eater, which claims that the ‘Indian’ pizza at Zante’s Restaurant is the city’s best kept secret that needs outing. Desi citizens of San Francisco are big on culinary innovation, as is evident from the popularity of the food truck Curry Up Now. With a vibrant menu featuring Itsy Bitsy Naan Bits and Bunty Burrito and more, it’s not hard to see why it is a favourite among locals. Sunnyvale, with its large concentration of Indians also has quirky food on offer. If you wish to sample Veer Zaara Pizza, Dabangg Pizza or Agneepath Pizza, head to Tasty Subs & Pizza.

There are several Indian temples in Sunnyvale, Fremont and San Jose that also act as effective community spaces for gatherings. Apart from cultural events, they even hold free-for-all feasts that you can attend. A little-known haven of peace is the Sankat Mochan Hanuman Temple. Their Anjaneya World Cafe serves delicious mango lassi; the beverage is a big hit among the local population.

If you’re looking for an Indian movie fix during your travels, the San Francisco International South Asian Film Festival’s theme this year is Bollywood and Beyond. Indian film enthusiasts are in for a treat with indie projects, art-house classics, documentaries and other notable films from the subcontinent being screened.

San Francisco’s autumn has been described as ‘Indian summer’ by the locals and is another good season to consider while planning a trip. The weather lends more vigour to an already vibrant cultural scene. To plan your trip, click here.

An Indian traveller is indeed spoilt for choice in Boston and San Francisco as an Indian fix is usually available just around the corner. Offering connectivity to both these cities, Lufthansa too provides a rich experience of Indian hospitality to all flyers on board its India-bound flights and flights departing from India. You can expect a greeting of Namaste by an all-Indian crew, Indian food, and popular Indian in-flight entertainment options, making the airline More Indian than You Think. And as the video shows, India’s culture and hospitality have been internalized by Lufthansa to the extent that they now offer a definitive Indian flying experience.

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This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Lufthansa as part of their More Indian Than You Think initiative and not by the Scroll editorial team.