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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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“My body instantly craves chai and samosa”

German expats talk about adapting to India, and the surprising similarities between the two cultures.

The cultural similarities between Germany and India are well known, especially with regards to the language. Linguists believe that Sanskrit and German share the same Indo-Germanic heritage of languages. A quick comparison indeed holds up theory - ratha in Sanskrit (chariot) is rad in German, aksha (axle) in Sanskrit is achse in German and so on. Germans have long held a fascination for Indology and Sanskrit. While Max Müller is still admired for his translation of ancient Indian scriptures, other German intellectuals such as Goethe, Herder and Schlegel were deeply influenced by Kalidasa. His poetry is said to have informed Goethe’s plays, and inspired Schlegel to eventually introduce formal Indology in Germany. Beyond the arts and academia, Indian influences even found their way into German fast food! Indians would recognise the famous German curry powder as a modification of the Indian masala mix. It’s most popular application is the currywurst - fried sausage covered in curried ketchup.

It is no wonder then that German travellers in India find a quite a lot in common between the two cultures, even today. Some, especially those who’ve settled here, even confess to Indian culture growing on them with time. Isabelle, like most travellers, first came to India to explore the country’s rich heritage. She returned the following year as an exchange student, and a couple of years later found herself working for an Indian consultancy firm. When asked what prompted her to stay on, Isabelle said, “I love the market dynamics here, working here is so much fun. Anywhere else would seem boring compared to India.” Having cofounded a company, she eventually realised her entrepreneurial dream here and now resides in Goa with her husband.

Isabelle says there are several aspects of life in India that remind her of home. “How we interact with our everyday life is similar in both Germany and India. Separate house slippers to wear at home, the celebration of food and festivals, the importance of friendship…” She feels Germany and India share the same spirit especially in terms of festivities. “We love food and we love celebrating food. There is an entire countdown to Christmas. Every day there is some dinner or get-together,” much like how Indians excitedly countdown to Navratri or Diwali. Franziska, who was born in India to German parents, adds that both the countries exhibit the same kind of passion for their favourite sport. “In India, they support cricket like anything while in Germany it would be football.”

Having lived in India for almost a decade, Isabelle has also noticed some broad similarities in the way children are brought up in the two countries. “We have a saying in South Germany ‘Schaffe Schaffe Hausle baue’ that loosely translates to ‘work, work, work and build a house’. I found that parents here have a similar outlook…to teach their children to work hard. They feel that they’ve fulfilled their duty only once the children have moved out or gotten married. Also, my mother never let me leave the house without a big breakfast. It’s the same here.” The importance given to the care of the family is one similarity that came up again and again in conversations with all German expats.

While most people wouldn’t draw parallels between German and Indian discipline (or lack thereof), Germans married to Indians have found a way to bridge the gap. Take for example, Ilka, who thinks that the famed differences of discipline between the two cultures actually works to her marital advantage. She sees the difference as Germans being highly planning-oriented; while Indians are more flexible in their approach. Ilka and her husband balance each other out in several ways. She says, like most Germans, she too tends to get stressed when her plans don’t work out, but her husband calms her down.

Consequently, Ilka feels India is “so full of life. The social life here is more happening; people smile at you, bond over food and are much more relaxed.” Isabelle, too, can attest to Indians’ friendliness. When asked about an Indian characteristic that makes her feel most at home, she quickly answers “humour.” “Whether it’s a taxi driver or someone I’m meeting professionally, I’ve learnt that it’s easy to lighten the mood here by just cracking a few jokes. Indians love to laugh,” she adds.

Indeed, these Germans-who-never-left as just diehard Indophiles are more Indian than you’d guess at first, having even developed some classic Indian skills with time. Ilka assures us that her husband can’t bargain as well as she does, and that she can even drape a saree on her own.

Isabelle, meanwhile, feels some amount of Indianness has seeped into her because “whenever its raining, my body instantly craves chai and samosa”.

Like the long-settled German expats in India, the German airline, Lufthansa, too has incorporated some quintessential aspects of Indian culture in its service. Recognising the centuries-old cultural affinity between the two countries, Lufthansa now provides a rich experience of Indian hospitality to all flyers on board its flights to and from India. You can expect a greeting of Namaste by an all-Indian crew, Indian food, and popular Indian in-flight entertainment options. And as the video shows, India’s culture and hospitality have been internalized by Lufthansa to the extent that they are More Indian Than You Think. To experience Lufthansa’s hospitality on your next trip abroad, click here.

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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.