Shinde’s latest body of work is an exploration of architectural and social space. Through his sensitive black and white studies he merges a documentary style with a more poetic and ambiguous kind of imagery. What emerges is a sensitive study of a living community – whose lives are informed, and perhaps defined, by their shared existence in a historic architectural space. In an age of rapid urbanisation and the increased desire for people to live in impersonal apartment blocks, Devki Wadi becomes something of an anachronism – a reminder of how these kinds of places will soon be consigned to the past.
Eight months back I moved to Mumbai for work. During the house hunt, I found a place in Devki Wadi. A wadi is a cluster of a particular kind of residential buildings, common in the state of Maharashtra. The apartments are small and are placed close together like a community residence, known as chal more commonly.
This was a new kind of place for me to live in. I was brought up in an apartment building with modern flats and facilities. I had seen chals before and had checked out a few more during the house-hunt, but this one looked a bit different. This place was more than a hundred years old. Unlike most chals, which have huge number of rooms (functioning as flats) this one was less crowded. It stood only two stories tall as opposed to the more common four stories. A series of common toilets, a characteristic feature of chals, was a few feet from the buildings in the compound.
The place seemed worn out with tin covered roofs, bare bricks peeping from the walls where the faded paint had chipped off and rotting wood on many windows and doors. The whole structure, supported by wooden beams, looked almost fragile. I thought it could give me interesting photographs. I decided I’d stay there. Then I started to get to know the people living there. I knew my neihbours even back home, but these people never behaved like any neighbours. They were curious to know their new fellow-resident, and eager to offer instructions, advice, food, coffee and of course, company. They all lived a lower middle-class life but were happy, content, accommodating and welcoming, characterstics forgotten among modern city-dwellers, who care too much about security and privacy. For the residents of Devki Wadi all the privacy they needed was provided by the boundary wall of compound.
The residents of the chal lived like a big joint family in a huge house with many rooms. The walls were thin and I could hear what the people in the adjoining rooms talked about. I slept with the numerous household stories being told and retold, dissolving in my ears and woke up with the sounds of morning chores, not mine. Despite all the liveliness in the behaviour of the dwellers, the place had calmness about it. No one was rushing to anywhere, people were at ease, kids could enter any house and they weren’t interrupted by behavioral lessons, afternoon naps were a ritual, and cats and dogs didn’t screech and howl.
These people with their open lives and big hearts quickly became a part of my life. Everyone was either a kaka, dada, kaku, ajji or vahini. And would I like to photograph my new family, I totally would. The liveliness of the people contrasted beautifully with the weary appearance of the walls that built their homes. It provided me with all the emotion I needed to start recording this lifestyle; a quaint lifestyle within these walls, secure from the madness of the busiest city of India.
– Hrishikesh Shinde