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Mumbaiwale: How To Fall Off The Map

In hurried Mumbai, a new initiative, Hallu Hallu, aims to take it slow and observe parts of the city you don’t usually visit

Updated: Oct 31, 2019 06:57 IST

By Rachel Lopez, Hindustan Times

Gangadharan Menon, Aslam Saiyad and Gopal MS take in the sights at one of their recent Hallu Hallu excursions. (HT PHOTO)

Who in their right mind would want to visit Mankhurd, right? It’s that sad strip of Mumbai you pass just as you’re getting to the bridge to Navi Mumbai. Mankhurd is where the slum dwellers have been resettled, right? You’ve seen that on the news. And why bother going when all the pretty, restored British-era buildings are on the other side of town?

Aslam Saiyad and Gopal MS know exactly what Mumbai thinks when (and if at all) we think of Mankhurd. And they both know how limited our imagination can be. A few weeks ago, they started Hallu Hallu, an initiative that gets Mumbaikars to rediscover their cities, but not in the way we’re used to.

“It’s not a heritage walk, it’s not a bird walk, it’s not a photo walk,” says Saiyad, a photographer. “The idea is to slow down, be yourself and allow a city or a part of it to reveal itself to you. There will be someone leading a walk, but there’s very little talk, no facts getting rattled off, no gyaan.”

Instead, you’re encouraged to use your own powers of observation, make your own inferences, and at the end of it, perhaps even go on another walk by yourself. “We want to introduce Mumbai residents to places outside of their field of vision, so they don’t fear parts of the city,” says Gopal, a photographer who works in advertising.

These aren’t popular, photogenic destinations. Hallu Hallu’s first walk, held on October 2, was along the Dahisar River. Participants learned about how rivers originated, sat and watched someone work colour pigments out of various stones, there was a tasting of tribal vegetables. “It was absolute dhamaal,” Saiyad says. He led another one on October 13 which filled up as well.

The most recent walk, on October 20, had Gopal and Saiyad leading participants through Mankhurd’s M Ward and its bustling neighbouring areas. It was called Point And No Shoot. Photography was not allowed. “This way you won’t be chasing a frame, you’ll actually be able to understand and take in what you see,” he says.

Both men have been walking through Mumbai for years, taking pictures and chronicling the bits we’re too busy or too insulated to see. Gopal MS is popular on Twitter as @SloganMurugan and on Instagram as @MumbaiPaused. Saiyad’s experiences are documented under @Mumbai_RIver_Photo_Project and @Bombay_Ka_Shana. Hallu Hallu (Don’t you just love the name?) borrows from the principles of Paul Salopek’s experiences in slow journalism, which stress patience, and a longer engagement with one’s subject and surroundings.

“Aslam came up with the name, though he’s always in a hurry, an enthu cutlet,” says Gopal. “We’re lucky - in Mumbai, the local people are very interested in local history. But we want to break away from observing just what is conventionally beautiful. I see kids picking up leaves and their parents telling them to put down the ‘kachra’. That’s the mentality we want to change.”

They’re planning a special walk along the Dahisar River for kids on November 2, and one for adults on November 3. “People think they’ve seen Mumbai because they’ve passed the chawls and eaten vada pao,” Saiyad says. “But learning to see differently is so empowering. And knowing your city is your responsibility.”


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