polis: a collective blog about cities worldwide

Going Underground in Mumbai

by George Carothers

Source: George Carothers

During my first visit to Bombay Underground, a community library, bookshop and exhibition space in Mumbai's trendy Bandra neighborhood, I was led through a gateway into an apartment complex, then through a small construction site and around a corner. There, in a small garage, was a hidden world. The walls were splattered with images of revolution. The atmosphere was somewhere between an art gallery and philosopher’s office.

Bombay Underground, officially located at Garage No. 5, Luisa Apartments, is a space for “art, expression and creative social exchange,” where visitors can engage with an exciting collection of literature, art and ideas. The project was initiated by Mumbai-based artist Himanshu S, a veteran of Mumbai's art circuit and familiar face at URBZ, who combines artistic installations, participation, activism and teaching. Bombay Underground is part of WETHEPPL, a collective of artists, designers and thinkers who conduct "people-centered" creative experiments through fashion, creative installations and festivals, among other things.

Considering the limited amount of space, Bombay Underground has a substantial collection of books, newspaper clippings and other literature for a variety of ages and audiences. The books have been sourced from Mumbai's famous but increasingly marginalized street bookwalas, who are found on the sides of roads throughout the city, surrounded by blue tarpaulins and mountains of classic and contemporary literature. As Mumbai's streets and buildings undergo a process of "world-class" upgrading, the bookwalas, like many others occupying "informal spaces" in the city, have found themselves pushed aside. The collection at Bombay Underground — both library and bookshop — helps further its philosophy of amplifying connections between “art, culture, ideology and power.”

Source: George Carothers

Aside from being an interesting place to visit, Bombay Underground is a breath of fresh air compared to other "creative" spaces in Bandra and other parts of Mumbai. Located in a neighborhood peppered with exclusive clubs, high-end shopping and London-priced restaurants, Bombay Underground reinforces the connections in a world dominated by dislocations, both social and physical.

Source: Bombay Underground

While many neighborhoods in Mumbai are undergoing physical and social "purification," separating those who belong from those who do not, Bombay Underground is attempting to instill cohesion, solidarity and harmony in the imaginations of local residents.

Bombay Underground also engages in a variety of mobile activities around the city, including a traveling book stall that typically pops up on Hill Road in Bandra on weekends. If you are ever in the neighborhood, stop by Bombay Underground and send warm regards from Polis.

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