Fewf! The first full week of the Lab has passed and, like always at the end of the first Lab week, I’m amazed that we’re all still here to tell the tale. With such a packed program it would be impossible to give a full rundown, but there were some definite highlights, and a big mix of light and fun projects, as well as meaty discussions.
The week kicked off beautifully—literally—with the first session in an amazing series of programs called Transformers, which brings local artists from a range of traditional and contemporary Indian fields of craft to the Lab to both teach their craft to participants, and decorate the Lab with their creations while they’re at it. The goal is to involve and engage with a variety of local communities, and invite people to take ownership over the space, and to celebrate the incredible artistic cultures that proliferate Mumbai in its streets every day. This week’s event, Gajra-Baagvani, was exceptionally wild, bringing forty-five flower artists together to break their traditional boundaries and go nuts with one metric ton (!!!) of flowers. The result was a truly enchanting mixture of tradition and experimentation that left the Lab wafting a sweet floral scent for days.
The Lab also began its run at the first of its five off-site locations, Horniman Circle—one of Mumbai’s first-ever public spaces, inside a traffic circle in the Central Business District. On Saturday, the site served as a starting point for a bizarre, wonderful, and truly illuminating tour of Mumbai—blindfolded! After participants bravely wove their way blindly (with the aid of guides, of course) through Mumbai’s traffic junctions, public transit, street food strips, and marketplaces, they had fascinating reflections on their experience, how it made them feel, and what it taught them about their sense of space, place, and trust in the city.
Kids had a good chance to think about these issues too this week, as the City Dream series, run by the good folks of the Lab’s partner museum here in Mumbai, the Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Museum, kicked off. The two programs in the series—a fantastic puppet show that teaches kids about the history of Mumbai’s development and encourages them to think about contemporary within its historical context in a fun and engaging way, and an origami workshop where children assemble their dream city for the future of Mumabi—will continue to run throughout the course of the Lab.
The meaty and meaningful Meet in the Middle discussions continued this week, first tackling the northward shift of Mumbai’s “center”; whether or not the city needs a “heart”; and if so, whether that heart should be psychical or, as Mumbai architect P.K. Das put it, “movement-based.” A session later in the week focused on bridging public and private modes of transportation. If there is one thing I can tell you about how planners are thinking about solutions to Mumbai’s transportation issues today, I can sum up this strongly opinionated panel in three letters: BRT. What I’d love to see, however, are some concrete plans on just where those BRT lanes should go. Yes, planners, that’s a challenge!
Meanwhile back at Horniman Circle, people mingled and browsed local produce and products at a Food Bazaar while listening in on an animated conversation between stakeholders from the entire spectrum of Mumbai’s food distribution sector. The outcome? Everyone agrees that reform is needed, but perhaps unsurprisingly, the question of how that reform should look remains a question mark.
As PUKAR continues their data collection on-site at the Lab (for the study they are conducting in collaboration with the Lab into privacy in Mumbai), two questions continuously sprig debate, consideration, and questions from participants: “According to you, what are public spaces?” and “Do you feel there are some spaces you cannot access as a woman?”
How about you readers, either from Mumbai or elsewhere in the world? What are your thoughts on these questions?
Last but not least, the Lab’s amazing song, “Is Shahar” made its debut last Wednesday before a crowd of about 150 at Swarathma’s concert at Blue Frog, and was greeted with hoots and cheers from the audience. Make sure to download it for yourself here.
This weekend until Monday, the Lab’s external site is at Priyadershini Park in Malabar Hill. Between there and the main site at the Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Museum, there are some exciting events, including a spice tour of the city, and chai-time chat discovering the city’s spice trail, a movie screening and discussion, and a few wonderful programs for children as well. Hope to see you Mumbaikers there. Over and out.
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Photos: Christine McLaren; photo of Swarathma: Héctor Zamora