By Lipi Mehta:
“In this city, every deserted street corner conceals a crowd,” writes Jerry Pinto about the city of Mumbai in his book, ‘Em And The Big Hoom‘. It’s in these corners and in these crowds (sometimes unnoticed, sometimes cumbersome) where the stories most intrinsic to the city lie. The city is home to some of the world’s most famous people and best minds, but it’s also home to thousands whose everyday accounts of strength and struggle form the fabric of Mumbai. Often, these accounts go unheard, but Karishma Mehta, the founder of Facebook page Humans Of Bombay, has taken the responsibility of making sure they reach millions every day.
Modeled on the world-famous Humans Of New York page and method of storytelling, this page is now a website, too. Started in January 2014, the page has over 5 lakh followers today, and receives thousands of shares and comments every day, with friends and family tagging each other if they spot a familiar face, or have shared their own stories of resilience, struggle and survival against all odds.
When asked about why she does what she does and how people personify the spirit of the city, Karishma said, “I’ve met so many interesting people that it’s hard to really pick one. But I met this woman who had kerosene thrown all over her by her abusive husband; and another woman, a domestic help, who worked 27 years at LG to put her children through schooling – these women have left a deep impression on me.”
What’s really powerful is the narrative of change and hope that almost each individual in her photographs talks about. So, you don’t just meet people in her pictures, you meet changemakers in their own right.
Here’s a striking example of a story that’s all about breaking stereotypes:
And here’s a heart-warming story of a couple (aged 98 and 99), whose love survived despite the perils of World War II, an inspiration for relationships of this day and age.
It is a harsh truth that in a city like Mumbai, it is often the affluent and the ‘stars’ that it is most associated with, even though the unknown (and often marginalised) citizens account for most of its workforce. Take the artisan in Dharavi or the mill worker in Lower Parel, the hospital staff at Sewri or the fishermen in Versova for example. Karishma, through Humans of Bombay, does a great job of giving such individuals the recognition they deserve.
Apart from contrasts, Mumbai is known as the city of aspirations, and even though thousands of dreams have died in the city, it signifies a certain hope and spirit. Karishma chronicles this hope in a way that it spread positive cheer amongst its readers, but also tells them how some individuals are fighting the odds for survival, fighting discrimination, disability, gender norms, and class and caste barriers for a more accepting society.
The impact of Karishma’s work is seen here as well – the fact that it has got hundreds speaking about uncomfortable topics that wouldn’t make for typical ‘dining table conversations’ is a big deal. And on more than one occasion, a simple post has led to thousands offering help for a cause that needs attention.
For instance, when daughters of sex workers in Mumbai were evicted from their homes, Karishma’s efforts led to people donating Rs 6.39 lakh for them in just 15 hours. In another instance, a post from Humans of Bombay helped Upahar, a 14-year old get a bone marrow transplant. Within a day, people had donated over Rs 10 lakh to help her.
This helpful nature and solidarity is what the page brings to focus. Many of these photos also sum up the spirit of the city – that which thrives despite of, that which has the ability to bounce back. Help and hope exists in the most unexpected places and these photos prove it.
In times of intolerance and discrimination, Karishma’s work gives us hope for a better tomorrow. Hopefully, these extraordinary stories will also inspire you to be the change within your own family, community and beyond!