NYC's Lower East Side … in India?
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
India is in flux. And Bandra is a hub of international creativity.
By Diksha Basu
India is changing. Its creative heart is beating fast. And one small, cosmopolitan neighborhood perfectly captures this transformation: Bandra West, a suburb of Mumbai, India’s most populous city. Sitting on the edge of the Arabian Sea, with outdoor cafes and restaurants dotting its narrow roads, Bandra West is home to residents who hail from all over India and the world. It’s a place where musicians, dancers, actors, artists and writers are carving out space for themselves.
“You get a sense of community here that is lacking in other places,” says restaurateur Riyaaz Amlani, who owns 42 restaurants in India, including the popular Salt Water Café in Bandra, and lives in the neighborhood with his family. A community where Range Rovers and rickshaws jostle for space, and the local vegetable seller stocks kale and arugula, alongside eggplant and okra. You can eat a butter chicken roll for lunch one day and have cold-pressed juices delivered to your door to detox the next. But you can still find bungalows with flowers spilling out of the balconies onto quiet, sleepy lanes.
Bandra, like [NYC’s] Lower East Side, is laid-back.
Jas Charanjiva, Indian-American street artist
It is that same sense of community that drew Indian-American street artist Jas Charanjiva from New York City. She runs a store called Kulture Shop across the street from Mehboob Studios, famous Bollywood studios now used for art exhibitions, literary festivals and film shoots. Up a dark staircase, the shop’s bright space bustles with energy and showcases work from global artists as well as Charanjiva’s own artwork, including a “Don’t Mess With Me” T-shirt ($22) featuring a traditional Indian woman with her head covered, wearing a knuckle-duster with “BOOM” on it. Charanjiva talks animatedly about those who find their way to her studio, including a model/painter from South Africa and a writer from New York working on a biography of Freddie Mercury. How does this neighborhood compare to New York City? “Bandra, like the Lower East Side, is laid-back,” she says.
But, as often happens in such neighborhoods, artists are starting to get priced out. “The bohemians and creative artist types move here because it is affordable and then come the bankers,” Amlani explains. And when the bankers come, the rent goes up. For example, a one-bedroom in Bandra West costs about $720 a month, very high compared with the rest of India. Many original residents are selling their beautiful bungalows to builders to transform into high-rises, and the skyline is changing rapidly.
Not everyone is happy with this changing neighborhood, this India in flux. While I was taking photographs, an old woman from across the street yelled at me to stop, saying, “You people can’t keep taking pictures in Bandra without permission.” She means people like me who are not originally from Bandra but are drawn to Bandra. And it isn’t just the old auntie who’s upset. The people who moved here 20 years ago are annoyed by the people who moved here 10 years ago who in turn are annoyed by the people who moved here two years ago. You can’t blame them — Bandra is so lovely that nobody wants to share.