One of Chirodeep Chaudhuri’s photographs shows a clock on a wall of the popular quadrangle of St Xavier’s College in Mumbai. On being told that one had not noticed the clock till now, the photographer didn’t seem surprised. He had received similar reactions from students of the college, when they had conducted a series of interviews for this photography project three years ago.
The photograph is part of the ongoing exhibition ‘Seeing Time: Public Clocks of Bombay’ at Project 88, Mumbai. It is one among the 86 others clicked by Chaudhuri over a duration of 24 years. The shutterbug recalls showing around 20 of these at the first Kala Ghoda Arts Festival held in 1999. “Most of the people, who came for the show, were surprised that there were 20 public clocks in Mumbai. In January this year, when I showcased 81 of them, I received a similar response!” he says with a laugh.
Chaudhuri was drawn to taking photographs of clocks ever since one caught his eye while on a newspaper assignment in Kolkata back in 1996, His first memory of capturing a public clock is of the Rajabai Tower in Fort, Mumbai. “I was working with Sunday Observer at the time, and while wandering around the city, I started noticing more and more public clocks. That’s how it really started, one clock at a time,” says Chaudhuri, who didn’t really know what he was on to then. The tremendous response he received for the first exhibition also spurred him on. In 2016, he put up a post on social media, asking people to give him leads if they notice a public clock. “There must be at least a dozen among those 86 images that happened because of the leads I got from people,” he says.
One of the photographs shows 12 markings on the Grant Medical College in Byculla. Recalling the story behind that particular image, Chaudhuri says, “While on my way to South Bombay from Mazgaon for work, I would notice the 12 markings on the Grant Medical College and wonder if there ever was a clock on the building.” His efforts to find out the same seemed to be yielding no result until he chanced upon a conversation at his friend’s photography shop. “A doctor, who had studied at the college, was in the midst of telling my friend that he had often asked the dean to repair the clock that used to be on the building,” he recounts.
Once the existence of the clock had been confirmed, the next step was to find a building on the opposite side of the flyover to get the picture he had in mind. Says Chaudhuri, “A lady, who was putting up washed clothes to hang, let us in. When her husband returned home, he told us that he had grown up in that house and never once noticed the clock on the wall across the flyover!”
For the photographer, the project became much more than just about clocks – it became about uncorking memories and re-discovering a city through people’s eyes. In trying to capture these clocks, he discovered a city that once relied on these clocks to keep them abreast of the time. “When these clocks came up, there was an obvious function they served. Even when it comes to locations, there was an obvious functionality which was key. They had to be seen by a fairly large number of people who were also negotiating the city largely on foot. It was because these clocks worked and there was a necessity to look at time, that they became part of people’s routine,” he reasons.
With the advent of technology and coming of mobile phones, even the way we look at time has changed. “I think in Mumbai, the reason why people don’t really notice these clocks anymore is to do with the fact that many of them don’t work. The ones that work – such as the one at Rajabai Tower – have people’s lives revolving around them,” says Chaudhuri, who wants to ultimately document these images in the form of a book. “There is a nagging feeling that ‘what if I have missed out on even one?’ Till the time the book doesn’t actually happen, I will keep looking. If you spot one, do let me know,” he concludes.
‘Seeing Time: Public Clocks of Bombay’ can be viewed at Project 88, Mumbai till January 9, 2021.