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How water has influenced Mumbai history and communities

‘Confluence’, organised by the Living Water Museum, will showcase works that look at Mumbai’s water history, politics and culture

A koli woman puts fish to dry in Mumbai
A koli woman puts fish to dry in Mumbai (Minaz Ansari)

What other life forms share the megapolis of Mumbai with its human residents? Did you know that Bhishtis, professional water carriers, would transport water in goat-skin bags within Crawford Market? What relationship do communities have with water? What role has water played in shaping our view of public health?

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Some of these, and other, fascinating facets of Mumbai’s relationship with water will be presented through diverse visual art forms at the Confluence exhibition, organised by the Living Waters Museum under the Mumbai Water Narratives project, a network of all those working on water heritage. The museum is part of the Global Network of Water Museums.

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Starting 21 March, a day before World Water Day, the virtual exhibition, in English and Marathi, will be followed by a week-long event comprising panel discussions, virtual curatorial walks on pyaavs (water fountains), the city’s coastline, water bodies and faith, and 12 short films that explore the theme of water access and equity. The show itself will go on for at least a few months.

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A Bhishti carrying water in one of the lanes near Crawford Market.
A Bhishti carrying water in one of the lanes near Crawford Market. (Aslam Saiyad)

Divided into six galleries or themes—water and built heritage, water and culture, water and livelihoods, saline waters, water and equity, and water and public health—the exhibition will showcase 18 works by 23 contributors comprising photographers, architects, researchers and graphic artists. The water and built heritage gallery, for instance, will feature four exhibits that will examine heritage structures built around water, such as wells, tanks and fountains. The show will also have a photo essay on the dwindling Bhishti community, which traditionally ferried water in hand-stitched goat- or buffalo-skin bags, selling it for cooking and drinking in the lanes around Crawford Market. In the saline water gallery, one of the contributors from the collective Marine Life Of Mumbai has created an interactive GIS map showcasing the seashore and its life forms, including corals, starfish, squids and crabs. And an artist from the native Koli community has documented practices such as dry fish recipes, which are dying out.

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“The idea of the exhibition is to create ‘water’ for thought and get young people excited about water. To think about water, not only from historical but also from a multidimensional lens of livelihood, culture,” says Sara Ahmed, founder of the Living Water Museum, who was till recently teaching at Ahmedabad University. The timing seems just right, given that the pandemic mandates hand-washing and cleanliness. The show, besides displaying a historical map of past epidemics in the city, will also analyse the spread of covid-19, and people’s access to water, through an interactive map.

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The show is not exhaustive, admits Ahmed. For instance, there is very little on gender or Mumbai’s maritime history, its docks and harbours, the Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean. Ahmed hopes, though, to plug these gaps in the next edition. And, perhaps, organise such exhibitions in other cities too.

For details, visit https://www.mumbaiwaternarratives.in/ and the Instagram page @mumbaiwaternarratives

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