In Focus

‘Environment matters the most’

By Anushka Singh

In the first phase of street art in Colaba's Ward 226, the walls of an oft-used Cuffe Parade by-lane, adjoining Casablanca, are being painted as part of the ongoing Swachh Survekshan programme launched under the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan and facilitated by the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) in the city.

FIRST CUT: The wall adjoining Casablanca building in Cuffe Parade being painted

Harshita Narwekar
“Environment matters the most. We’re working towards making ‘environment’ the underlying theme of the paintings done in the area. It’s important for citizens to be aware of and understand the palpable risks of environmental degradation. As a coastal city, Mumbai faces the risks of rising sea levels and mitigation efforts need to be ramped up,” says Ward No. 226 Corporator Harshita Narwekar.

“It was a very difficult phase as I had no work in hand and prospects of procuring any new work looked bleak,” recalls Malad-based commercial artist Raghav Poojari who, with his group, has been entrusted with painting walls in the Cuffe Parade area.

Despite his age, 60-year-old Mangalore-native Raghav is “happy to work after the lockdown. In fact, just before the lockdown, I did not even get paid for a painting job done for a school because my contractor didn’t get paid too. Everything just came to a standstill following the lockdown. It was a really scary period.”

HAPPY AGAIN: Raghav Poojari had no work during the lockdown

Like Raghav, most of the artists painting the walls in the zone started off their careers by painting film posters; and long before the occupation succumbed to the onslaught of digital media. “I came to Mumbai 50 years ago, as a nine-year-old, with my elder brother to make a living after my mother died…my father was a tonga-driver,” says 60-year-old Bhopal-native Mohammed Salim. Soon after his father passed away and with no one to return home to, he decided to stay back.

NOSTALGIC: Mohammed Salim recalls the time he assisted senior painters make film posters

“I started out as a helper assisting painters at Mahim Modern Art make posters for films. Soon, I started painting myself. The first poster I worked upon was for the 1979 Rajesh Khanna-starrer Shaitan Mujrim.” He too faced financial difficulties with no work coming in during the lockdown. “I got a few house-painting jobs as soon as the lockdown was relaxed and now I am doing this…so all’s well now,” he offers.

“I came to Mumbai from Lucknow in 1985 as I always liked painting and wanted to paint film posters for as long as I can remember,” quips Sunil Dixit as he stops to take a break after painting a section of the wall. “At first, I’d only do ‘letter painting’ as I was new but soon started painting figures too.” 

POSTER PERFECT: Sunil Dixit came to Mumbai from Lucknow to paint film posters

And, it’s not just the painters who have been working long hours beautifying the zone. The cleaners and helpers too are working around the clock to complete the work. “I had no work throughout the lockdown and had to leave for my home in Bihar with friends and co-workers in June 2020, as soon as the trains started. It was a very depressing time,” says Hussein, recollecting the trying times of the recent past. 

BACK TO WORK: Hussein and Majibur (right) clean and white-wash the walls to prepare for the painters

Natives of Udaipur village of Bihar’s Katihar district, Hussein and Majibur Rehman have been scrubbing and white-washing the walls at the Cuffe Parade by-lane to prepare them for the painters.