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  • Writer's pictureSuresh Naganathan

Exploring Mumbai #1: Sassoon Docks

One of the colorful walls of Sassoon Docks (May 2017)

First of all, I would like to wish you and your loved ones a very good year. We are still not out of this never-ending pandemic but let's at least hope that we will all be a little healthier and that life will feel a little less stressful this year.

One of my stated goals for 2022 is to write more about photography and this will be the space where I will pen down my thoughts on this art form.

As mentioned in my first blog post, this blog will have a few recurring themes . One of them is to make you discover various parts of this city that I have been documenting for the last few years.

Through conversations with friends and fellow photographers, I realized that Mumbai is pretty low on the list of cities that people would like to visit in India. Places like Delhi (with its heritage), Kolkata (with its energy) or Varanasi (with its spiritual mood) are usually much higher on the list. I don't fault them.

Mumbai can be a tough nut to crack: her sights are spread across long distances that are made even longer with traffic. She is chaotic beyond measure. Culturally, she feels like a poor village cousin compared to Delhi.

But go beyond the surface and Mumbai will reward you oodles of little treasures. She is a melting pot of India: Every community, religion, festival is represented within her boundaries. She has innumerable sights to offer and her rugged exterior hides a heart of gold.

So every month, I will write one post that covers an area of Mumbai that felt special to me. I will start with Sassoon Docks:

Early morning in Sassoon Docks (2019)

A little background: Sassoon Docks, built in 1875, is one of the oldest docks in Mumbai and was the first wet dock constructed in Bombay. It is one of the few docks in the city open to the public. It is situated in Mumbai harbor in South Mumbai area of Colaba. It is one of largest fish markets in the Mumbai city. It overlooks Oyster Rock, an island in the Mumbai harbour, at a distance. (Source: Wikipedia)

An early morning scene in January 2022

I remember the first time I went to Sassoon Docks in 2017. It was both a revelation and the most daunting experience I had in the city. At that time, I had been to a few crowded places in Mumbai (the bazaars for example) but nothing could prepare me for the chaos that I witnessed there: fisher folks, flower sellers, carts, people, birds, cats, you name it and you will find it there. How does one make sense of that chaos and take pictures that are not just blobs of people together? This question got me addicted!

Over the last 4-5 years, I have made a dozen trips to these docks. Always before sunrise and usually on Saturdays (I avoid Sundays because that day is a whole other level of crazy!). And every time has been challenging! Not only do you need to navigate the crowds but people there also tend to be a bit "shout-y". It's normal: this is a place where the fisher folks' livelihood is at stake and every moment you spend there, you may hamper a sale by blocking the way.

But this place with all its challenges has been a training ground for me:

  • It has taught me to be stealthy. This is not an area where you have the space nor the time to work the scene. Instead you have to shoot on the move, be fluid in your approach, anticipate an interaction and be ready to take the shot.

  • It has taught me patience: This is not a place that will reward you easily with shots. I have missed a countless number of them over the years but every once in a while, the gods of photography rewarded my perseverance with a shot where the elements were in the right place!

  • More than anything, it has taught me to stop being afraid! As a fledgling street photographer, you tend to fear people's reaction, especially if they start shouting at you! But in a place like this, getting shouted at is a given and after it happened to me a few times, I realized that it was just part of the game. I learned to have a thicker skin, stand my ground but at the same time be respectful of others.

Whenever I take a break from photography, one of the first places I go back to when I restart is Sassoon Docks. The energy, the colors, the non-stop bustle immediately make me feel "at home". One dose of Sassoon Docks is all it takes to make me fall in love with street photography again. (An added bonus is that any other place after this feels much easier to shoot!)

The next time you decide to come to Mumbai, consider giving this place a visit. You will go back with colors in your mind (if not pictures!)

Stay safe!


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