Behrampada & Its Labyrinths
Director: Madhusree Dutta
Duration: 00:43:31; Aspect Ratio: 1.366:1; Hue: 22.503; Saturation: 0.175; Lightness: 0.334; Volume: 0.121; Cuts per Minute: 10.248; Words per Minute: 0.207
Summary: This is a collection of shots from the rushes of 'I live in Behrampada', a documentary on a Muslim ghetto in the context of the Bombay riots, an aftermath of the Babari Masjid demolition. I was 8 years old during the Bombay '92-93 riots. My only memory of the time was an unscheduled two-month holiday from school, though the adult talk about stray dead bodies and destruction remains stored in some corner. Later various other incidents of violent identity politics and representations of the Bombay riots in films etc. made a constant a reference point. Going through the rushes after 15 years has also been a process of coming to terms with my own city and its black holes.
The shots of the interior of Behrampada are compiled in order to demystify the settlement. There were wide spread allegations of Behrampada being a harbor of terrorists, running bomb making factories, being filthy, being public health hazard… basically being a site of hell. These shots captured the normal life style of the settlement. Ordinary livelihood activities, house hold chores, children playing, bazaars, businesses etc. make the neighbourhood like any others, albeit of a poorer kind. The crew’s focus was not on whether this large settlement was home to any individual criminals or not, as that could be true of any settlement of this size.
En route to Behrampada, our camera starts rolling. The wall, seemingly just a wall, with advertisements for local products and political parties, is in fact the wall that barricades the infamous and "dangerous" Behrampada from the rest of Bombay city. What lies beyond the wall though, peeping, but proudly, are the ruins of what used to be another Bombay neighbourhood, Behrampada.
Situated in the prime location, beside Bandra station, the suburb that links Bombay city with suburban Bombay, Behrampada's entrance is always bustling with activity. One end of the road leads into the station, while the other leads into the settlement. Shops sprawl the station area. The nimbu paani wala, dabba walas, and "dress" (popular word for Indian salwaar kameez) shops are just a few of the businesses that run through this merger of a neighbourhood and a major terminal.
Behrampada, Bandra East
Raza Masjid, the local Masjid of Behrampada, a small white building, a place of prayer, has many unpleasant stories attached to it. During the riots, many young boys and men, lost their lives here, while at the mosque to pray (see the other events under the same title).
The Behrampada bazaar at its finest! The bazaar has been dressed up with flags etc for a festival
Shot changes to the Behrampada bazaar off – festival season. Other than the flags, the bazaar is just the same…bustling with as much or more activity. A shot that shows the depth of the bazaar road, a hundred heads bobbing up and down, vegetables being bought and sold…and among all this apparent normalcy an armed cop who gives it away…
Another shot of the bazaar from a new angle. We get a view of the cop now as he paces up and down, maintaining security in this neighbourhood. Our cameras, however, find something more interesting to "shoot" – a pakoda (fries) stall where freshly fried pakodas are being removed from the enormous pan and added onto the mountain of pakodas for the buyers to feast on.
hustle – bustle
This little blue shop belongs to the mochi or shoemaker of the neighbourhood. Our camera captures him in awe, as he intricately weaves his way into the shoe, struggling to pierce his needle into the leather, and beautifully creates a handmade piece of wear. He only looks up once, to request our crew to shoot his signboard also.
Shoemaker: Please also shoot the sign (of the shop)
Most Hindus all over the city of Bombay are supplied a garland for their home temple everyday. What is ironic is that Muslim women in Behrampada make these garlands and supply them, a fact that a few or many Hindus would be uncomfortable with, and in time of communal riots – many more. Here, we watch the garland makers at work, stringing genda (marigold) flowers together into garlands.
A high angle shot of the zari workers of Behrampada at work in their workshop. Muslim karigari (karigar = artisan) is very popular in the city and most tailors in the city of Bombay are Muslims. They follow the traditional way of design and stitching on fabrics and this attire is widely worn for Muslim as well as Hindu festivals. The fabrics that they are working on here are colourful and being embedded with zari, gold and silver thread and stones, which is the popular demand for the festive seasons and weddings.
The craftsmen of the neighbourhood of Behram are at work here. This old man is carefully hammering into a piece of cane, which will later sell in the markets as a piece of hand-made cane furniture.
The camera moves onto a second carpenter who is polishing another piece of furniture.
We are now entering the by lanes of Behrampada, and taking a peek into the resident's area of living.
A young boy walks into frame but on seeing the camera quickly hides back inside. Our camera follows the boy as we now see what really lies inside Behrampada.
The peaceful alleys of Behrampada are scarcely occupied by its residents, mainly a few women, who seem to be unfazed by the camera and a few children who are attracted by the camera, but instinctively make way for the camera to go down its trail.
A pair of rubber chappals or slippers stand outside a door. Two kids run out of the same door, excited to be caught on camera, which moves on. The kid in the bright green shirt manages to catch up with the camera and quickly climbs up a staircase in order to be on camera for a few more seconds. The camera waits for no one and continues along its path.
We are now in a dark area inside Behrampada! However, our camera boldly continues deeper into the "den". Through the darkness we see a door and the silhouette of a woman.
And, after the darkness comes light and we come to a slim alley. Women and kids are sitting outside their homes, almost balancing on the doors. An open gutter runs between their homes.
As the camera glides along we see a man walking towards the camera with a child. The dark alleyway again opens into a well lit one, and we see a little girl walking around with a huge plastic doll. The area outside their homes is clean inspite of the gutter that runs through. There are clothes hanging outside to dry and a grandmother playing with her grandchild. The far end of the alley opens into a market.
The camera decides to stop for a bit to rest its feet in the alley, between a few homes. The women and children of the houses are keeping the camera company, staring into it calmly. One little boy looks at the camera excitedly and runs across, out of frame and another kid takes his position. Clothes are hanging out to dry and there is a ladder outside one of the homes. Behrampada has a few two storeyed homes and the residents use ladders to climb up to the 1st floor.
Our camera stands still yet again as a group of kids enjoy being filmed. They are trying to hold back one shy kid who finally frees himself and walks away. Camera finally starts moving towards them and the kids excitedly make way. The camera then comes across a solemn woman in a pink saree, holding a baby.
On a different occasion, our camera was being guided into the alleys of Behrampada for an interview with someone. The start point was in the Behrampada market and a few men decided to lead. Among a lot of noise and too many voices trying to explain the route, the camera started down into yet another section of Behrampada. In this part of the settlement the alleys are noticeably wider, cemented and cleaner. The sun light is streaming in and the kids are looking towards the camera with anticipation, possibly a little nervous with the big group of people following the camera. A man points the camera in the right direction and we take a right into an even wider, cleaner alley, with no sewage systems flowing within it. The children continue to look towards the camera seriously, as opposed to the excitement the kids in the other area of Behrampada showed.
The men, guiding the camera stop in front of a woman's house, but the camera continues along. This time two little boys run in front of the camera and turn right gesturing the camera to follow. However, the camera takes a left and comes to a dead-end where it decides to turn around again.
Women are washing vessels and clothes in a common area, where they carry their own water in buckets
The camera zooms out from a close-up of a board that reads – Khernagar. Camera zooms out to show the Municipal school of Behrampada, a stone building that seems too quiet for a school. During the riots, most schools in the city of Bombay were shut, but the Hindu residents of this Bandra East locality created a hoo-hah about it by saying that they couldn't send their kids to school as their area was unsafe (see other events under this title).
A military van drives by outside the school and we hear no sound except for that of a lady sweeping.
The camera travels down a little bit to show us another building of the school, this time, a painted one, the board of which reads, Purushottam High School. One lone kid walks into the school and as our camera travels down the streets again, we see a few more students en route to school. We now come across the field where girls and boys in school uniforms are playing.
Purushottam High School
The broken swings of the Behrampada playground, doesn't stop the kids from having their fun. The kids here are engrossed in a game of cricket. A few younger ones are playing local games like "round and round" and "phugdi".
The broken swing is being utilized fairly as a boy climbs up on its bars and then perches himself on the top. Another boy follows suit!
This is the refuge camp of Behrampada, for the people who lost their homes to the fires and bomb blasts in the riots. A woman stands at the window looking down towards the camera and as the camera pans left we see a little girl and her family looking out too. Camera zooms out to show the under-construction building – the place of refuge provided for the victims of the riots.
In the middle of the Behrampada market stands the Catholic Residents Association of Behrampada that represents yet another pocket of people that inhabit this large, diverse settlement. The Catholic residents pose for our cameras in a large group outside their Chapel.
Catholic residents association
chapel of our lady Fatima
What we see here is the charred ground where people's homes originally stood. Camera pans right to show us a broken home, the top floor of which has been completely broken off. This, right here, is the aftermath of the Bombay riots of 1992-93, and Behrampada lost 53 huts only in one night of 2nd February, 1993 (see interview of Liyaqat & Quereshi under the same title).
In spite of his broken home, this man is still functioning out of it. His hen and chick also seem to be doing just fine – ah, the spirit of survival!
Armed military officers are patrolling outside the area, an area that really does not have anything much left to protect.
February 2nd 1993
Where there is destruction, there is always a film waiting to be made. And so here comes another film crew, this time, a German one, to capture the tragedy of the riots in India. This crew attracts a lot more attention than ours of course, which gives us leeway to shoot them.
Camera pans left to show us the Ahmed Zakaria building.
Our crew follows the military trucks as they patrol through the neighborhood.
These are shots of the bandh, the shops and businesses that were shut down during the riots. As we drive through the city, we barely see any people in the usually overcrowded city of Bombay, buildings with all their windows tightly shut, homes with their doors locked, and hardly any vehicles on the main highway of the city. The buses are running empty and all office buildings are shut. As we near Behrampada the visible population increases but mainly with military and police personnel.
As our camera spies from across the street, it finds the famous Shri Ganesh Mandir (see other events under the same title) being flanked by a few brave Hindus who are animatedly discussing something – maybe more protection schemes?