Don’t be surprised if you see a girl with a camera and recorder asking you to share your story on the streets of Mumbai. There are chances that she may be Karishma Mehta, who usually poses questions to people she meets on the streets of Bombay about their lives. These stories at times sad, funny and hard-hitting, are uploaded with their photographs on the Facebook page of Humans of Bombay.
For this economics and business graduate from Nottingham, Humans of Bombay came about by chance, “I was fresh out of college and was trying to find what I wanted to do further with life. I was figuring out what to do and was bored one Sunday. I called up a friend borrowed her camera and we ventured out to shoot,” Karishma says.
Inspired by American photographer Brandon Stanton’s Humans of New York, Humans of Bombay was started in January 2014. “I knew about this page called Humans of New York and was wondering why we don’t have something of this sort in Mumbai that depicts the city accurately. I wanted to do something where I would hone my passion for writing and this gave me the apt platform. The first time, nine people said no and the 10th person I approached said a Yes! I wanted to hold on to that feeling and decided to start an FB page. I waited, collected more stories each day and later on started with the page when I had a bank,” she says.
HOB currently boasts of over 476,829 followers, with over 40k odd followers on Instagram. The germinal days for the storyteller weren’t easy though, “It was difficult to convince people initially because nothing existed at that point in time. Today, when I approach people I can show them the existing page and it increases the credibility. Back then I had no accurate explanation to give people and they were a tad too apprehensive.” she adds.
Sweet and poignant, bitter yet truthful, her journey of chronicling the lives of the people in the maximum city has been a learning one, “I learnt two things after HOB got a little more established, everyone has stories, each one of us does, it’s just that some of us are very receptive to speaking, it’s all about showing you care enough to understand,” she says.
Karishma hasn’t restricted herself to the demographics in capturing the myriad hues of the city through her lens and captions, from the story of a little girl in Dharavi offering her a glass of water in the scorching heat to activist Harish Iyer’s startling revelation about his abuse, she narrates each of these with equal passion.
“I have had people share stories about their sexual orientations, divorce, rape, sexual abuse on the streets, sitting in a corner for hours. It’s all about asking them the right things at the right time. While some are always ready for a quick chat, some simply walk away saying that they don’t have time. Some wear their stories on their sleeves with coloured hair; tattooed bodies while some are simply meek and subtle,” she says.
Some stories that have stuck with her are those of women who have made things happen against all odds, “I once met a girl who got married at the age of 19, was brutally tortured by her husband and became pregnant six months later. While she was narrating her ordeal, I had tears in my eyes, the lady had to ask the judge to stop the trial thrice because she had to breastfeed her three-month-old son. She was fighting for his judicial custody. Her son had been to more courtrooms in the first five years of his life than most people ever would,” says Karishma, who steps out to find these stories for 5 hours every day. She later writes each one of them and uploads them.
While people on social media don’t shy away from using profanities and posting nasty comments, screening messages always helps, “A girl actually wanted her picture pulled down because people were mocking her. We deleted the comments instead. It would be very unfair for a story to not be shared. The story doesn’t always have to be traumatic or painful to make a good read. Stories can be simple too. When people resort to filthy slandering, are being racists or are simply outright rude, we delete the comments.” she shares.
Karishma is now in the midst of releasing a book, “It won’t be a quintessential coffee table book, but something that one would carry in their bags and read. It will have the compilation of all our stories so far and some more.”