Walking along Hill Road in the Mumbai suburb of Bandra traffic roars, voices haggle and huge shop windows glimmer in the sunlight. Stylish, affluent and home to some of Bollywood’s biggest stars; Bandra is known for boutique shopping, great restaurants and soaring real estate prices. Turn onto adjoining Chapel Street though, and the bustling noise fades to a dull roar as the street narrows; auto rickshaws, motorbikes and people squeezing past each other with inches to spare. The chaos of the city seems suddenly far away; as though you have suddenly stepped into an East Indian village that someone has carelessly dropped into the centre of Mumbai. The 100 year old buildings crumble and lean, lining the lanes in a jumble of houses and tiny shops crammed together with beautiful Catholic churches. Whitewashed and streaked with dirt, painted shutters open onto the street and lines hung with colourful washing; these streets seem a world away from bustling, clamouring Mumbai.
The enclave of Ranwar, through which Chapel Street meanders, is a place in which old and new collide. One of the original pakhadis that make up Bandra, its history dates back over 400 years and previous incarnations under Portugese and British rule are evident in the architecture. Today, however, across these cracked and peeling walls sweep huge swathes of graffiti, painting the old walls in a riot of colour and giving the historical village a bohemian, urban feel.
Part of various street art projects done with the aim of utilising Mumbai’s walls as creative and beautiful spaces, the graffiti in Bandra is expertly done and incorporates the work of over 400 creatives from around the world. Huge Bollywood posters splash two storeys tall across the side of a building, small birds and flowers adorn doorways, and a bulldog wearing a turban guards the entrance to an alleyway. The result is at once unique and beautifully derelict – a fairly accurate description of most of India – and an afternoon spent wandering these quiet streets makes for an ideal escape from the madness of Mumbai.