Through the eyes of the Kolis

A Reflection of Mumbai’s Past, Present & Future

An archival photo journey of Mumbai's Kolis

In July 2005, a deluge sank all of Mumbai, bringing life to a standstill. Until then, most denizens had little idea that there were rivers that flowed through the heart of the city and out into the Arabian Sea.
One community watched in horror, all too aware of the impending disaster that was waiting to happen. For, over time, the Kolis had been witness to rampant urbanisation in Mumbai and the rapid degeneration of its waterbodies. It was now having its consequences. The Kolis are the original residents of Mumbai and fishermen by craft, whose livelihoods are deeply entwined with the rivers and the sea that they dwell along.

This exhibition presents a pictorial narrative of the generational history of the Kolis and the deep relationship they share with their natural environmental that has altered over the years.

“Environmental Generational Amnesia”, a term coined by P.H.Kahn (2002), is an apt phrase to describe what afflicts the younger generation of Mumbai today. What Kahn realised through extensive interviews was that the youth is aware that pollution is bad for the environment, but chose to simply look away when it came to their own backyards. He writes:
“Over time, environmentally degraded settings had become the new normal. The possibility that they might reverse environmental harm seemed not to be within the youths’ purview”.

In the same vein, environmental degradation in Mumbai has a sense of normalcy to it. Most casually refer to water bodies as nullahs (drains), something that is dumped with sewage waste, both domestic and industrial. These were once vibrant water channels that have been ignored over time and reduced to a thick sludge. A generation of Kolis have seen the degeneration of what was once a healthy environment alongside which they flourished. Through archival photos sourced from the Kolis that date back to 1950, we relive the glory days of the community and how they are placed today in a bid to understand the transformation of the coastal systems of Mumbai. The exhibition hopes to reverse the amnesia of the urban youth and strengthen their relationship with the surroundings.


The Community and their Livelihood
Alterations of the ‘Edges’
The Coastal Ecosystems
Mapping the Histories

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This digital photo exhibition, "Through the Eyes of the Kolis: A Reflection on Mumbai’s Past, Present and Future" is created by Bombay61 Studio in collaboration with Ministry of Mumbai's Magic and The Heritage Lab.

To join in and participate, use #KolisByTheBay or get in touch with us on social media.

Bombay61 Studio

Bombay61 Studio is an innovative and experimental urban solutions think tank that facilitates urban design and research projects with public participation as their key focus.

The Heritage Lab

The Heritage Lab is a digital media platform connecting citizens to cultural heritage through stories and public engagement campaigns.

Ministry of Mumbai's Magic

Ministry of Mumbai's Magic (MMM) is a platform to unite Mumbaikars and showcase their collective power, mobilising them to champion protection of their city’s ecosystems.