Mumbai's dabbawallahs are the stars of an unusual exhibition.
Ritwik Sharma reports.
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Photograph: Satish Bodas/Rediff.com
It took Valay Shende a year-and-a-half to install a life-size truck with tens of workmen, all composed of thousands of shiny stainless steel disks.
Transit (Truck), which stands like a sombre ornament, is his ode to the labour force that struggles to make a living as it continues to build the megapolis of Mumbai.
The 2010 sculpture has been displayed in cities around the world.
Now, it is one of Shende's sculptures dedicated to the city that will be part of an exhibition titled Spirit of Mumbai.
Shende feels a connect with the teeming millions, including many from the working class who, like him, have migrated to Mumbai.
Migration is a running family theme as well. Shende's father had moved from a village in Bhandara to Nagpur, while he in turn came to Mumbai and honed his craft at the J J School of Art.
Shende is a multimedia artist whose work blends sculpture, photography, video and installation.
In Transit, he placed two screens in the truck's rear-view mirrors that play videos he'd shot on the city.
As the footage unfolds, from the driver's seat the screens would give an impression of the truck moving, as if past under-construction buildings.
It's the artist's way of suggesting that the development of the city or the country, by extension, is visible.
"But there is no development in the lives of labourers. I wanted to portray that contrast in this work."
Among other artworks of his that will be on display are portrayals of commuters in the frenetic Virar Fast local train (Shende used to live in the suburb) and that of the famous dabbawallahs -- those reliable purveyors of tiffin to the hard-working people of Mumbai.
In the train sculpture, he shows commuters hanging by the doors, a striking image of daily survival and the fight for a better life.
In the other, Shende opts to create a life-size figure out of ticking wristwatches -- apt symbolism for the clockwork precision of the dabbawallah -- with gilded stomachs in his hands, in place of lunchboxes.
As it seeks to celebrate the indomitable spirit of the 'maximum city', the exhibition places the dabbawallah at the forefront.
Besides showcasing Shende's work, it will also launch Dabbawala Superhero, an English and Marathi comic by city-based cartoonist Abhijeet Kini and his wife Diksha who were commissioned by Parsi restaurant chain SodaBottleOpenerWala.
The comic tells the story of a child who identifies the dabbawallah, when asked to name a superhero in school.
"It tells how the dabbawalahs came into existence and how they became what they are, which is nothing short of a superpower. Mumbai is known for its people, and dabbawallas are very much a part of it," says Kini.
The Spirit of Bombay exhibition will be open to the public at Palladium, Mumbai, from June 15 to August 18, 2019.