'Humans of Bombay' Is Happening—and Yes, the Stories Are Enthralling
For fans of the über-popular photo blog Humans of New York—known for sharing fascinating portraits and interviews with urban dwellers and amassing more than 13 million Facebook fans in the process—it’s worth noting that a similar endeavor has cropped up in India’s largest city, thanks to Humans of Bombay.
The Facebook page, created early last year by 23-year-old Karishma Mehta, offers an on-the-ground look at the myriad people living in Mumbai and has already garnered nearly 270,000 followers to date. While India boasts the fastest-growing economy in the world, Mumbai is also home to one of the world’s largest slums—a divide that’s not lost on Mehta, who profiles a wide spectrum of individuals and tells of their personal struggles and successes.
Delivered in the same simple style and format as the New York version, the stories range from sweet to poignant, including that of a little girl in the Dharavi slum offering up her glass of water and a revealing interview with Indian actor Kalki Koechlin, who speaks about her childhood sexual abuse.
Mehta, born and raised in Mumbai, has a day job conducting positive thinking and affirmation classes and works part-time on the page alongside two interns. The site’s mission, she says, is to "make the world a more connected, warm, and free-spirited place." The young photographer is also self-publishing her images in a book that will be released in the next three months.
We reached out to Mehta to discuss what inspired her to launch the page, which stories have touched her the most, and what’s in store.
TakePart: What made you start Humans of Bombay?
Karishma Mehta: I’d been closely following Humans of New York for a while when I decided to come up with an online magazine that would feature photos, videos, and written stories. Purely as an experiment, I decided to start the photo story section under [the Facebook page], and it took off! The magazine didn’t end up coming together, but Humans of Bombay thankfully stuck around.
TakePart: Tell us about your process of photographing people and sharing their stories. How do you usually approach them?
Mehta: We usually approach people asking them if they’ve heard of Humans of Bombay. If they say no, we explain the process, show the page on our cell phones, and convince the person to give us their time. One out of three people usually say no—but that’s OK, because with every passing person, we get more confident. A typical week includes four to five shoot days, meetings, content writing, and photo editing, all spaced out over seven days. I usually don’t have Sundays to myself.
TakePart: How often do you post, and how long does it usually take to create a post?
Mehta: I post one post every day, and it ideally takes an hour to make each story, along with the perfectly edited photo.
TakePart: Where do you typically go in the city to photograph people?
Mehta: All over—that’s the best part. There’s no specific location or agenda. It’s a free, open sort of day, and I love taking it as it comes.
TakePart: Which person’s story has stayed with you the longest?
Mehta: I met a woman who married someone deaf and dumb and loved him all her life without any complaints or regrets. That story really shook me to my core, because I’d never heard an account of such selfless love firsthand. It actually made me really emotional and left me wondering for days after.
TakePart: Has anyone been difficult to speak to or photograph?
Mehta: I don’t think there’s been anyone exceptionally difficult to speak with. Either we’ve gotten the story or we haven’t!
TakePart: Who has been the most surprising person to interview and photograph?
Mehta: I featured a person in South Bombay once who was a tour guide in Bombay, and he said the most prolific, free-spirited things, which I didn’t expect. He spoke about not taking life too seriously, drugs, and living for yourself and not society. It’s amazing, because the best stories come from the people you least expect.
TakePart: Your post on actor Kalki Koechlin received considerable attention [more than 30,000 Facebook likes]. Can you tell us how she came to share her story with you?
Mehta: I’ve followed Kalki closely for a few years, and having her on my platform was a dream because she isn’t the stereotypical actor. Her personality is brazen and real, something I’ve always loved. I got in touch with her via a mutual friend, and she very graciously agreed to share her touching story.
TakePart: The story of the little girl in the slum offering you water was so moving. How did you come across her, and what’s the story behind this post?
Mehta: I was shooting in Dharavi and was standing around the little girl for a while, talking to other people, when she came up to me and said [“Didi, pani?”]. Really, there’s no other story behind the post—exactly what I said happened, and it left me very overwhelmed.
TakePart: What would you say this project has taught you about humanity? Anything surprising in particular?
Mehta: Just that there’s still humanity left, and that in itself is a huge revelation, given that most of the time [some of us] don’t believe it exists.
TakePart: What’s next for Humans of Bombay? How long do you hope to do this for?
Mehta: I have a coffee-table book in the final planning stages, so fingers crossed for that! It’s going to be a beautiful amalgamation of some powerful stories and photographs that will make us fall in love with Bombay and India a little more. I feel like with a project like Humans of Bombay, the timeline is limitless, given that there are always interesting people and stories. For now, I can’t put a cap on it. Also, I feel [too] passionate about the project to think of an end time. It’s the best thing that’s happened to me, and brings me more peace and satisfaction than anything else I can imagine.