Empty cotton mills, brass art shops that turn to vessel mending — just some vanishing acts that are part of The Disappearing Professions of Mumbai, Goa and Jaipur

The photo exhibition by Clare Arni at Gallery Sumukha, “The Disappearing Professions of Mumbai, Goa and Jaipur” is a window into the decaying worlds of India's “traditional labour practises”.

The window is a mixture of bleak worlds of colours and passionate worlds of black and white. The write-up at the beginning of each segment of the exhibition helps the viewer understand the eye of the photographer much better.

One common thread that runs through all the cities whose traditional occupations are disappearing is that the children of those people who continue the trade of their forefathers want to break the family tradition, unable to bear the suffering.

This suffering is more accepted in some places, than others. Mumbai's Koli fishermen, for example, have to use smaller boats because of the increasing costs of diesel and the competition from trawlers reducing their catch. The pollution caused by garbage and oil slicks, captured so effectively in the Machimnagar Fishing Village, as the catalogue description reads, have worsened their woes.

The exhibition also captures Mumbai's dwindling Irani cafes, theatres whose cheapest tickets belong to the “First Class” and lonely cotton mills accompanied by trees or waiting to be replaced by the high-rise buildings.

Goa on the other hand, according to the write-up, does not really have a traditional workforce, except for perhaps in a few traditional occupations like jewellery making. It is a motley of occupations, mostly dominated by personalities like the shell-crafter and “World Princess”, Jamaila Bartake, posing in her living room decked with palm trees. There is a potter, Duza Siguiera and his family, who make terracotta pottery. “Elmech” is one of the last existing sewing machine shops, whose clientele now opts for readymade clothes and “Barberia”, a barber shop in Calagunte whose trade is threatened because men prefer shaving at home.

Jaipur's crafts, the write-up declares, though more integrated into urban employment than the other cities, are still facing some problems. A man sculpts marble, surrounded by his marble lions. “The Pyau”, Kaushalya, still waits to serve water to passers by from a square, open window. Shabir Ali's elephant, Lucky, is likely to be sent to his forest. Suresh Tholia is busy doing his fine “Gota work” weaving ribbons and cloth with gold and silver.

The “Behrupiya” performances have no kings to perform and send messages for. Ram Singh Kasera and his son Venu Gopal Kasera's brass work shop is now becoming a brass vessels mending shop.

Block printing is found to be under threat from the cheaper screen-printing. But “Nyaras” continue “filtering gold and silver” from the drains around jewellery workshops. This is the last photograph in the exhibition, a black and white image of an old “Nyara” working at a drain, surrounded by trash.

“This exhibition is a part of an ongoing project where we are trying to document urban change. I started in Bangalore, trying to find out if traditional professions have changed. I found that they had almost disappeared. So I decided to check if the same thing was happening in other cities. It was very interesting to look at labour history,” says Clare, a professional photographer who has been living in Bangalore for the past twenty-five years. “Through this exhibition I have confirmed my suspicions that traditional professions are disappearing. But I am only documenting the changing nature of urban India; this is in no way a political judgement,” she adds.

The exhibition is on until September 23 at Gallery Sumukha, Wilson Garden. Call 22292230.