If you want to understand a city, you need to understand its people. And that’s what two online projects — Humans of Bombay and Humans of Chennai — try to do.
Three ardent followers of American photographer and Brandon Stanton’s brainchild, ‘Humans of New York’ (HONY), have come up with their own initiative ‘Humans of Bombay’ to help tell people stories about the vivacity contained in the maximum city. ‘Humans of Bombay’, a photography page on Facebook, is the collective initiative of three 20-somethings — Tiana Kamte, Karishma Mehta and Zahra Amiruddin.
The idea of ‘Humans of Bombay’ first struck Karishma when she wanted to come up with a digital magazine, which tells stories in different forms including picture and video format. Additionally, she had been following HONY and thought of including a section titled Humans of Bombay in her venture. When Karishma met Tiana and Zahra, graduates in mass media from Mumbai University, their collective love for photography and HONY brought them together. The three wanted to create something similar and share different hues of experiences and stories of lives in Mumbai. Although, HONY is the inspiration, Humans of Bombay has its own shades and different set of nuances. “We try to stick to Stanton’s format as far as possible. However, since we come from a place with inevitable differences, we focus on bringing out nuances of Mumbai. For instance, we try to keep Hindi quotes and provide English translations. By default, the vast variety of people and the general vibe of Mumbai make our page different. The questions we ask are also often Bombay-centric to make it more relatable,” says Zahra, a journalist. Citing the process of creating a photo-story as their favourite part, they believe this page has taught them a lot; the first being approaching strangers and trying to get them to share their stories. “It is like being a part of their lives for that period of time! It gives us a new perspective on life and makes us feel connected. Everyone around has their own story waiting to be told and being able to share some of those through our page feels amazing,” says Tiana, a Mumbai-based photographer.
However the initiative has its own challenges, the most important being getting people to be photographed and share their stories. The trio admits people are sceptical about being photographed by a group of strangers. But their Facebook page comes to the rescue. “Our Facebook page is kept open on our phones and we point out people who have already been featured,” says Tiana. Additionally, there is also a tide of negative comments on some of the photographs but that does not restrain the creators from telling stories. They also overcome some of the challenges by underlining one of the reasons behind this page — to help people connect with the city’s emotional aspects. Shooting children is their favourite part of the process. “The kids are always the most interesting to interview. Their life goals range from being chocolates so that they can eat themselves to being Batman. They don’t believe in just answering questions; they have a trillion of their own. With them it always feels like a two-way interview! When a little girl half our age says‘life is beautiful’, you realise how much we can learn from them,” says Karishma. The three have so far explored popular places such as Marine Drive, Carter Road and Juhu among others and now want to wade through lesser known pockets of the city. Barely a month old, the page has garnered an overwhelming response with close to 18000 followers but there is a long way to go, the three admit. Reach them at: facebook.com/pages/Humans-of-Bombay/188056068070045
There is an endearing thought circulating on social media that says that Chennai is the city, Madras is the emotion. The Humans of Chennai (HOC) page is out to prove just that. This idea draws inspiration from Brandon Stanton’s Humans of New York (HONY), started in 2010 in an attempt to create a colourful catalogue of New York’s inhabitants. The idea was simple: to offer a glimpse into the daily lives of strangers. HOC follows the same script in a bid to bring Chennaiites together with the help of photos and anecdotes. The page is run by Ajay Haridas, managing director at Bridge ‘n’ Bond, a custom packaging company that caters to over 200 hotels in the country. He initially mulled over the idea with his friend Jayanthi Kanderi, who lived in the U.S. “She mooted the concept as she had seen it happen in New York and pushed me to start Humans of Chennai here. We started in November 2013 and garnered quite a bit of attention with over 700 likes in Facebook.” Ajay also dabbles with photography in his free time and used his photos on HOC, coupled with quotes and anecdotes. “I take photos of vendors, hotel managers, fruit sellers — pretty much any profession and people from all walks of life, regardless of their economic status. The core idea is to invite people to send us photos, anecdotes, tiny life lessons, experiences and in that process creating a portal into the lives of strangers.” Jayanthi says that her need to know more about Chennai pushed her to start the page. “I lived in Chennai for the first 26 years of my life and I wanted to know more about my hometown. I looked for a page like HONY and didn’t find one. I met Ajay through his photography and loved his happy pictures. So I pitched the idea to him and he suggested we become partners.” Jayanthi works as an IT recruiter and interacts with several people every day. “I truly believe everyone has a story to tell and it’s also a testimony to the fact that one of the greatest needs of a human is to be heard. In the comments section of HONY, people always ask Stanton how he gets people to open up and say the things they do. He believes that all you have to do is ask and be willing to listen. People will tell you their stories.” So are Chennaiites hesitant to share episodes from their life? Ajay feels that some were initially hesitant and didn’t respond thinking he was an official. “I have spoken to not just Chennaiites, but also to people who have moved to Chennai and made it their home. All of them have a common response: Chennai is a warm city that has embraced them as its own.” The core idea of HOC is to cultivate a platform that showcases not just resident Chennaiites, but expatriates from around the world sharing what they love and miss about Chennai. Ajay and Jayanthi plan to expand once the page has more number of likes. “We would love for people to contribute and help bring about an air of positivity in whatever little way they can,” says Ajay with a smile.