The One-rupee Entrepreneur

It was in the course of a workshop with a group of college students, that I found myself confronted with the problem of turning an abstract notion into a set of pictures.

     Entrepreneurship is an idea that has always been dear to the city of Mumbai. In the grand narrative of its history, Bombay was the city that built some of the warships that were used in the Battle of Trafalgar (1805; Britain vs Spain) and imported ice from America in the 19th century to cool its drinks. As with the city, so with its denizens. Here, everyone has a job and a “side business”; and this may explain the frantic pace of the city. No one’s going home from a job; they’re rushing from one job to another. That can be giving private tuitions, filing accounts for an organisation that cannot afford a full-time accountant or baking cakes for a nearby bakery. This is also a city so starved for space that in its heritage precinct (which is also the Central Business District), the spaces beneath the


staircases of the older buildings often house a workshop that repairs pens or watches or a retail outfit selling mobile phones. Home to a middle-class family often means 500 square feet of room, no hot water, and five family members competing for space. Combine these two exigencies and you can see how the idea of the red coin-operated public telephones that dot the city emerges as the perfect example of Mumbai’s enterprise. They provide a small but steady income. They do not take up much space. Their bright colour attracts attention. And because there is always the possibility that one might want to buy some eggs while waiting for an erratic connection.

     I have travelled extensively all over India but have never seen so many of these phones in any other city. But then perhaps no other city has as great a need for so many simultaneously operating media.