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Blue Zebras to Purple Strawberries: Journalist Showcases Quirky Art of Mumbai Cabs

Mumbai-based journalist, Rachel Lopez, has dedicated her Instagram account to showcasing the unique designs inside Mumbai's kaali peeli taxi cabs that are zipping across the city.

Blue Zebras to Purple Strawberries: Journalist Showcases Quirky Art of Mumbai Cabs

When you open the Greater Bombay’s Instagram account, you are greeted with bizarre designs that Rachel Lopez equates to French knots, vintage photo albums, funky animal print, ‘picnics in the sky’ and even inspirations from the ‘Illuminati’.

A closer look and you’ll notice that this unique collection of photographs captures a tiny portion of Mumbai’s essence — the inside of the city’s taxi cabs.

Big floral motifs to tiny chequered prints in bright colours and designs that resemble ‘grandma’s night dress’ — all found on the ceilings of these cabs.

Speaking to The Better India, the Mumbai-based journalist, says, “I didn’t intend to make a collection. I was simply getting into a taxi to get to work one day in 2017. I got into a kaali peeli cab, like I always do, and that’s when I noticed the ceiling of the cab was hideous but beautiful at the same time. It had a chocolate brown background with strawberries of unnatural colours like purple and green — in the way they don’t appear in nature.”

The “ghastly but fun” design made her take a picture of it.

“I thought, ‘I wonder how many taxis and how many pictures I can take before I see all the designs there are’. Here I am 550 pictures later, and I haven’t captured the same design twice,” says Rachel.

She adds, “I move around the city a lot and I love the quirkiness of all of us jammed up together, living peacefully, for the most part. And all of those pictures represent a ride that I have taken in Mumbai.”

The inspiration for her Instagram handle, Greater Bombay, stems from this sentiment exactly.

When she shows people these pictures, some know right away what they’re looking at while others still wonder why they’re looking at pictures of her forehead (which gets captured by her front camera).

Today, Rachel’s fascination for the ceilings of Mumbai cabs is resonated by her 11,500 followers.

“It has given me such a wonderful way of looking at my city,” she asserts.

Her journey of capturing the ceilings of cabs have often resulted in the most amusing anecdotes — from asking a perplexed cab driver for water to wipe the grubby ceiling to using a MAC cleansing wipe, coveted by many, to do the same.

“Sometimes I chat up the cab driver about how beautiful their taxi is and all I get is a grunt. But I realised the designs are not chosen by them. They give their cars to mechanics for the day, and the refurbishing, upholstery, etc. is done by a third party,” she says.

Gabbar Singh on the ceiling often leads to a conversation about Sholay (1975), and sometimes she is pleasantly surprised by pretty designs like a black background with cherry blossoms.

She reiterates, “I don’t check the taxi ceiling before getting into the cab. They’re doing this for their rozi roti and their only job is to ferry you across the city and not to give you a great artistic experience.”

Elaborating on how these designs are unique to Mumbai cabs, she says, “Even if you get out to Navi Mumbai, they don’t have the same designs. Additionally, several other cities like Pune, Delhi don’t have these unique designs. Mumbai’s fleet comprises 55,000 taxis and no other city can match this strength of public transportation. A black and yellow taxi cab for just Rs 25 that can reach different parts of the city is so predominantly Mumbai.”

“It isn’t just decoration. The plastic covering in the taxi is to protect it from dust and grime. The vehicle coming in from the factory has its ceiling covered in felt. But if you’re going to travel with the windows down and god knows who sitting in the backseat, you need to have these plastic coverings,” says Rachel.

Her inherent knowledge of taxi cabs stems from her own research and conversations with the drivers. “I have gone to a place where they fit these designs on the roof of taxi cabs and they told me that the fabric comes from mass market manufacturing units. A lot of the designs have the same motifs that are commonly found on other surface pattern designs on plastic. So, shower curtains, plastic table cloths, etc. have the same floral motifs, fruits and animal prints.”

On a parting note she says, “You will get to see great art, if you only care to look up during your next cab ride.”


(Edited by Vinayak Hegde)

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