If you’ve ever been to Mumbai, it’s likely that you’ve taken a ride in the city’s famous kaali-peelis that swarm its streets. Less likely is the probability that you tore your gaze away from the traffic or buildings, and glanced upwards at the taxi roof instead, which is a shame. Some have vibrant, colourful roofs, in bright colours and patterns, some are padded with lurid velvet, and some even have mini-chandeliers. It’s art in the most unexpected place.
Rachel Lopez, resident of the city and journalist and editor with The Hindustan Times, took it upon herself to document the taxi roofs, and share it with her Instagram followers. Her daily uploads soon became the #TaxiTop project.
Lopez tells us about her interest in city history and how the idea of documenting kaali-peeli ceilings came to her mind and soon caught on.
Q. How did #TaxiTops come about? What inspired you to start the photo series?
I take a taxi to work every day and one day in April I happened to look up. It was a brown ceiling covered in strawberries of unnatural colours. It was so ghastly, I loved it!
I took a picture, using my front-facing cellphone camera. It made me realise that my daily cab rides could yield a gallery of images that was truly unique to Mumbai, and that people deserved to see them. I’d joined Instagram only the month before (@TheGreaterBombay) so it was a good way to make my feed unique.
Q. Did you ever strike a conversation with any of the taxi drivers to ask them about the decorative interiors?
I have to say, the taxi drivers remain largely unimpressed by compliments and my attempts to show them my pictures. The most I’ve got is a grunt. Drivers love to talk about potholes, the government, a woman’s place in the world, and the rising cost of everything. But get them to open up about the art over their heads and they’re suspiciously silent. Only one driver has been forthcoming. His cherry-blossom covered ceiling, he told me, gets him compliments every day. Mostly from the ladies.
Q. What significance do kaali-peelis hold for you as a resident of Mumbai? And do the decorative interiors complement that in any way?
Of course taxis are iconic. Of course our black-and-yellow fleet keeps Mumbai running. Of course the bright interiors are an extension of our love for design, colour and kitschy decoration. And of course, we take all this beauty for granted.
Q. Which is your favourite #TaxiTop so far?
Anything that has fruits. There’s something wonderful about taking a journey across Mumbai with melons, grapes and half a kiwi over your head. Fruit-themed ceilings are usually brighter and sillier.
Q. What has the response been like?
Everyone’s been looking up when they take taxis now.
Friends will send me pictures of their own finds, strangers will share a variation of a print I’ve photographed. For those in Mumbai, it’s largely been a rediscovery – no one quite realised the extent and variety of the prints out there. Those across India and abroad have been thrilled to see the world from a new angle. I probably have the world’s most extensive art gallery of taxi-ceiling images.
By now we’re sure you’re as intrigued as we are, so head on over to @TheGreaterBombay to check out more of Lopez’s collection of taxi roof art.
Written by Additi Seth
Featured images credit: Rachel Lopez