Look up!

Hey there Rachel Lopez,

I came across your account TheGreaterBombay on Instagram by accident and I loved it from start. Who knew taxi ceilings could be so beautiful and fun!

Let’s take it from the beginning, please tell us a bit about yourself, your background, where you live and what you do for a living.
I’m a journalist and columnist with the Hindustan Times, a leading national newspaper that’s close to 100 years old. I’ve lived in Mumbai all my life and absolutely love it.

How come you started to take pictures of the ceilings and how did it become TheGreaterBombay?
I think everyone knows that there’s some kind of decoration on the inside of a kali. We’re a very decorative culture so we never stop to notice. I was seated under a particularly hideous one, one day. The ceiling had a brown background and strawberries in unnatural colours. It was so ugly, I loved it. I took the first photo as a joke, and decided to see how many I could take before running out. I’ve got 450 unique ceiling designs now, so joke’s on me!

Photo: @TheGreaterBombay

If I’m not wrong, the cabs are called ”kaali peeli” – does it mean anything or is it just the word for cabs?
The cabs are indeed called kalli-peeli. it’s means Yellow-Black, the colour of the vehicles.

The patterns in the ceilings are so colourful, fun, beautiful and rich, and a bit kitschy I might say. Do you have a favourite pattern/ceiling?
Of course I do! The ones that make me smile are anything fruit themed. I still cannot imagine why a pattern that is suited to middle-class plastic picnic tablecloths ended up inside vehicles. But they’re always colourful and cheery.

Photo: @TheGreaterBombay

Are there some patterns that are more common than others?
Fruits and flowers dominate. Some have geometric patterns and animal prints as well. My great aim is to be wearing my zebra-stripe dress, hail a cab and discover that’s I’m matching exactly with the ceiling. It could happen!

Do you know who are the designers behind these patterns and do they produce this kind of art also for new cabs?
All I know is that they’re printed in China (probably in units that also manufacture plastic tablecloths and shower curtains, given the designs and motifs are so similar) and fitted in garages in Mumbai. The plastic covering is easier to wipe clean than the fabric/felt covering that the cars usually have.

Photo: @TheGreaterBombay

It must be expensive keeping up @TheGreaterBombaybeing forced to take a cab everyday?
Mumbai cabs are relatively inexpensive. I’ve taken as many as eight taxis a day. They’re safe and easy to find so it’s no hardship at all.

Photo: @TheGreaterBombay

Are these ceilings significant for Indian design you would say?
Not at all, they’re generic and forgettable unless you’re paying attention and creating a gallery like I did. I think it’s all lost in the white noise of urban design.

What is your goal with TheGreaterBombay?
To remind Mumbai that design is everywhere and sometimes you just have to lookup. To document this unique and seemingly unending gallery of colourful designs. To show a different side of Mumbai to the world.

Photo: @TheGreaterBombay

Let’s end with some quick ones,
Stripes or dots? ALWAYS DOTS.
Colour or black/white? ALWAYS COLOUR
Romantic or graphic? ALWAYS BOTH

If the readers want to follow you on social media where can they find you except from Instagram?
On Twitter I’m @GreaterBombay. I also have a podcast Wordy Wordpecker, which looks at the origins of everyday words (It made Apple’s Best of 2018 list). I have a Saturday column with the Hindustan Times called Mumbaiwale, and a new Sunday one called Recharge.