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Once Upon a Time in the City of Mumbai

In The Red Cat and Other StoriesRitesh Uttamchandani chronicles his hometown, Mumbai, India, a city he describes as “addictive like a bad drug.” The book includes 98 images the former news photographer shot with an iPhone, and ends with a fable Uttamchandani’s mother recited to him as a child.

The fable tells the story of a boy who leaves his village to look for work in a larger town. But he loses his way in a jungle, and finds himself inside a luxurious mansion owned by a Red Cat. Enchanted, the boy stays in the house for a year, working as a groundskeeper and cook for the Red Cat.

For Uttamchandani, this fable was one of the first sparks igniting his imagination, and it has become a fitting metaphor for the childlike way he chose to engage with Mumbai while creating The Red Cat and Other Stories. While working as a professional news photographer for more than a decade, Uttamchandani says, he had “abandoned” his “naive, innocent and spontaneous manner of seeing” and become overly obsessed with a style of imagery that didn’t feel true to himself. So he quit his staff job and pursued The Red Cat, returning to a way of seeing that celebrates the magic and chaos of everyday Mumbai. His approach, he tells PDN in an email, has been to “get closer to what it feels like being here instead of what it merely looks like.”

Uttamchandani was compelled to make this book for another reason, too. “A lot of cultural capital flows from the West to the East,” he tells PDN. “We devour almost all of it, but due to reasons I can’t decipher fully, very little flows from the East to the rest of the world. So I thought…let me just tell my story, our story, in my voice and put it out there.”

The Red Cat And Other Stories by Ritesh Uttamchandani is a self-published book (1000 copies) and is available here.

-Sarah Stacke

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