Chronicler Of Lives On Mumbai Locals: Captured By Anushree Fadnavis

Mumbai’s local trains take on new meaning in the Instagram photographs of Anushree Fadnavis






“Anita, a transgender, poses for a picture in the ladies compartment of the Mumbai local train. Anita’s was (one of the) very first few pictures that I had clicked that paved the way for my project on transgenders. She has a beautiful tattoo of an angel and she calls it her “Angel”








Anushree Fadnavis is probably the most popular Reuters photographer on Instagram. She has close to 100,000 followers on the social media site, who actively engage with every picture she posts. This fame, though, has little to do with her work-related photographs. She is popular on Instagram because of her 5 years long series of images of women travelling in the ladies compartment of the iconic Mumbai locals. She shares them under the hashtag ‘#traindiaries’. “I always wanted to maintain a diary with Polaroid prints of people I meet every day, and the things I see and feel, “she says. “Instagram, when it was launched, had a 1×1 aspect ratio and offered the same feel. So, I started this as a virtual diary, to document the people and stories around me.”




“Pooja and Radhika, both members of Iskcon and have also taken ‘Diksha ‘ and who are seen praying using the prayer beads, pose for a picture in the ladies compartment of the Mumbai local train. Pooja was named as Parmanandi Madhavi after taking Diksha and Radhika has taken the name Parmanandi Rasmayi Gopi. Diksha/Deeksha is usually given in a one-to-one ceremony, and typically includes the taking on of a serious spiritual discipline. It is also known as giving of a mantra or an initiation by the guru in some Indian customs. The train was pretty crowded but they got my attention.”




Fadnavis’s subjects are the working-class women of the city for whom the local trains are a lifeline, and she photographs them with the easy camaraderie of a fellow commuter on her way to work herself. There are rarely any close-ups, and the inside of the coaches invariably serve as the backdrop, a constant reminder perhaps of the importance of these trains in their lives. The women are mostly lost in their thoughts, and Fadnavis’ framing of the pictures lends them an element of poignancy that makes them stand out. She has a notable fascination for transgender women, many of whom pose for her with the level of intimacy of a friend.


She prefers to keep her pictures simple; no-fuss shots taken in natural light, and on her mobile phone. But what completes the picture is the longish captions that she provides with each image, which capture her thoughts and also the stories of her subjects. She is never a neutral observer and seems to always strive to befriend the women she photographs. “You’d be surprised by how people share experiences of a lifetime with you. Sometimes, it takes just one journey to help you gain perspective about life,” she says. “I usually bump into some known faces as well, and we’ll casually enquire about each other’s lives.” Her favourite picture, she says, is the one of a girl with balloons. “She was carrying them for her cousin’s birthday.”


“Aditi is holding helium balloons in the ladies compartment of the Mumbai local train while she waits for her stop to come. She bought those balloons to make a special gift for her cousin on the occasion of her birthday and she was on her way to go to her cousin’s house. She was really sweet and when she showed me her idea of what she was going to do with the balloons I thanked her for sharing the idea. I am sure I am going to try it someday.”


“A girl holds a Teddy bear which was gifted to her on her 17th birthday by her friends. I asked why she was not wearing her shoes to which she told me that she was wearing heels and removed them because she was afraid she will fall holding this big bear. Sometimes you meet some strangers, have a big long chat but forget to ask their name. I don’t know why somehow that happened with me today. But I think her name was Manisha when a friend of her called out to her from a platform. But I did give her birthday wishes.”






“Runali (20) poses for a picture in the ladies compartment of the Mumbai local train. I saw her floating on the platform. She looked beautiful in that pink gown. I have always wanted to wear something like this as a child. A flowing dress. The memories of my childhood flashed before me. Rapunzel, Cinderella, Thumbelina. I knew it must be a special day. It was her birthday. I followed her. When she got in the train, she was lost in the crowd with her gown. I asked her if she could pose for a picture and told her she looks lovely in that dress. And she did. I don’t know how someone can travel in a crowded train with such a beautiful dress. She was on her way to celebrate her birthday with her friends. I got off with her and wished her happy birthday.”


“Kinjal, a transgender, poses for a picture in the ladies compartment of the Mumbai local train. I happen to know Kinjal from a social gathering I had attended with my trans friends and she recognised me. We had a lovely conversation in which I told her that I loved her gajra (flower garland) and her half saree (the south indians wear this as their traditional wear).”



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