Tuesday, December 20, 2016

A Friend To All

Auto-rickshaw driver, Moosa Bava, helps artistes, at the Kochi Bienalle, to procure materials and ferries them around

Photo by Albin Mathew

By Shevlin Sebastian

It has probably never happened before. During an interview with Kochi Biennale Curator Sudarshan Shetty, in the international art magazine, 'Harper's Bazaar Art-Arabia', he talked about how an autorickshaw driver at Fort Kochi befriended him and said he could introduce South American artistes to Shetty. The curator was excited, as well as taken aback, to see the way the Biennale has impacted the local people.

On a recent Friday evening, autorickshaw driver Moosa Bava shows me the article where he is mentioned and there is a look of happiness on his face. “Sudarshan is a good person,” he says. “He is sincere and hard-working. But he, along with the organisers, faced a lot of problems because of demonitisation. They could not pay the workers by cash. Sudarshan went through many sleepless nights. He even went hungry on some nights. But he has set up a different Biennale: music, dance, art and installations.”

Moosa is becoming an expert on art and artistes. And the first artist he befriended was Rami Farook from Dubai. “He is originally from Malabar,” says Moosa, who has been plying his auto-rickshaw in Fort Kochi for the past twenty years. “I met him in front of Aspinwall House. It was raining and he took shelter in my auto. He told me about the Biennales in Venice, Sydney, Sharjah, South America and USA.”

So enamoured is Moosa of Rami that for the next Biennalle, he has suggested that there should be a foreign curator. “I would recommend the name of Rami,” says Moosa. “If he becomes one, there will be a lot of coverage of the Kochi Biennale in the Gulf. This will result in many more visitors.”

Apart from Rami, some of the other artistes Moosa has befriended include Robert Kluijver (Holland), Christiana De Marchi (Italy), Ahmed Amanullah Mojadidi (USA), Angelica Mesiti (Australia), and Ahmed Mater (Saudi Arabia).

During the first Biennale, the Kochi Biennale Foundation had been short of funds. So, artist Ahmed Mater found it difficult to buy a television set for one of his installations. But it was Moosa who procured it for him. “Of course, he paid me later,” says Moosa.

Thanks to his proactive nature, everybody came to know of Moosa. So much so that in film maker Hattie Bowering’s documentary on the first Biennale, called ‘Art: Interrupted’, one of the first images has been shot from the back seat of Moosa’s autorickshaw, as it moves along a bridge. Says Hattie: “Moosa would squeeze our five-man crew and kit into his rickshaw and whizz us about Fort Kochi.” 

For this year's Biennale, one of Moosa's customers, Sheikha Maisa Al Qassimi, is a member of the Royal Family of Sharjah (United Arab Emirates). One day, she called him up on the mobile, and said, “Moosa Bava, I have heard a lot about you in Dubai. Can you take me around?”

As Moosa is recounting his experiences, a woman comes up. She is Asma Mohammed (named changed), a Dubai-based writer for an international art magazine in New York. “I met Moosa during the first Biennale,” says Asma, a regular passenger. “He is definitely a fixture at Fort Kochi. Many artistes know him.”  

Moosa gives a radiant smile when he hears this. “The small shops, homestays, restaurants, hotels as well as auto-rickshaw and taxi drivers, have all benefited because of the Biennale,” he says. “And so have I. The word, 'Biennale', has become part of our language. And it is good to know that there are even more visitors for this year's event. I am very excited.” 

(The Indian Express, Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram)  

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