A Bombay Boy: A Q&A with Sotheby's India MD Gaurav Bhatia
By Cosmo Brockway
Mumbai is a city described as 'the most exciting in the world' and a melting pot of cultural, artistic and design scenes. The art market is one of the many exciting aspects of the metropolis with the city home to some of the most renowned international collectors, curators and artists in the world. Global auction house Sotheby's are launching their inaugural auction in India, taking place in December 2018 at the Taj Mahal Mumbai and entitled Boundless India, featuring both Indian and western artists inspired by South Asia. MD of Sotheby's India Gaurav Bhatia chats with Ampersand Travel's Cosmo Brockway about his Mumbai little black book, having grown up in the city and a fixture, along with wife Pratima, on its social and artistic circles.
1). Describe why you love Mumbai and a little about your background growing up in the city?
I am a Bombay boy. I grew up in leafy Altamount Road in the heart of South Bombay and went to Cathedral and John Connon School. Our lives were idyllic, centred around our friends, the country clubs and tennis classes. I now live in the hip new Mill district of Mumbai – a very different city. Today it’s about realising dreams, multi-multi-tasking and the traffic. It’s a colourful chaos. Mumbai is many cities in one city. That’s what makes it exciting. I live in both.
2). With your office being at the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, how does work with Sotheby's entwine you with the city?
My office at the iconic Taj Mahal Palace Hotel is a serendipitous location. The Taj is the grand hotel of Bombay, built in 1903, facing the monumental Gateway of India and the Arabian Sea. My office faces The Royal Bombay Yacht Club, built in 1846, with its English neo-Gothic meets Tudor architecture. I guess we could say it’s a 'room with a view!'.
Being in the heritage (and hip) quarter with the museum mile, art galleries, boutiques, gastronomic hot spots and a buzzing after-hours scene is always stimulating – it’s all within walking distance. Though you hardly ever walk in Mumbai, which is a shame. I’m always around inspiring people and places.
3). What are your top three dining haunts and watering holes in the city, both casual and formal?
Mumbai is a gastronomic melting pot. Local seafood is a must try and for the freshest try Trishna which is pescatarian heaven (I recommend Fried Bombil, Butter Garlic Crab and Hyderabadi dal) or Ankur or its more fine dining avatar in Konkan Café.
Local street-food is legendary and the best bets for a more refined version are Swati Snacks - a mecca for local tapas and the elegant Sea Lounge at the Taj – try the bhel puri, paani puri or dahi batata puri and the Mumbai mix toastie or Kheema ghotala and the chilli cheese toast.
Britannia is faded but with extraordinary Parsi cuisine (a unique mix of Indian and Iranian cuisine) - the Dhansak, Salli boti and Berry Pulao are worth visiting for. Neel is the place for authentic North Indian and Awadhi food and Copper Chimney for Butter Chicken.
The Table - a San Francisco style farm-to-table experience is our favourite date night spot and a drink at the legendary Harbour Bar, the oldest licensed bar in the city is special as is its rooftop counterpart Aer at the Four Seasons Hotel. The Dome has the best view of the city with heady cocktails. Slink & Bardot is the hippest new French spot in town.
Kala Ghoda Café is my favourite cafe in a cool art-meets-design-meets-fashion district. The best (and most authentic) meal however is always in someone’s home – if you are lucky!
4). Do you have a favourite Mumbai experience in the city?
The Mumbai architecture beat is a must-do. A mix of Gothic, Victorian, Art Deco, Indo-Saracenic and contemporary styles blend into the city effortlessly and serve as a metaphor of the city’s eclectic spirit. A drive across the 3km stretch on Marine Drive and Church Gate is a must-see for its Art Deco buildings. Other not to be missed highlights include a visit to the Bhau Daji Lad Museum, the city’s oldest museum, Dadar Flower Market at dawn for fresh flowers and if you want great photographs. Chor Bazaar or the thieves market has the best flea market experience – think old furniture, lights and bric-à-brac.
5). Your couple of favourite shops and boutiques that you and Pratima favour?
If there are three things I would pick up in Mumbai it would be Khadi, Kolhapuri slippers and spices. Local design and fashion thrives in the Colaba district. Joy Shoes for the quintessential Mumbai buy – Kolhapuri slippers – hand-crafted leather open-toed sandals in juicy colours that have been around from the 13th century, now a chic fashion statement.
Khadi is a handspun, hand-woven natural made out of cotton, silk or wool and very versatile – it keeps you cool in summer and warm in winter - Khadi Bhandar is a treasure trove. For traditional woven fabrics and shawls Indian Textiles at the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel is fabulous. Raw Mango and Anavila have a wonderful contemporary take on traditional fabrics.
Mélange is a beautifully curated store of emerging designers while Ensemble is a ready-to-wear and couture haven. Bungalow 8 is a chic concept store that marries fashion, jewellery and design - a must-visit. Payal Khandwala captures the bohemian spirit of Mumbai with interesting fashion in jewelled hues. Neemrana and Ahilaya have cotton tunics and beachwear. For serious baubles go to Gem Palace, Mehernosh Heeramaneck and Gazdar. Amrapali has an innovative and eclectic mix of jewels. For fun jewellery it’s D. Popli and Sons, Curio Cottage and Silver House.
We collect colonial and period furniture and Mahendra Doshi is an institution. Phillips Antiques has a nice mix of mid-century furniture, collectibles and wonderful photographs. Finally for the home Ranjit Ahuja’s very chic atelier as well as Good Earth and Anokhi have a nice mix of lifestyle goodies.
Spices from Excellent Spices in Crawford Market are treat to take back home. Chimanlals is a wonderful paperie with fabulous stationary.
6). What hidden gems do you gravitate towards in the city for celebrations/retreat/cultural interest?
The Mumbai gallery scene is very inspiring. My beat is usually Chemould Prescott Road, Chatterjee & Lal, Jhaveri Contemporary, Project 88, Sakshi and Tarq – all within the gallery mile. They have great shows of international calibre. Art Night Thursdays, twice a month, is when the city galleries come alive with inaugural shows and often serve wine on the house. A perfect culture fix.
I also tune into The Royal Opera House calendar – they’ve always got something interesting going on. Finally a walk along the artsy Kala Ghoda dotted with little boutiques and cafés is always fun. If you are here in summer (April-May), don’t miss the legendary Alphonso mangoes and even better the decadent aamras – a ripe mango puree seasoned with strands of saffron. Heaven!
7). How would you sum up Mumbai in a line or two as it means to you?
Mumbai is raw energy, ambition and hope. Everyone comes here with an ambition to become someone. I love the infectious optimism. Embrace the city and it will be yours forever.
Gaurav Bhatia is Managing Director, Sotheby's India. He was raised in Mumbai, went to university in the U.S. and worked in New York for a decade. He is a Bombay boy.