mid-day's 39th anniversary: Connecting everyone in Bombay

By Gitanjali Chandrasekharan | Mumbai

Updated: Jun 29, 2018, 09:38 IST

How a young woman from Prabhadevi regularly makes strangers in Mumbai get to know each other without ever meeting

Humans of Bombay has 8,30,000 followers. Pic/Ashish Raje

Karishma Mehta, 26
Founder, Humans Of Bombay Stories Pvt. Ltd.

If there's one story that Karishma Mehta will tell about herself - and there's a 250-page personal manuscript lying with her that reveals so much that she will never publish - it's about how good a hustler she is. She puts it down to growing up in a business family - her dad has factories that produce velvet, yarn, toothbrush parts and machinery; her sister, a psychologist, runs a chain of pre-schools, and her other sister is a marketing professional. Mehta, herself a double major graduate in economics and business from UK's University of Nottingham, could have returned to India and joined a bank. But, that world wasn't for her.

Her first (and only) internship lasted half a day. "I just left and they probably wondered 'where is that intern?'" she smiles when we meet at her Juhu bungalow. It's the office of Humans of Bombay Stories Pvt. Ltd., a company where Mehta is now the CEO, with a permanent staff of six and a few interns that come and go. In the office on a table that reminds you more of the community tables at eateries, are a bunch of young people hunched on their Macs. On whiteboards and glassboards on the wall, marked are TDLs of posts for HoB and their next venture, We The People, which takes HoB global.

Created along the lines of Humans of New York, Mehta says, in his blog post once, Brandon Stanton talked of what needed to be done for those who wanted to create a local page of their own. "And, as an ardent follower of HONY, I'd always felt that we need a Humans of Bombay here," she says. That a story of a person could break the clutter of the Internet, stood out for her.

In January 2014, she uploaded her first post - of an old woman on Marine Drive, who agreed to talk to her after 10 others said no, got her 1,000 likes within the night. "Within a week that was 10,000, and within a month, it became 20,000," she says. Today, the page has over 8,30,000 followers. On Instagram that number is 1,95,000. Over the years, she has had several stories. Anyone who follows the page has at least a few that they remember. "Now, people call up or send messages asking us to feature them or someone else. And, we respond to everyone." Her favourite success story is crowdfunding the education of an orphan whose mother was a sex worker, and got a scholarship to New York for an arts course, but needed to figure out boarding.

For Mehta, it's been only a year since she has been able to monetise her own work. "I am of the belief that women need to be fully financially independent. Whether to buy a bag or donate to charity. I can make that decision for myself. I can breathe now."

Corporate stories happen. For instance, a couple that met on Tinder and got married. "But, we try to keep a balance between this and stories when we go out randomly and meet people." Her company has received investment, which means she is paying salaries and checking bills of petty cash for the first time. But, it comes with a sense of achievement. Of knowing you followed your heart and made it.

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