“Machhli humare rag-rag mein hain, isiliye mere gaane mein samundar hamesha rehta hai”—Fish run in our veins, so the sea is always present in my songs—Chintamani Shivdikar told us as we sipped sweet chai from porcelain cups in his home in Worli Koliwada, a fishing village in Mumbai. Even at home, he was dressed in white clothes and gold accessories; chains with fish pendants hung from his neck, and bright rings branded each of his fingers. A folk singer and YouTube star, Shivdikar is a local legend. He seems like a quintessential pop star, but his story reveals the journey of the Kolis and their unique connection with the sea, in a city obsessed with land reclamation.
Worli Koliwada is shaped like a camel’s back. Shivdikar lives near the local Golfa Devi Mandir, on one of the camel’s many humps. The area houses close to eight thousand people, most of whom belong to the Koli community—sub-groups of which are categorised as Schedule Tribes or Other Backward Classes in Maharashtra. The Kolis are said to be the first inhabitants of Bombay, having arrived in the city nearly five hundred years ago. The fishing community settled in Koliwadas across the city—in Worli, Colaba, Vasai, Juhu and Sion—in order to remain close to the sea, their principal source of livelihood. Shivdikar is a proud Koli. “When Deve Gowda was prime minister, he wore a lungi and came here,” he told us. “If he can flaunt Koli culture, why should I be ashamed of it?” Shivdikar’s house is filled with photos of himself with former prime ministers and important people from the Marathi and Hindi entertainment worlds, music CDs recorded over the years, as well as trophies and certificates he has won.
Shivdikar forayed into the arts when he was six years old and won a prize in a drama competition organised by the Kumar Kala Kendra, a local drama society. Soon, he started singing, dancing and writing as a hobby. His father, who was a performer as well, encouraged Shivdikar’s artistic inclinations. After college, like everyone else around him, he got married and settled into a routine job, albeit one that kept him close to the sea. “I worked at the naval docks for forty-five years, retiring as an HSK-1 officer,” he told us, referring to his rank as a highly skilled officer. Shivdikar continued to dabble in music. In 2018, he wrote and sang “Papletwaali,” the song that catapulted him to YouTube stardom. “Everytime I go out now, people stop me in the street and sing that song,” he said.