All posts by shekhar

India’s First Bio-Gas Plant

This is an expanded version of my lead feature published in Sunday Mid-Day on 2 December 2018 as “The Lights Go Off in Matunga” (PDF). Thanks to Dr Shubhada Pandya and Dr Pratibha Kathe of the Acworth Municipal Leprosy Hospital and Museum.

A pioneering innovation in the quest for renewable energy will soon lose a landmark first made in Mumbai. The site of one of the world’s first succesful bio-gas plants – built in 1901 by British civil engineer Charles Carkeet James (1863-1942) – will be cleared in coming weeks for a new medical students’ hostel to be developed at the historic Acworth Municipal Hospital for Leprosy in Matunga.

Charles Carkeet James, M. Inst. C.E. (1863-1942), sanitary and water engineer to the Bombay Municipal Corporation, author of “Oriental Drainage” (1902) and “Drainage Problems of the East” (1906) (Photo circa 1902 from irishwaterwayshistory.com)

C.C. James was a sanitary and drainage expert from Cornwall, England fascinated by problems of waste disposal in tropical conditions, where organic matter decomposed rapidly. His techniques for extracting combustible gas from sewage using air-less or “anaeorobic” composting are used in cities across the world today.

After coming to Bombay to design the Tansa Dam Water Works to increase piped water supply to the Island City in 1889, James was deputed by the new Municipal Commissioner Harry Arbuthnot Acworth (1849-1933) to work on the drainage of what was then known as the “Homeless Leper Asylum”. Established in 1890 in response to public panic of contagion from destitute lepers begging in the streets of Bombay, seven wards for 300 inmates were built on the site of an old rifle range in Matunga, through a campaign for public subscriptions led by industrialist Sir Dinshaw Petit.

Situated on a sloping ridge near the villages of Gowari, Khara and Wadala, and with no existing drainage network, the colony’s sludge soon overflowed the sinks and cess-pits James first built on the ridge. Already fearful of the lepers in their midst, the villagers threatened to file suit against the Commissioner for pollution in 1893.

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इंदू मिलच्या अंतरंगात मुंबईत साकारतेय वस्त्रोद्योग संग्रहालय

This is a Marathi translation by Avadhoot of Inside Indu Mills: A Textile Museum for Mumbai which was published in Loksatta on Sunday 11 November 2018. You can read the story online here or download the print version as a PDF.

मुंबईतील ६० सुती कापड गिरण्यांपैकी बहुतांश गिरण्या गेल्या २० वर्षांमध्ये बंद पडल्या अथवा त्यांच्या जागेचा पुनर्विकास करण्यात आला. जनतेसाठी कायमच अदृश्य राहिलेला हा प्रचंड वारसा आता शहरातून जवळपास लुप्त झालेला आहे. या गिरण्यांची आवारं अवाढव्य भिंतींनी बंदिस्त केलेली असल्यामुळे आतील भाग नजरेपल्याडच राहायचा, पण २०००च्या दशकात उड्डाणपूल व उंच इमारती उभ्या राहू लागल्यावर नजरेचा टप्पाही पलटला. जागतिक औद्योगिक क्रांतीच्या काळात निर्माण झालेल्या अगदी पहिल्या काही कारखान्यांमध्ये मुंबईतील कापडगिरण्यांचा समावेश होतो. ‘पूर्वेकडील मँचेस्टर’ म्हणून ओळखल्या गेलेल्या तत्कालीन बॉम्बे शहरात मध्यवर्ती ठिकाणी या गिरण्यांना जागा मिळाली.

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Inside Indu Mills: A Textile Museum for Mumbai

This is an expanded version of my lead feature published in Sunday Mid-Day on 9 September 2018, Back from the Dust: India United Mills 2-3 to Reconnect with Mumbai City. You can download the original cover story as a PDF here.

 

Over the past 20 years, as most of Mumbai’s 60 cotton textile mills have closed or redeveloped, a vast heritage that was always invisible to the public has almost entirely disappeared from the city. Hidden from view behind massive compound walls — until the coming of flyovers and high-rises in the 2000s — the mills of mid-town Mumbai were some of the first factories of the global Industrial Revolution, when Bombay was known as the “Manchester of the East”.

While most of these enormous compounds have since gentrified into the offices, malls, banks and towers of a new global economy, a handful of Mumbai’s most historic mills remain managed by the Centre-owned National Textile Corporation (NTC). The erstwhile India United Mills nos.2-3 in Kalachowky — one of NTC’s fifteen shuttered mills given to the Municipal Corporation — are now being planned as the city’s newest and largest museum.

Devoted to the history of textiles and industry in Mumbai, Maharashtra and India, the restored mill compound is due to open in phases beginning in 2019, 150 years after it first opened as a textile mill in 1869. The new Mumbai Textile Museum will give most citizens of Mumbai their first view past the gates of one of the city’s earliest cotton mills — and into the rich industrial heritage earlier only visible to the workers, staff and owners who built India’s first modern industry.

India United Mills no.2-3 (Alexandra & E.D. Sassoon Mills), Kalachowky, Byculla East, 2017
Weaving Shed, India United Mills no.2-3, January 2018

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Empire’s Metropolis: Money, Time & Space in Colonial Bombay

This is a summary and outline of my doctoral and post-doctoral dissertation research in the Program in Science Technology & Society (STS), Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) submitted in late 2013 and developed as a Post-Doctoral Fellow at the Asia Research Institute (ARI), National University of Singapore (NUS), 2016-17.

Summary

Empire’s Metropolis: Money, Time & Space in Colonial Bombay is a social history of technology and urbanisation in the “commercial capital” of modern India. It spans the period from Bombay’s first boom and bust during the American Civil War – when the city emerged as a gateway for the global cotton trade – to its rise into one of Asia’s largest industrial centres following World War I.

The principal sources for this historical study are newly opened municipal archives and private papers that chronicle the growth of the colonial port city from the 1860s to 1920s. Six interlocking themes and periods are explored in chronological chapters on the history of share trading and merchant banking; railway, shipping and telegraph infrastructures; urban land acquisition and valuation; clocks and time-keeping; cadastral surveying and property rights; and the place of street networks in the city’s built environment.

Modern Bombay developed within and against empire. Imperial hegemony was often most insecure in its urban seat of command and control, even as external trade and factory industry fuelled the city’s rapid expansion. Attempts to impose modern practices of commodity exchange, standard time, market value and private property were neither taken for granted, nor simply resisted or rejected. Neither “urbanisation” nor “industrialisation” unfolded smoothly, as elite strategies and mass struggles over finance, labour and land shaped the paths of technological and social change.

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Experiments with Post-Truth

Last week, in time for Gandhi Jayanti, the Supreme Court admitted a public interest litigation seeking to re-open the question of who assassinated Mohandas K. Gandhi at Birla House, New Delhi on 30 January 1948. This follows an online signature campaign launched on Gandhi’s birth anniversary this month as well as an earlier PIL dismissed by the Bombay High Court in mid-2016 filed by Dr Pankaj Phadnis.

Founding trustee of a Mumbai-based NGO Abhinav Bharat started in 2001, Phadnis is a self-described devotee of Hindu nationalist Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, convicted but acquited as a co-conspirator in the conspiracy to murder Gandhi, for which Nathuram Godse and Vinayak Apte were convicted and hanged on 15 November 1949.

Phadnis’ petitions to the courts and online since 2016 have been based on an entirely unsubstantiated theory of a “fourth bullet” and probable “second assassin” allegedly reported by U.S. vice-consul in New Delhi, Herbert T. Reiner. Phadnis claims Reiner sent three diplomatic telegrams to the American government on the murder at Birla House that day, of which one, allegedly still classified, may contain heretofore unrevealed evidence of a conspiracy beyond those of the convicted assassin Nathuram Godse and his eight co-conspirators.

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Bombay Between the Wars: Politics, Information & Institutions in Late Colonial India

This is a proposal and summary of my ongoing research project on Bombay City between the two world wars, a sequel to my current book manuscript on colonial Bombay, Empires’s Metropolis: Money, Time & Space.

Bombay Between the Wars is a social history of urban politics, information and institutions in late colonial Bombay City, from the years before World War I until the outbreak of World War II. Through this study, I seek to understand the transformation of colonial rule and urban governance in the inter-war period, using the city as a window into networks of people, ideas and power in South Asia in the final decades of British rule. In this period, India’s commercial capital witnessed rapid social and technological change, with the rise of mass politics, state formation and the development of civic and local institutions which have remained under-investigated.

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From Pathan Menace to Frontier Gandhi: Afghans in Early 20th Century Bombay

Please click here to download the full audio (MP3) and click here to download the presentation (PDF) of my keynote lecture on 20 April 2017 at Mountstuart Elphinstone between Local & Global Forces: Colonial Knowledge, National Histories & Regional Realities, organised by Professors Shah Mahmoud Hanifi from James Madison University and the American Institute of Indian Studies (AIIS) at Jnanapravaha Mumbai from 20-22 April 2017.International Conference - Mounstuart Elphinstone between Local & Global: Colonial Knowledge, National Histories & Regional Realities, 20-21 April 2017

Insurrection 1946: Meanings of Failed Action

From 17-25 March 2017, I worked as curator and archivist in this public exhibition and installation at the Coomaraswamy Hall, Chhatrapati Shivaji Vastu Sangrahalaya (Prince of Wales Museum of Western India), Mumbai with artist Vivan Sundaram, archivist Dr Valentina Vitali and media artist Dr David Chapman from the University of East London and scholar and lead curator Ashish Rajadhyaksha.

Meanings of Failed Action: Insurrection 1946 is a collaborative art project that revisits an episode of India’s struggle for self-rule: the 1946 insurrection of Royal Indian Navy (R.I.N.) sailors. On 18 February 1946, a strike was declared on H.M.I.S. Talwar, the signal training establishment of the R.I.N. at Colaba, Bombay. Within a day, a total of 10,000 naval ratings posted across the Indian Ocean took charge of sixty six ships and on-shore naval establishments. On the fourth day of the strike, Bombay’s industrial labour force joined the struggle in a show of solidarity, and the city closed down. Ranged against the strikers was the might of the British armed forces, threatening to destroy the Navy.

The Indian national leadership, then at the threshold of Independence, refused to support the uprising. The curfew that followed ended with over two hundred people killed on the streets and the surrender of the sailors on the dawn of February 23. Widely considered a ‘failure’ in its time and since then conveniently erased from Indian nationalist history, seventy years on the February 1946 uprising refuses to be assimilated into any single narrative. Based on archival material sourced in India and the U.K., Meanings of Failed Action: Insurrection 1946 revisits these five days as a memory that flashes up at a moment of danger, an episode that challenges India’s present trajectory.

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Plotting & Scheming: Land Acquisition & Market Values in Colonial Bombay, 1898-1926

On 18 January and 3 March 2017, I gave versions of this talk and presentation on my book manuscript to the Cities Cluster of the Faculty of Arts & Social Sciences (FASS) Research Division, National University of Singapore (NUS). the faculty and students of the Centre for Studies in Social Sciences (CSSS) Calcutta/Kolkata. These talks were chaired by Professor Tim Bunnell in Singapore Professor Lakshmi Subramanian and Dr Prachi Deshpande.

In the late 1890s, an epidemic of bubonic plague swept through the ports of the British Empire in Asia, dramatising the vulnerability of imperial power in its urban centres of command and control. Colonial cities like Calcutta and Bombay served as gateways to regional and global flows of people, money and machines, centralised and accelerated by networks of steam, rail and electricity. Freedom to trade and the rule of law underpinned both business and politics. Within these cities, power was shared and contested between colonial rulers, Indian elites and urban populations.

My presentation explores the social and spatial restructuring of early 20th century Bombay in the wake of the plague epidemic, through a study of the construction of Sandhurst Road, an east-west arterial avenue. Since 1955 known as Sardar Vallabbhai Patel (SVP) Marg, Sandhurst Road was named after the British Governor of Bombay Presidency who tackled the outbreak of bubonic plague in western India in 1896 by establishing the Bombay Improvement Trust (BIT) to “clean up” the city.

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आलेखन व आखणी : वासाहतिक बॉम्बेमध्ये झालेलं सँडहर्स्ट रस्त्याचं बांधकाम, १८९८-१९२५

This is a Marathi translation by Avadhoot of “Plotting & Scheming: Constructing Sandhurst Road in Colonial Bombay, 1898-1925”.

सेंटर फॉर स्टडीज् इन सोशल सायन्सेन (सीएसएसएस), कोलकाता’ इथं ३ मार्च २०१७ रोजी मी दिलेल्या व्याख्यानाचा हा गोषवारा आहे. प्राध्यापक लक्ष्मी सुब्रमण्यमडॉ. प्राची देशपांडे हे इतिहासकार या कार्यक्रमाचे यजमान व अध्यक्ष होते. ‘एम्पायर’स् मेट्रॉपलिस: मनी, टाइम अँड स्पेस इन कलोनिअल बॉम्बे, १८६०१९२०’ या माझ्या आगामी पुस्तकातील दोन प्रकरणांवर हे व्याख्यान आधारलेलं होतं.

आशियातील ब्रिटिश साम्राज्याच्या बंदरांवर १८९०च्या दशकाच्या अखेरीला गाठीच्या प्लेगाची साथ पसरली. यामुळं साम्राज्यवादी सत्तेचं प्रभुत्व व नियंत्रण असलेल्या नागरी केंद्रांमधील असुरक्षिततेला नाट्यमय वळण मिळालं. कलकत्ता व मुंबई यांसारखी वासाहतिक शहरं प्रादेशिक व जागतिक पातळीवर लोक, पैसा व यंत्रं यांच्या दळणवळणाची प्रवेशद्वारं होती. वाफेची इंजिनं, रेल्वे आणि वीज यांच्या जाळ्यातून या शहरांचं केंद्रीकरण झालं होतं व त्यांना चालनाही मिळत होती. व्यवसाय आणि राजकारण या दोन्हींचा अंतःप्रवाह व्यापाराचं स्वातंत्र्य व कायद्याचं राज्य असा होता. या शहरांमध्ये वासाहतिक सत्ताधारी, भारतीय उच्चभ्रू आणि नागरी जनता यांच्यात सत्तेचं वाटप झालेलं होतं आणि सत्तासंघर्षही त्यांच्यातच होत असे.

प्लेगच्या साथीमुळं विसाव्या शतकातील मुंबईमध्ये सामाजिकदृष्ट्या व स्थलावकाशदृष्ट्या कोणते बदल झाले याचा शोध घेण्याचा प्रयत्न माझ्या सादरीकरणात केलेला आहे. पूर्व व पश्चिम भागांना जोडणाऱ्या सँडहर्स्ट रस्त्याच्या बांधणीसंदर्भात हा अभ्यास केलेला आहे. १९५५ सालापासून ‘सरदार वल्लभभाई पटेल (एसव्हीपी) मार्ग’ या नावानं ओळखल्या जाणाऱ्या या रस्त्याचं आधीचं नाव मुंबई प्रांताचा ब्रिटिश गव्हर्नर सँडहर्स्ट याच्यावरून ठेवलेलं होतं. १८९६ साली पश्चिम भारतातील गाठीच्या प्लेगची साथ निवारण्यासाठी ‘बॉम्बे इम्प्रूव्हमेन्ट ट्रस्ट’ (बीआयटी) या संस्थेची स्थापना याच सँडहर्स्ट यांनी केली.

Continue reading आलेखन व आखणी : वासाहतिक बॉम्बेमध्ये झालेलं सँडहर्स्ट रस्त्याचं बांधकाम, १८९८-१९२५