Category Archives: essays

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.

Plan of the Acworth Leprosy Hospital in 1901, showing pipe lines (in red) from patients’ wards draining to the sewage farm (in green) started in 1895 by C.C. James (Courtesy of Sri Prakash Jekate, Municipal Secretary, Greater Mumbai Municipal Corporation)

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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.

Continue reading इंदू मिलच्या अंतरंगात मुंबईत साकारतेय वस्त्रोद्योग संग्रहालय

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 shorter 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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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. 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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The Master of the Game: The Woman Who Wouldn’t Let Donald Trump Mumbai

Click here to download this presentation (PDF) which I gave in the South Asian Studies Programme (SASP) seminar series at the National University of Singapore (NUS). You can also download and listen to the podcast (MP3) on the NUS Asia Research Institute (ARI) website.

My seminar talk was held on Wednesday 9 November 2016 in Singapore, just as the final results were announced on U.S. Election Day, and Donald J. Trump defeated Hillary Clinton to win the U.S. Presidential election. This seminar was chaired by Prof Annu Jalais.

This presentation was based on and develops an earlier talk on Donald Trump in Mumbai given at the workshop “Constructing Asia: Materiality, Capital & Labour in the Making of an Urbanising Landscape” organised at ARI on 12–13 May 2016 by Dr Malini Sur and Dr Eli Asher Elinoff, where I presented a talk on “Constructing Trump Tower Mumbai”.

poster

Mumbai’s real estate is amongst the most expensive per square foot anywhere in the world. Property developers and construction magnates dominate the city’s political economy and public culture, and are portrayed as sovereigns of its skyline, an imagined community whom city newspapers commonly refer to as “the builder-politician nexus”.

Builders’ unique appetites for risk make visible and channel the desires of millions for new and better futures (or to make things “great again”). Both real estate and politics are shadowy domains which demonstrate how money, time and space are sources of social power in the contemporary city. The games of language and number played with them favour those who can challenge norms, wait out long battles, and anticipate changes in the rules.

Rather than seeing those who play them as gamblers, populists or moral failures, we need to understand their business strategies as the materialisation of uncertainty. On the occasion of the U.S. Election Day, my talk will focus on the business of building a luxury high-rise Trump Tower in Mumbai and Donald Trump’s Indian apprentices and opponents, first on the disputed site of a charitable hospital and community housing trust, and later in an old textile mill compound.

This presentation is part of an ongoing ethnographic and archival project on the real estate speculation and property redevelopment in post-industrial Mumbai.

मुंबईत ‘ट्रम्प टॉवर’ बांधताना

This is a Marathi translation by Avadhoot of “When Donald Trump Came to Mumbai” published as the cover story in the fortnightly Parivartanacha Watsaru (16-31 August 2016). It was originally published in the the Economic & Political Weekly (EPW), Vol.51, Issue No. 23, 4 June 2016. You can download the PDF of the Marathi article here (from Parivartanacha Watsaru, 16-31 August 2016).

फोर्ब्स इंडिया’ या मासिकाच्या सप्टेंबर २०१४च्या अंकात प्रसिद्ध झालेल्या मुलाखतीत डोनाल्ड ट्रम्प यांनी खास त्यांनाच साजेल असं असभ्य विधान केलं होतं: “तुमच्याकडचं स्थावर मालमत्तेचं क्षेत्र अविश्वसनीयरित्या स्वस्त आहेमुंबई हे महान शहर आहे आणि तरीही तिच्या तुलनेतील इतर शहरांसारखी या शहराची किंमत लावलेली दिसत नाही. उलट दुय्यम महत्त्वाच्या शहरांपेक्षाही मुंबईची किंमत कमी ठेवलेली आहे. याचा अर्थ, गुंतवणूकदारांना इथं प्रगतीसाठी प्रचंड वाव आहे.” (श्रीवास्तव २०१४). अमेरिकी राष्ट्राध्यक्षपदासाठीच्या मोहिमेमध्ये त्यांनी ज्या थरावरून शेरेबाजी केली तेवढा मुंबईविषयीचा त्यांचा शेरा वादग्रस्त नव्हता, पण ट्रम्प यांची ही अतिशयोक्ती भारतात मोठी बातमी बनली. वास्तविक भारतामध्ये मुंबईतील घरबांधणी बाजारपेठ देशात सर्वांत महागडं आहे. भारताच्या राष्ट्रीय अर्थव्यवस्थेचं उदारीकरण १९९०च्या दशकामध्ये झालं, तेव्हा मुंबईतील महागड्या स्थावर मालमत्ता क्षेत्राविषयीच्या बातम्या नियमितपणे वर्तमानपत्रांच्या पहिल्या पानांवर प्रसिद्ध होत असत. अनेकदा मुंबईची तुलना भारतातातील दिल्ली, चेन्नई किंवा बंगलोर अशा समकक्ष शहरांऐवजी अधिक संपन्न लंडन किंवा न्यूयॉर्क अशा जागतिक शहरांशी होते.

Continue reading मुंबईत ‘ट्रम्प टॉवर’ बांधताना

Constructing Trump Tower Mumbai

This is a revised version of an essay first published as “When Donald Trump Came to Mumbai in the Economic & Political Weekly (EPW), Vol.51, Issue No. 23, 4 June 2016. You can download the PDF of the original article here. This was first presented as a paper at the workshop “Constructing Asia: Materiality, Capital and Labour in the Making of an Urbanising Landscape” at the Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore, 12–13 May 2016.

Trump in India

In an interview to Forbes India Magazine in September 2014, Donald Trump made a characteristically outrageous statement. “Your real estate is unbelievably cheap… Mumbai is a great city and yet it is not priced like other comparable cities. It is priced lower than cities that are less important. That gives investors a tremendous amount of growth potential” (Srivastava 2014). While not as controversial as his more recent slurs in his campaign for the U.S. presidency, Trump’s hyperbole nonetheless was big news in India, where Mumbai’s housing market is by far the most expensive in the country.

Since the liberalisation of the Indian national economy in the 1990s, Mumbai (then Bombay) had routinely made headlines for its pricy real estate, which is more often compared to more prosperous global cities like London or New York than to its peers in India such as Delhi, Chennai or Bangalore.

Trump’s value proposition perhaps made some sense from his perspective as a foreign investor, going by prevailing market exchange rates between the U.S. Dollar and Indian Rupee (around USD $1 = Rs 60-62). By most measures, the price of real estate in Manhattan in the same period was anywhere between $1,250-1,500 per square foot, whereas in prime areas in Mumbai in 2014 around Rs 40,000-50,000, or USD $650-$800.

This direct measure of course takes no account of the almost incommensurable differences in infrastructure and other aspects of both cities, or relative urban income levels and purchasing power parity (PPP) per unit of currency between the U.S. and India. In these terms, one business journalist estimated that the actual rate per square foot rate in Mumbai would be more in the range of USD $1,800-2,500 after adjusting for PPP – thus making Mumbai almost 50% more expensive for its average citizen than New York (Kaul 2014).

But beyond the calculations of economists and business journalists, Trump’s statement about how India’s most expensive city was “unbelievably cheap” begged a wider question about the political economy of urban real estate, indeed the very reason for his very first business visit to India in late 2014. What comprises the value of urban real estate?

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Not Just on Bose, but in Bombay Too

Published as “Not Just Bose, Bombay Too” in Mumbai Mirror, Cover Story, Sunday 19 April 2015.

Nehru and Patel’s Government not only authorised snooping on the extended family of Subhash Chandra Bose well after Independence, but also many other ex-Indian National Army (INA) veterans, including prominent Mumbaikars who served as Union and State ministers.

Jawaharlal Nehru and Gen Jagannath Rao Bhosale, (Bombay Chronicle, May 1946)
Jawaharlal Nehru and Gen Jagannath Rao Bhosale, ex-Chief of Staff of Bose’s Indian National Army and later Union Minister for Rehabilitation (Bombay Chronicle, May 1946)

Jagannath Rao K. Bhosale and S.A. Ayer together led the Bombay branch of the Indian National Army (INA) Relief & Enquiry (R&E) Committee established in 1946 at Congress House with Sardar Vallabhai Patel as its chair and patron. Remembered for his work with displaced Partition refugees and returning WWII veterans – and the road named for him in the sixties at Mantralaya – Bhosale was Netaji’s Chief of Staff in the INA, and served as Deputy Union Minister for Rehabilitation in Nehru’s cabinet from 1952.

Ayer was the Director of Information of the Government of Bombay from September 1946 until 1951, when he joined the Censor Board. A Bombay journalist since 1918, and the first Indian to head Reuters and Associated Press India, Ayer was a correspondent in Bangkok at the outbreak of WWII. He soon became a close associate of Bose and in October 1943 was appointed as both Propaganda Minister and member of the War Council of Netaji’s Azad Hind Sarkar.

S.A. Ayer, Propaganda Minister of Bose's Provisional Govt of Free India, and later Publicity Minister of the Govt of Bombay
S.A. Ayer, Propaganda Minister of Bose’s Provisional Govt of Free India, and later Publicity Minister of the Govt of Bombay

After the fall of British Singapore in 1942, almost 50,000 Indians became prisoners of war (POW), and of these around 25,000 had joined the INA – soldiers who served the Azad Hind Fauj or civilians in Azad Hind Sarkar based in the Andamans. By the end of WWII in August 1945, the drop of atomic bombs, Japan’s immediate surrender, and the mysterious death of Subhash Chandra Bose a few days later, his myth had reached its peak just as the Allies (and ex-colonisers) deployed the tired and near-mutinous Indian Army to re-occupy the arc of territory under Mountbatten’s South East Asia Command (SEAC), derisively known as “Save England’s Asian Colonies”.

Continue reading Not Just on Bose, but in Bombay Too

सुभाषबाबूंसोबतचे मुंबईकर साथी

Marathi translation of Not Just Bose, But Bombay Too by Avadhoot. Originally published as the cover story in  Mumbai Mirror, Sunday 19 April 2015.

नेहरू आणि पटेल यांच्या सरकारने स्वातंत्र्यानंतरही सुभाषचंद्र बोस यांच्या एकत्रित कुटुंबावरती पाळत ठेवायच्याच सूचना केल्या होत्या असे नव्हे, तर आझाद हिंद सेनेमध्ये (इंडियन नॅशनल आर्मीआयएनए) सामील झालेल्यांपैकी अनेक माजी सैन्याधिकारी व नेत्यांवर पाळत ठेवण्याचे आदेश देण्यात आले होते. केंद्रीय व राज्य पातळीवर मंत्री म्हणून काम केलेल्या काही मान्यवर मुंबईकर व्यक्तिमत्त्वांचाही यात समावेश होता.

Jawaharlal Nehru and Gen Jagannath Rao Bhosale, (Bombay Chronicle, May 1946)
Jawaharlal Nehru and Gen Jagannath Rao Bhosale, ex-Chief of Staff of Bose’s Indian National Army and later Union Minister for Rehabilitation (Bombay Chronicle, May 1946)जवाहरलाल नेहरू व बोस यांच्या आझाद हिंद सेनेचे ‘चीफ ऑफ स्टाफ’ आणि नंतर केंद्रीय पुनर्वसन मंत्री झालेले जनरल जगन्नाथराव भोसले. (बॉम्बे क्रॉनिकल, मे १९४६)

काँग्रेस भवनामध्ये १९४६ साली स्थापन झालेल्या आझाद हिंद सेना दिलासा व चौकशी समितीच्या (रिलीफ अँड इन्क्वायरी कमिटी) मुंबई शाखेचे नेतृत्त्व जगन्नाथराव के. भोसले आणि एस. . अय्यर यांनी केले. सरदार वल्लभभाई पटेल हे या समितीचे अध्यक्ष आणि पुरस्कर्ते होते. फाळणी काळातील निर्वासित आणि दुसऱ्या महायुद्धातून परतलेले सैनिक यांच्यासंबंधी केलेल्या कामासाठी भोसले ओळखले जातात आणि त्यांच्या स्मृती जागवण्यासाठी मंत्रालयाजवळच्या एका रस्त्यालाही त्यांचे नाव देण्यात आले. आझाद हिंद सेनेमध्ये भोसले हे नेताजींचे ‘चीफ ऑफ स्टाफ’ होते आणि १९५२ पासून त्यांनी नेहरूंच्या मंत्रिमंडळात पुनर्वसनाचे केंद्रीय उपमंत्री म्हणून काम पाहिले.

अय्यर हे सप्टेंबर १९४६पासून १९५१पर्यंत मुंबई सरकारचे माहिती संचालक होते. त्यानंतर ते सेन्सॉर मंडळाचे सदस्यही झाले. मुंबईत १९१८सालापासून पत्रकारितेत कार्यरत असलेले आणि ‘रॉयटर्स’ व ‘असोसिएट प्रेस इंडिया’ या वृत्तसंस्थांचे पहिले भारतीय अध्यक्ष राहिलेल्या अय्यर यांनी दुसऱ्या महायुद्धाच्या काळात बँकॉकहून युद्धाचे वार्तांकन केले होते. त्याच काळात ते बोस यांचे जवळचे सहकारी बनले आणि ऑक्टोबर १९४३मध्ये नेताजींच्या ‘आझाद हिंद सरकार’चे प्रचार मंत्री व युद्ध मंडळाचे सदस्य म्हणून त्यांची नेमणूक झाली.

S.A. Ayer, Propaganda Minister of Bose's Provisional Govt of Free India, and later Publicity Minister of the Govt of Bombay
S.A. Ayer, Propaganda Minister of Bose’s Provisional Govt of Free India, and later Publicity Minister of the Govt of Bombayएस. ए. अय्यर. बोस यांच्या हंगामी आझाद हिंद सरकारमधील प्रचार मंत्री व नंतर मुंबई सरकारमध्ये प्रसिद्धी मंत्री म्हणून काम.

ब्रिटिशांच्या सत्तेखालील सिंगापूरचा १९४२मध्ये पाडाव झाल्यानंतर सुमारे ५० हजार भारतीय युद्धकैदी बनले आणि त्यापैकी सुमारे २५ हजार सैनिक आझाद हिंद सेनेमध्ये दाखल झाले होते. त्यातील काहींना आझाद हिंद सेनेत सैनिक म्हणून काम केले तर काहींनी अंदमानस्थित आझाद हिंद सरकारमध्ये नागरी सेवेत योगदान दिले. ऑगस्ट १९४५मध्ये दुसरे महायुद्ध संपत आले असताना अणुबॉम्बच्या हल्ल्यामुळे जपानने तत्काळ शरणागती पत्करली आणि त्यानंतर काही दिवसांनी सुभाषचंद्र बोस यांचा गूढ मृत्यू झाला. त्या दरम्यान थकलेल्या व बंडखोरीच्या उंबरठ्यावर असलेल्या भारतीय सैन्याला मित्र राष्ट्रांनी (व तत्कालीन वसाहतवाद्यांनी) माउंटबॅटनच्या अखत्यारितील आग्नेय आशियाई प्रदेशावर पुन्हा ताबा मिळवण्यासाठी धाडले; या मोहिमेला ‘इंग्लंडच्या आशियाई वसाहती बचाव’ असे अपमानास्पद नाव देण्यात आले.

Continue reading सुभाषबाबूंसोबतचे मुंबईकर साथी

The Round Temple of Sandhurst Road

This is a longer version of an article first published on the holiday of Mahashivratri in Mumbai as “Squaring the Circle”, Mumbai Mirror, Sunday Read, 22 February 2015.

“I need not dilate on the urgent necessity in the interest of our work of removing temples, where necessary, otherwise than by force. In laying out schemes I exclude every religious edifice that I can. But in the case of Hindoo temples it is not possible to exclude all, for they are sprinkled over the City like pepper out of a castor. And if our schemes are not to suffer, we must treat each case liberally”.

Proceedings of the Trustees for the Improvement of the City of Bombay, Special Meeting, 15 January 1907, T.R. 11

On this week’s festival of Maha Shivratri, devotees annually offer prayers in Mumbai’s oldest temple dedicated to Shiva, the Nageshwar Mandir at Sardar Vallabbhai Patel (SVP) Marg. Popularly known as the “Gol Deval”, few who circle around its swayambhu (self-manifested) ling are aware of how this “Round Temple” came to be in the middle of a busy main road. Known before 1955 as Sandhurst Road, this arterial avenue was named after the Governor who tackled the outbreak of bubonic plague in western India in 1896. Lord Sandhurst created the Bombay Improvement Trust (BIT) in 1898 to immunise the city in the wake of the epidemic, arming it with draconian powers of acquisition, demolition and redevelopment, to unclog the city’s arteries and increase its circulation by redeveloping its slums, swamps and streets.

Sandhurst Road was an early showcase scheme of the BIT, spanning the breadth of the island from the eastern docks to the western seaboard. For the poor worst hit by the plague it was a way in – for fresh air and natural light in their crowded lanes and cramped chawls. For upwardly-mobile merchants it was a way out – quickening the commute between inner-city shops and godowns and upmarket Gamdevi, Cumballa and Malabar Hills.

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