Tag Archives: mumbai

Happy Birthday, Mr Commissioner

Published in Mumbai Mirror as “Happy Birthday, Mr MC” on 2 July 2015.

It is a year of missed anniversaries in Mumbai. The downpour which shut down the city on 19 June 2015 not only forced the Shiv Sena to cancel its Golden Jubilee celebrations, but to answer for more than two decades running a municipality larger than many state governments. While the ruling party must indeed be held to account, another, much older, anniversary that passed unnoticed should help explain why India’s oldest and wealthiest civic body remains such a mess. In 150 years there has been hardly any structural change in the institutions of municipal government in Mumbai.

Arthur Travers Crawford, first Municipal Commissioner of Bombay (1865-71)
Arthur Travers Crawford, first Municipal Commissioner of Bombay (1865-71)

On 1 July 1865, the first “Municipal Commissioner for the Town and Island of Bombay”, Arthur Trawers Crawford, was appointed by the Government of Bombay, along with the predecessor to today’s municipal Corporators – a body of “Justices of the Peace”. The city until then was a swampy archipelago focussed on trading, where government was minimal and ad-hoc. JPs had scant powers over policing and conservancy, to collect taxes, or keep the streets drained and swept. Funds were vested in three commissioners answering directly to government, a “triumvirate” which often worked at cross-purposes.

While moving the new Act of 1865 for a single “Chief Executive” for Mumbai along with Sir Jamshetji Jeejeebhoy in the Governor’s Council, its co-sponsor Walter Cassels commented that “the town does not want municipal officers with the pen of a ready writer, but with brooms that sweep clean”. Crawford set about his task with zeal – laying out streets and markets, improving sanitation and water supply. The JPs soon complained they had no power over his purse strings. Much like today’s appointees, Crawford was then transferred, the “man at the top” whose “head must roll”.

Indian landlords and merchants also demanded their say in civic affairs proportionate to Crawford’s hiked property taxes. It was in the wake of this agitation against hiked rates that a young Pherozeshah Mehta returned from England in 1869 to take up their cause of “no taxation without representation”, and with K.T. Telang helped create the “local self-government” we know in Mumbai today. With the liberal Viceroy Lord Ripon – who laid the founding stone for the BMC Head Office where his statue now stands – Sir Pherozeshah authored the 1888 BMC Act, still the city’s current constitution. This trod a wise path between a colonial executive and the few wealthy Indians who qualified to vote or be elected to the corporation.

By the time “Sir PM” passed away in 1915, Gandhi had just returned to discover his “real India” in the villages, not colonial cities like Bombay. As he toured the countryside to mobilise the masses, by 1922, the British began opening voting to rent-payers, not just property tax-payers. In 1936 the minimum qualification to vote was further reduced from Rs 10 to Rs 5 rent. But beyond expanding the voter franchise and the extending the city limits in 1950 and 1956, by Independence, reforms to urban governance remained stillborn. Even as “Greater Mumbai” grew in size and scale, it was and remains governed by the same 1888 Act, based on the 1865 idea of vesting all executive power in a single, unelected MC.

While Independence did little to transform urban governance, globalisation has now made cities pivotal to the development of their regional and national economies. Today most of Mumbai’s municipal wards are now more populous than most US or European cities, but are still overseen by a single Assistant Commissioner. In Britain – where Lord Ripon’s reforms originated – the Corporator-Commissioner system was replaced with Town Councils in the 70s, though elected urban bodies have made a comeback, especially in London. In the US, popular elected government – especially for city Mayor – has long been a fact of urban life.

In the past decade national laws such as the 74th Amendment and RTI have helped transform urban instititions through slow and constant citizen pressure. Even as “Smart Cities” are being planned all over India, and new cities like Vasai-Virar are created on the same old Victorian model, serious proposals for urban reform remain absent.

India has had an elected Prime Minister under a democratic Constitution for more than sixty years, and the State of Maharashtra its own Assembly and Chief Minister for more than fifty years. Though the Sena briefly experimented with Calcutta’s Mayor-in-Council system in Mumbai in 1989, Mumbai’s Mayor has since 1931 been a ceremonial leader of the House. While Commissioners may come and go, a popular Mayor elected by and responsible to all citizens of Greater Mumbai would be a belated birthday gift for the old Urbs Prima in Indis.

हॅपी बर्थडे, मिस्टर कमिशनर!

Marathi translation by Avadhoot of “Happy Birthday, Mr MC” originally published in Mumbai Mirror on 2 July 2015. 

मुंबईसाठी हे वर्ष वर्धापनदिन, जयंती वगैरेंसारखे अनेक दिवस चुकवणारं ठरलं. १९ जून २०१५ रोजी झालेल्या पावसाने शहर बंद पाडलं आणि शिवसेनेला आपला सुवर्ण महोत्सवी समारंभ रद्द करावा लागला. कित्येक राज्य सरकारांपेक्षाही मोठ्या असलेल्या इथल्या महानगरपालिकेवर गेली दोन दशकं शिवसेनेचीच सत्ता होती, त्यामुळे पावसाने शहर बंद पडल्यावर पक्षाला अनेक प्रश्नांनाही सामोरं जावं लागलं. भारतातील ही सर्वांत जुनी महानगरपालिका एवढ्या अनागोंदीमध्ये का आहे, याचं एक उत्तर सत्ताधारी पक्षाच्या अकार्यक्षमतेमध्ये आहेच, पण त्याहूनही तपशीलवार उत्तर हवं असल्यास विस्मरणात गेलेल्या एका जयंती दिवसाची दखल घ्यावी लागेल. मुंबईच्या महानगरपालिका प्रशासनातील विभागांमध्ये गेल्या दीडशे वर्षांत क्वचित रचनात्मक बदल झालेले आहेत.

Arthur Travers Crawford, first Municipal Commissioner (1865) आर्थर ट्रॉवर्स क्रॉफर्ड, पहिले शहर महागरपालिका आयुक्त (१८६५)

तत्कालीन मुंबई सरकारने १ जुलै १८६५ रोजी पहिले ‘म्युनिसिपल कमिशनर फॉर द टाउन अँड आयलँड ऑफ बॉम्बे’ (मुंबई शहर व बेट महागरपालिका आयुक्त) आर्थर ट्रॉवर्स क्रॉफर्ड यांची नियुक्ती केली. शिवाय आता नगरसेवक म्हणून ओळखल्या जाणारे सदस्य- ‘शांततेचे न्यायदूत’ही याच दिवशी नियुक्त करण्यात आले. तोपर्यंत या बेटरूपी शहराचा प्रशासकीय कारभार त्या त्या कामापुरता आणि अतिशय अल्प हस्तक्षेप करणारा होता. पोलीस प्रशासन व मच्छिमारी आणि नाविक व्यवहार असोत की रस्ते स्वच्छ व सुके ठेवण्यासाठीची कार्यवाही असो, यांपैकी कशासंबंधीही पुरेसे अधिकार न्यायदूतांकडे नव्हते. प्रशासकीय निधी तीन आयुक्तांच्या अखत्यारित येत असे आणि हे प्रशासकीय ‘त्रिकूट’ अनेकदा एकमेकांच्या विरोधी जाणाऱ्या कारणांसाठी कार्यरत राहायचं.

गव्हर्नर मंडळामध्ये शहराचे प्रतिनिधित्व सर जमशेटजी जीजीभॉय करत असताना, मुंबईसाठी एकसंध ‘मुख्य कार्यकारिणी’ही असायला हवी यासंबंधीचा नवा कायदा १८६५ साली करण्यात आला; त्यावेळी या कायद्याचे सहप्रवर्तक वॉल्टर कॅसेल्स म्हणाले होते की, ‘एखाद्या तयार लेखकासारखे लेखण्या वागवणारे महानगरपालिका अधिकारी या शहराला नको आहेत, उलट स्वच्छ फटकारे मारणाऱ्या केरसुण्या त्यांच्या हातात असणे जास्त गरजेचे आहे.’ क्रॉफर्ड यांनी आपले काम उत्साहाने सुरू केले- रस्ते व बाजारपेठांची व्यवस्था लावणं, स्वच्छता व पाणी पुरवठ्यामध्ये सुधारणा यांसंबंधी कार्यवाही तत्काळ सुरू झाली. लगेचच आयुक्तांच्या आर्थिक बटव्यावर अंकुश ठेवण्यासंबंधी आपल्याला काहीच अधिकार नसल्याची तक्रार न्यायदूतांनी करायला सुरुवात केली. आजच्या काळाप्रमाणेच क्रॉफर्ड यांची बदली करण्यात आली, ‘वरिष्ठ पदावरील व्यक्तीच्या डोक्यावर टांगती तलवार राहायलाच हवी’.

शिवाय, क्रॉफर्ड यांनी वाढवलेल्या मालमत्ता कराच्या प्रमाणात नागरी व्यवहारांमध्ये आपल्याला अधिकार द्यावेत, अशी मागणी भारतीय जमीनदार व व्यापारी वर्गाने केली. वाढलेल्या कराला झालेल्या या विरोधामधूनच ‘प्रतिनिधित्व नसेल तर कर नाही’ ही मागणी पुढे आली; इंग्लंडहून १८६९ साली परतलेले तरूण फिरोझशहा मेहता यांनी या मागणीसाठी पुढाकार घेतला. आता मुंबईत रूढ असलेल्या ‘स्थानिक स्वराज्या’च्या निर्मितीसाठी के.टी. तेलंग यांचा हातभार लागला. मुंबई महानगरपालिका मुख्य कार्यालयाच्या इमारतीचा पाया रचणारे उदारमतवादी व्हाइसरॉय लॉर्ड रिपन (ज्यांचा या कार्यालयात पुतळाही आहे) यांच्यासोबत सर फिरोझशहा यांनी मुंबई महानगरपालिका कायदा १८८८ तयार केला आणि हाच कायदा शहराची घटना म्हणून सध्याही वापरला जातो. यामुळे वसाहतिक सरकारी कार्यकारिणी आणि मत देण्याचा वा पालिकेत निवडून जाण्याचा अधिकार असलेले मोजके श्रीमंत भारतीय यांच्यातील सामोपचाराचा मार्ग हुशारीने बनवण्यात आला.

सर पीएम’ (फिरोझशहा मेहता) यांचे १९१५ साली निधन झाले, त्याच दरम्यान देशात परतलेल्या गांधींना ‘खऱ्या भारता’चा शोध खेड्यांमध्ये घ्यायचा होता, मुंबईसारख्या वसाहतिक शहरांमध्ये नाही. जनतेमध्ये ऊर्जा पेरण्यासाठी गांधी ग्रामीण भागाचा दौरा करत असताना, ब्रिटिशांनी मालमत्ता करदात्यांसोबतच भाडे देणाऱ्यांनाही मतदानाचा अधिकार प्रदान केला. १९३६ साली मतदानाच्या किमान अर्हतेसाठीचे भाडे दहा रुपयांवरून पाच रुपयांपर्यंत खाली आणण्यात आले. स्वातंत्र्यानंतर मतदारांच्या अधिकारांची कक्षा वाढलीच, शिवाय १९५० व १९५६ या वर्षांमध्ये शहराची सीमाही वाढवण्यात आली, परंतु शहरी प्रशासनासंबंधी सुधारणा लगोलग झाल्या नाहीत. ‘बृहन्मुंबई’ आकाराने आणि प्रमाणाने वाढत गेली, पण तिचे प्रशासन १८८८च्या कायद्याद्वारेच करण्यात येत होते; आणि सर्व कार्यकारी अधिकार एकाच महानगरपालिका आयुक्ताकडे असण्याच्या १८६५ सालच्या कल्पनेवरच हा कायदा आधारलेला होता.

शहरी प्रशासनातील बदलासाठी स्वातंत्र्याचा तसा फायदा नाही, पण आता जागतिकीकरणामुळे शहरांची भूमिका त्या त्या प्रांतीय व राष्ट्रीय अर्थव्यवस्थांसाठी अत्यंत महत्त्वाची ठरणार आहे. सध्या मुंबईतील अनेक पालिका विभाग हे अमेरिका व युरोपातील एखाद्या शहरापेक्षाही जास्त लोकसंख्येचे आहेत, पण त्यांच्या देखरेखीचे काम एकटा सह-आयुक्त करत असतो. लॉर्ड रिपन यांच्या सुधारणा जिथून सुरू झाल्या त्या ब्रिटनमध्ये नगरसेवक-आयुक्त अशी व्यवस्था जाऊन १९७०च्या दशकात ‘टाउन कौन्सिल’ (शहर कार्यकारी मंडळ) अस्तित्वात आले; आणि विशेषकरून इंग्लंडमध्ये लोकनियुक्त शहरी मंडळं उभी राहिली. अमेरिकेमध्ये शहरी जीवनात लोकनियुक्त सरकार- विशेषतः ‘मेयर’ (महापौर) हे पद आधीपासूनच रुजलेले आहे.

गेल्या दशकामध्ये ७४वी घटनादुरुस्ती व माहिती अधिकार कायदा अशा काही राष्ट्रीय कायद्यांमधून शक्य झालेल्या धीम्या पण नियमित नागरी दबावामुळे शहरी आस्थापनांमध्ये काही बदल झालेले दिसतात. देशभरात ‘स्मार्ट सिटी’ उभारण्याच्या योजना आखण्यात येत असताना वसई-विरारसारखी नवी शहरं मात्र त्याच जुन्या व्हिक्टोरियन प्रारूपावरून उभी राहत आहेत. शहर नूतनीकरणासाठी काही गंभीर प्रस्ताव मात्र तयार केले जात नाहीत.

भारतामध्ये साठहून अधिक वर्षं लोकशाही राज्यघटनेच्या चौकटीत लोकनियुक्त पंतप्रधान देशाचा कारभार पाहण्याची कामगिरी पार पाडत आहेत आणि महाराष्ट्र राज्याचा कारभार पाहण्याचे काम पन्नासहून अधिक वर्षं विधानसभा व मुख्यमंत्री करत आहेत. शिवसेनेने १९८९मध्ये मुंबईत कलकत्त्याप्रमाणे ‘कार्यकारी मंडळातील महापौरा’चा तात्पुरता प्रयोग करून पाहिला, अन्यथा १९३१पासून मुंबईचा महापौर हा सभागृहाचा औपचारिक नेता राहिलेला आहे. आयुक्त येतील आणि जातील, परंतु बृह्नमुंबईच्या सर्व नागरिकांनी निवडून दिलेला व त्यांना उत्तरादायी असलेला महापौर हीच भारतातील या सर्वांत जुन्या पहिल्या शहराला दिलेली वाढदिवसाची भेट ठरेल.

Why You Should Download the Mumbai Development Plan Today

Mumbai's New Development Plan? Cartoon by Raj Thackeray, Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS), February-March 2015
Mumbai’s New Development Plan? Cartoon by Raj Thackeray, Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS), February-March 2015

The publication of the proposed Greater Mumbai Development Plan for 2034 over the past month has seen a rare coalition emerge to condemn it, from NGOs and political parties, to celebrities and artistes, and in the past week even the BMC’s own Heritage Conservation Committee. Aggrieved residents and alert activists are seeing dark conspiraces in the details of road alignments, land use reservations, and hikes in FSI (Floor Space Index) across the city. While high FSI has become central to the debate on DP 2034, what matters most for Mumbaikars is how policies like FSI, TDR (Transferable Development Rights) and other Development Control Rules (DCR) can be harnessed to create greater public goods and a better urban environment in the next twenty years.

Portrayed from Left to Right as a sell-out to the construction industry, DP 2034 is in fact a paper template, referred to when permissions are sought for development or redevelopment. Together with the DCR, they define the guidelines and recipe book of policies by which land use, building, zoning, amenities and infrastructure are regulated. DP 2034 will only be the third for Greater Mumbai. The first DP was proposed in 1964 and sanctioned in 1967 for a decade until 1977. It was a broad land use plan, a response by engineers and planners who were horrified by the Island City’s runaway population growth and industrial concentration, even after the annexation of the suburbs to Greater Bombay in the fifties, and the statehood of Maharashtra in the sixties.

Continue reading Why You Should Download the Mumbai Development Plan Today

The Swayambhu Lingam of Sandhurst Road

Shorter version published 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.

Continue reading The Swayambhu Lingam of Sandhurst Road

Do Buildings Have Agency?

Published in shorter form as “Do Buildings Have Agency?” in Economic and Political Weekly (Mumbai), Vol XLVI No.30, 23 July 2011

Neera Adarkar, ed., The Chawls of Mumbai: Galleries of Life (Gurgaon: imprintOne, 2011)

Can built forms have their own subjectivity? Architects, geographers and urban planners would surely answer this question in the affirmative. By contrast, most historians and social scientists have long viewed all non-human artefacts as “socially constructed”, and the structure and agency of the physical environment has remained weakly conceptualised, even in urban studies.

Given the number of published works on the deindustrialisation of Mumbai and the decline of its textile industry – including an award-winning oral history of mill workersi co-authored by the editor of this new anthology on chawls – it is significant that the most ubiquitous form of working-class housing in the Mumbai had not yet been studied in any depth until nowii. Galleries of Life is a salutary exploration of the history, architecture, culture and politics of chawls which creatively examines the tension between historical nostalgia and contemporary urban change in Mumbai.

Buildings can nurture, constrain, limit and transform those who inhabit or pass through them. Generic typologies mass produced on an industrial scale – apartments, tenements, chawls, skyscrapers and slums – are generative of their peculiar milieus and practices. Like other forms of housing, Mumbai’s iconic chawls are basically physical containers which give shelter and provide shape to social reproduction. But urban housing and the built environment can “act back” on communities and society. Housing as social space can signify a bundle of rights and claims, a locus of legal and property relations, a stage for politics and performance, and a set of resources for survival and mobility.

Continue reading Do Buildings Have Agency?

A Rule of Property for Bombay

This book review appeared in edited form as “Micro-History of Mumbai” in Economic and Political Weekly (Mumbai), Vol XLV No.36, 4 September 2010.

Mariam Dossal, Theatre of Conflict, City of Hope: Mumbai, 1660 to Present Times (New Delhi: Oxford University Press India, 2010).

Historian Mariam Dossal’s new book on Bombay/Mumbai is a major contribution to a flourishing genre of new urban histories in South Asia, and a scholarly cross-over into a large-format, illustrated urban heritage books. This is Dossal’s second major monograph on Bombay, following her Imperial Designs and Indian Realities (1991) on the infrastructure and planning of the colonial city from 1845-1875. Her new book focuses on “the ways in which the politics of land use have impacted on the lives and living conditions of Bombay’s inhabitants” (xxiii) with “contested space as its central concern”.

The book seeks to explain historically how “expensive private property dominates almost every aspect of life” (xix) to the detriment of the environment, health and happiness of Mumbai’s citizens. Dossal’s work breaks new ground in its use of new sources to shine a light on a central thread of colonial and urban history in Bombay.

Land is one of the enduring themes of South Asian agrarian and colonial historiography. But the survey, settlement, and mapping of lands in cities – and the formation of a market for private property in urban land – remains under-investigated by historians. Marxist social history, premised on the opposition of industrial capitalists and wage labourers, relegated landlords and landed property to an ambigious “third space” in the historical geography of urban development.

Continue reading A Rule of Property for Bombay

Mumbai Free Map Community GIS

NASA LandSAT 7 self-made composited imagery with my GPS tracks overlaid, Greater Mumbai and Vasai-Virar 2004-2006
NASA LandSAT 7 self-made composited imagery with my GPS tracks overlaid, Greater Mumbai and Vasai-Virar 2004-2006

This is both the first project proposal (2004-5) and final report (2009) to the Pan-Asia ICT R&D Grants Programme of the Asia Pacific Development Information Programme of UNDP (United Nations Development Programme),

CRIT (Collective Research Initiatives Trust) obtained a grant to pursue this project and organise workshops and labs. In recent years this work has been  superseded by OpenStreetMap.


Proposal Abstract

The Mumbai Metropolitan Region is one of Asia’s largest cities, in which urban spaces are the central arenas of political imagination and intervention. The past decade has seen the articulation of a new politics of space in Mumbai — through the contesting claims of the urban poor majority in slums and squatter settlements, assertive residents’ associations and civic reform movements, the prosperous construction industry and builder-politician nexus, and concerned practitioners in the design, architecture and research professions.

In spite of this increased awareness and concern with urban spaces, basic information on housing, land, infrastructure and environment — the right of citizens — remains largely inaccessible, because of bureaucratic obstacles and vested interests. This asymetry of information has given rise to predatory classes of builders and speculators, whose privileged access to information is transformed into “development rights” for construction, eroding accountability to local communities and urban stake-holders, and the planning policies meant to uphold their rights.

Existing applications of new spatial technologies such as geographic information systems (GIS) for commercial services or scientific research remain distant from the needs of these grass-roots communities and local decision-makers. Citizen increasingly demand their rights to information on urban space — and recent legislative enactments and public interest litigation on freedom of information have recently institutionalised this right. Continue reading Mumbai Free Map Community GIS

Taking the Dogs out of the Slum

Slumdog Millionaire has been running since September at the cinema across the street from my apartment in Cambridge. I enjoyed the film when I finally saw it in December, despite the cliched invocation of Bollywood in the concluding song and Danny Boyle’s populism — the last scene of Trainspotting, where Renton “chooses life” by robbing his heroin addict mates from Glasgow, was more my style. But melodrama has its uses. Watching Jamal and Latika dance on the platforms of Victoria Terminus in the film’s finale reminded me of the protective grandeur of India’s greatest railway station, in which a few weeks before 56 people had been shot by gunmen in the 26/11 terrorist attacks on Mumbai.

While its cast was mostly local, Slumdog Millionaire only opened in India in late January, many months after it had become a sleeper hit in the U.S. It is a measure of the globalisation of urban India that even before the film was released, there were already protests over the apparently disparaging name of the film, and its popularity prompted Amitabh Bacchan to complain of the Western fetish for cinematic realism, while more recently, Salman Rushdie has claimed the film is not realistic or magical plausible enough.

Continue reading Taking the Dogs out of the Slum

Who Sank my Mothership?

Experts, journalists, and film-makers are seeing motherships everywhere.

In an interview today on Here and Now with Bob Baer, former CIA analyst for the Middle East, he just let drop the terrifying scenario of a jihadi mothership docking in Baltimore Harbor and launching commando attacks from a swarm of dinghies, in imitation of the attacks in Mumbai two weeks ago. Not surprisingly, the film Syriana was adapted from Baer’s intelligence memoirs.

In the weeks before the 26/11 attacks on Mumbai, a Saudi oil tanker was hijacked off the Horn of Africa. In a direct action against Somali pirates menacing the high seas, on 19 November the Indian Navy sunk what was called a “pirate mothership” in the Gulf of Aden, in one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes off the Horn of Africa. This seemed to many Indians a swift and effective strike in the subcontinent’s own maritime near-abroad, the western Indian Ocean. Continue reading Who Sank my Mothership?

Bombay is Still Burning

The attacks on Mumbai are unbelievably gruesome and at this point hard to comprehend. I am not there right now, and am writing from faraway. I was quickly able to (recursively) account for all my friends and family with a single message “are you safe?” sent to all my loved ones in Mumbai. Everyone is. Thank you, all, for asking.

The nature of this attack is globally unprecedented. This is not even like 9/11 — it has lasted three days,11/26-11/28, and is still not over. The first news I heard on Wednesday afternoon, was of gunmen opening fire with automatic weapons and throwing grenades in Victoria Terminus at rush hour. This immediately reminded me The last time something like this happened was July 11 2006, or 7/11, when I was on the railway platform in rush hour at Dadar, and the overhead electric lines suddenly popped and the station went dark. After learning of bomb blasts up the line at Matunga Road, I walked home amidsty an enormous jam of vehicles, as all the train commuters emerged onto the streets. It was only when I came home that I learned what had happened. Bombs had gone off all over the line, killing and injuring hundreds of train commuters.

The signature of 7/11 and terrorism in Mumbai were their attacks on the city’s vital arteries, its train and bus network, where most Mumbaikars spend hours everyday together.The nature of the targets is very different from previous terrorism such as 7/11 or the bus bombs, or at least the news coverage here would have us believe. While its sister station in India, Channel 7-IBN, is leading in their coverage in Mumbai, CNN here has focussed largely on the shootout and hostage situations Taj and Oberoi hotels. The dramatic photos of the Taj Hotel dome draped in smoke and flames on today’s New York Times front page has already become the signature image of the Mumbai attacks.

There are other ways in which these attacks are remarkable, and different. The attackers apparently arrived by sea, landing in the very heart of the Indian Navy’s Western Naval Command in Colaba, in the Sassoon Docks, where a busy traffic of fishing boats, country craft, and small vessels land everyday from Bombay Harbour. There’s been a lot of news recently about piracy in the Indian Ocean near the Gulf of Aden, where the Indian Navy allegedly sunk a pirate “mother ship” last week. In signs of the hyperbolic tendencies of Indian journalists, there were reports yesterday of a terrorist “mother ship” detained off Gujarat, a Pakistani merchant vessel.

While images of mother ships in the high seas of the western Indian Ocean might be an exaggeration, there is no doubt that strategically, an arc of coastal states from Aden to Muscat, Dubai and Karachi are key nodes in a region where Bombay has been the largest coastal city. The Taj and Oberoi hotels are perched at the very southern tip of Mumbai’s Island City. And while these hotels — and Nariman House — are located in one of Mumbai’s most posh central business districts, at their feet and edges cling crowded colonies of fisherfolk and slum-dwellers who regularly venture out to the seas. These attacks were a brazen assault on some of the key symbols of the financial, military and commercial architecture of Mumbai, and its role as a regional and global capital. But anyone who has walked the streets of Colaba or Cuffe Parade can tell you that this regional command and control centre has feet of clay

Here in the US, the attack has coincided with the Thanksgiving holidays, when many families are at home glued to their many plasmas, tubes, and flat screens. The coverage here is banal at best, parachute correspondents or terrorism experts who know little about India, using the famous backdrop of the Taj Mahal hotel — now exploding, now on fire, now duck they’re shooting. For once I wish I could watch Rajdeep Sardesai shouting his way through the crowds, or even my buddy Sreenivasan Jain on NDTV. While I am not in Mumbai today, all Mumbaikars are part of a real-time news space that is following events as they unfold. Some of the more amazing moments so far have been the top cops shot as they let down their guard outside Metro Cinema, NSG commandos landing by chopper at Nariman House and storming their way in. Stay safe friends, and pray it is all over very soon.