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.
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.
ChaloBEST began in January 2011 as a studio-based learning experiment at Homi Bhabha Centre for Science Education (HBCSE) to make public transportation data available over the web, SMS, smartphones, and print media using free and open source software, open geospatial and civic data, and crowd-sourcing by commuters.
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),
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→
This is an edited and shortened version of a proposal for an Industrial Museum in the Mill Lands of Mumbai, which was initially supported by an arts collaboration seed grant from the India Foundation for the Arts (IFA) in 2004-2005.
Meena Menon, activist and writer, Neera Adarkar, arcnitect, Anirudh Paul of the Kamala Raheja Vidyanidhi Institute of Architecture (KRVIA) Design Cell and film-maker Paromita Vohra helped to conceive the collaboration.
The Mumbai Industrial Museum Collaboration seeks to address the crisis of civic imagination driven by two dramatic transformations in our contemporary urban landscapes — the deindustrialisation of manufacturing and production, and the dematerialisation of culture and information.
These parallel transformations have replaced large-scale factories and organised urban working classes with dispersed networks of subcontracted and informal production in slums and hinterlands on the one hand; and on the other hand, they have replaced the space of the traditional museum, library and archive with virtual networks of communications, entertainment and commerce.
While these historic industrial and technological changes are common to cities across the world, in Mumbai their articulation in the public sphere remains deeply contested and poorly understand. The new politics of space and work in post-industrial Mumbai has yet to be comprehensively documented, much less re-imagined, and the importance of inter-disciplinary and collaborative urbanism to this task is obvious.
In this proposal for the Industrial Museum Collaboration, we outline a project to develop a Public Museum, Archive and Library which can bring together various individual practitioners and groups into dialogue and action on these questions, in relation to the textile mill districts of the inner-city, also known as the Mumbai Mill Lands or Girangaon.
2. Mumbai’s Industrial Heritage
In Mumbai, public awareness of urban arts and heritage has experienced a significant revival, in the same historical moment as manufacturing industries and factory workers have fled the Island City and Suburbs of Greater Mumbai. However, heritage discourse and conservation practice has only implicitly acknowledged this important fact. Urban heritage has been almost exclusively about the colonial city — protecting its built fabric and rendering visible its monumental signs — reinvigorating civic pride through historical nostalgia.
Heritage has been about the colonial or modernist city, not about the industrial city. As heritage has increased in public consciousness and visibility — through legislation and protection, the organisation of new city and neighbourhood festivals, and an outpouring of romantic cultural representations — industry and manufacturing have been obscured from public view and memory.
In the twenty years since the Bombay Textile Strike inaugurated a post-industrial era of social and spatial restructuring — in which nearly a million factory workers lost their jobs in various industries — political and cultural responses to urban change are divided. They range from the celebratory rhetoric of the utopia of finance and services, styled on Singapore or Hong Kong, to the passionate protests of activists and community groups against the destruction of livelihoods and homes, in factory closures and slum demolitions.
Vast complexes of production and entire working-class communities across the city have been decimated and extinguished, in a prolonged social and spatial restructuring of the city’s economy since the Bombay Textile Strike thirty years ago — in the textile mills of central Mumbai, the chemical and engineering factories and industrial estates in suburban Greater Mumbai, and in the old docks of the Bombay Port Trust.
Through the Industrial Museum Collaboration, we hope to chart a shift in the focus of urban conservationists, arts and heritage enthusiasts, and the public from the monuments and signs of the colonial or modernist periods to illuminating this hidden Other of the picture postcards and coffee-table representations — the people, machines and places that produced the twentieth-century industrial metropolis of Mumbai.
The Collaboration is premised on rendering visible the history of the industrial city which has been extinguished by factory closures and the flight of manufacturing, as well as the new “global city” which is developing around economies of services, information and culture. Our proposed Collaboration seeks to recover the active presence of work and technology in our everyday lives, challenging the commonly-accepted vision of manufacturing inevitably giving way to services.
3. Re-imagining the Museum
In the era of globalisation, mega-cities like Mumbai have emerged as the primary site for the articulation of new social, economic and cultural imaginations, and the various technological means to realise these visions. The Industrial Museum Collaboration seeks to find a new cultural-institutional form to narrate these histories, and invite the urban public to tell its own stories of work, aspiration and movement that produced the thriving mega-city we know today as the Mumbai Metropolitan Region.
The idea of a museum today departs radically from the concept of the modern museum as we know it. The form of knowledge represented by the traditional idea of the museum is often alienating — representing the abstraction of knowledge from its living contexts. However today museums can accommodate multiple narratives about objects, artefacts and their relationships to people, living relations which can be animated and narrated, rather than simply exhibited.
The idea of objects or artefacts taken out of their living contexts and self-evidently standing for themselves has no place in our conception of the museum, which seeks to explore how deeply enmeshed are objects — especially technological objects — with human activity and social formation.
What makes traditional museums so alienating is that while they exhibit artefacts and objects, the knowledge about them is produced somewhere else — by experts, scientists, and bureaucratic authorities. The sense of wonder and amazement which traditional museums generate is of knowledge as static object, of individual perception removed from personal meaning and social context. A similar alienation around knowledge is mirrored in many modern institutions — from the school and university to the central library and state archive — whose power and forms of knowledge we are only now beginning to question.
Recent advances in communications, information and media technologies have provided the conditions for this questioning, by blurring boundaries of time and space, of the actual and virtual dimensions of perception. Television and visual media have radically altered our perception of the written word, and the Internet has subverted traditional means of organising knowledge in libraries. This dematerialisation of perception through mass media presents an opportunity to re-orient our relationship to knowledge and its representations in public culture and space, thereby reconceptualising the museum as institution.
Unlike many institutions which tend to isolate themselves from their the surrounding community, the museum as a space is explicitly organised to admit a constant stream of visitors into its boundaries. However, despite recognising its character as a public space, we ignore the agency of the public which frequents museums, bringing their own ways of seeing and constructing subjective meaning from narratives, objects and artefacts.
Going to a museum can be an experience in understanding the complex relationships of perception and imagination that we have with objects, artefacts, and technology. Museums are spaces which allow for a more tactile understanding of knowledge, and how it is produced. Seen in this way, they are also the hub of vibrant cultural communities publicly interacting in a shared space of reflection and pedagogy.
Our conception of the Industrial Museum builds on the recognition of these possibilities, and seeks to take them further by engaging with the politics of museumisation, the tourism and culture industries, and practices of urban heritage and conservation. The Industrial Museum Collaboration will enter these debates by articulating a new kind of cultural institution, challenging the colonial and nationalist tradition of the modern museum, and revising their identity as public spaces.
Critics of colonialism have charged that museums in the colonial world represented the objectification of living cultures, and their classification and exhibition as a sets of lifeless artefacts and exotic objects is part of the domination of colonial science and racist ideology over native knowledge systems.
Another view of museums sees them as preserves of the past, of the lost history of communities or peoples, with no contemporary relevance except as cultural or historical memorials, or as tourist sites. Yet another critique views museums, like art galleries and other cultural spaces, as narrowly fixated on aesthetics or symbolism, reflecting increasing consumerism and the emptying of meaning in public culture.
While practitioners such as historians, architects, activists and artists each have their own powerful ways of imagining the city, it is only recently that their isolation from each others’ ways of seeing and understanding has been loosened. Wider economic and technological changes are breaking the sway of a generation of institutions which established the postcolonial nation-state as the dominant form of cultural and political imagination.
The breakdown of these forms — so far experienced largely as crisis and decline — presents an opportunity to reimagine the relations between knowledges on which nationalist institutions had imposed an estrangement, in the name of disciplinarity and expertise. Amongst these alienated forms are the traditional museum and archive, whose present crisis holds out the possibility of forging new forms of inter-disciplinary knowledge which arise from the deep disjunctures between different practices when they address the city as an object.
Indeed it is in only in cities and urban contexts that practices are compelled to recognise their complex interdependence when confronting crises of public spaces such as institutions, environments, and markets. The highly polarised and contested nature of the debate on Mumbai’s Mill Lands demands such a recognition of the collaborative nature of urbanism.
4. Industrial Museum Library & Archive
In the context of the proposed project, our idea of collaboration is centred around the possibility of creating new imaginations of civic community by engaging with the themes of dematerialisation/museumisation and deindustrialisation both within and between disciplinary practices in the city.
In the past ten years, the debate on the Mumbai Mill Lands and Girangaon has yielded a rich fund of documentation, critical literature and creative expression on the phenomenon of urban deindustrialisation — from academic monographs and books, to activist fact-finding reports, to urban design studies and planning documents, to photographic and video documentation of mill workers’ struggles, to artistic representations of the city’s post-industrial landscapes. Collaborators have been involved in these efforts at documenting, understanding and imagining these epochal social and spatial transformations, through their own work as film-makers, activists, architects, photographers, historians and curators.
Our proposed Industrial Museum Archive & Library will comprehensively index, collate, and compile into a online, public-access digital database these valuable resources and materials, many of which are at present inaccessible, out of circulation, or unknown to the public. The Archive & Library is intended to foreground the people’s struggles and resistances to urban deindustrialisation since the Bombay Textile Strike in the early eighties — a watershed event which, twenty years earlier, inaugurated new practices of fact-finding, investigation and documentation for a generation of young urban activists.
The Archive & Library aims at both empowering the people’s struggles through a recognition of their place in history, as well as encouraging new research and documentation on local and community histories of the urban working classes, the shifting social and spatial dynamics of land, labour and technology in the post-industrial city, the aesthetics and politics of industrial landscapes in art and cinema, and other concerns. The Industrial Museum Archive will be initially developed as a comprehensive index of resources, people, and materials presently known to the Collaborators.
These include historical photography of the strikes and working class movement in the neighbourhood; oral histories of poets, activists, and workers; development plans and policy documents relating to land-use, planning, and the redevelopment of the mill districts; maps and urban designs of the mill districts done in previous studies; architectural documentation and lists of structures for heritage conservation; bibliographies of Marathi theatre, poetry and literature specifically concerned with the mill workers movement; video footage of the neighbourhood and the community’s struggle over the past twenty years; and directories of individuals in the community and city concerned with all of the above. The Collaborators’ Workshops will generate more materials for the Archive, which we see a key medium of exchange — linking the specific disciplinary concerns of the Workshops with the wider inter-disciplinary agenda of the Collaboration.
As an outcome of the proposed project, this public digital archive will be operationalised through a web portal run on free/open-source software, published on a copyleft license which will protect the original rights of the authors and contributors, while encouraging reproduction and dissemination in new forms for education, research and advocacy.
The Archive will base itself on an overall map of Girangaon and Central Mumbai — listing both tangible structures and spaces and intangible memories, narratives, and images — providing a framework for indexing and archiving existing materials, and developing new inquiries about specific local institutions, neighbourhoods, or mill districts in a spatial context. This Archive will comprise the virtual resource base for a curated exhibition organised by Coordinators and Collaborators at the end of the grant cycle. The Exhibition will feature installations, documentation, material and artefacts which could provide the basis for a future museum or cultural institution, which the Central and State Government have already proposed establishing in the Mumbai Mill Lands, with the support of the National Textile Corporation (NTC).
Apart from those cited above, some of the many institutional sources of material for the Industrial Museum Archive we have identified are:
Study Group on the Cotton Textile Mill Lands of Mumbai (Correa Committee Report), Girangaon Bachao Andolan, Girni Kamgar Sangharsh Samiti and Maharashtra Kamgar Sangharsh Samiti, Lokshahi Hakk Sanghatana, Committee for the Protection of Democratic Rights (CPDR), Congress of Indian Trade Unions (CITU), Girni Kamgar Union, Maniben Kara Institute, Trade Union Solidarity Committee (TUSC), Bombay Mill-Owners’ Association (BMOA), Indian Cotton Mills Federation, Indian Textile Journal, Maharashtra State Archives, Office of the Textile Commissioner, East India Cotton Merchants Association, Asiatic Society of Bombay Special Collections, National Textile Corporation (NTC), Union Research Group, BUILD Documentation Centre, Centre for Education & Documentation (CED), Bombay Textile Research Association (BTRA), and the libraries of the Bombay Chamber of Commerce and the Indian Merchants Chamber.
We hope that, through additional funding from other sources, the Archive will subsequently develop into a resource base for researchers, activists, and cultural practitioners seeking a broader understanding of industrial and technological change in contemporary Mumbai.
LEXICON OF THE CLICHES, BANALITIES AND TRUISMS OF INDIAN JOURNALISM as conceived by Nikhil Rao and Shekhar Krishnan
For a while now, we have been engaged in a great philological project, our very own 21st century Hobson Jobson, as it were: that of compiling a lexicon of the marvellous cliches, truisms, banalities, and other little idiosyncrasies that litter the pages of our Great Indian Newspapers.
Contributions by David Clingingsmith, Aaron York, Eric Beverley, Arvind Rajagopal, Vaishnavi Chandrashekhar, Namita Devidayal, Shailaja Neelakanthan, Anagha Neelakanthan, Rajeev Rao, Avtar Singh, Rohan Sippy, Rohena Gera, Rochona Mazumdar, Paul Beban, Sanjay Bulchandani.
All text for all news in the English print media in India is essentially generated out of these words. Feel free to add, append, and modify the lexicon and the master paragraph below.
confabulate: to confer. “The party leaders confabulated about the new agreement.”
work out the modalities: sort out the details. “The party leaders confabulated about working out the modalities of the new agreement.”
supremo: head dude. “The party supremos confabulated about working out the modalities of the new agreement.”
brigand: bad dude. “The Karnataka and Tamil Nadu supremos confabulated about working out the modalities of the new agreement with the forest brigand.”
crack sleuths: smart dudes. “The Karnataka and Tamil Nadu supremos confabulated with the Special Task Force’s crack sleuths about working out the modalities of the new agreement with the forest brigand.”
strongman: big dude. “The Karnataka and Tamil Nadu supremos, in consultation with the Maratha strongman, confabulated with the Special Task Force’s crack sleuths about working out the modalities of the new agreement with the forest brigand.”
hardened criminals: tough dudes
airdash: to move at other than usual glacial pace. “The Karnataka and Tamil Nadu supremos, in consultation with the Maratha strongman, confabulated with the Special Task Force’s crack sleuths about working out the modalities of the new agreement with the forest brigand. The PM himself has been airdashed in.”
beefed up security: more bodies, but not necessarily more security. “The Karnataka and Tamil Nadu supremos, in consultation with the Maratha strongman, confabulated with the Special Task Force’s crack sleuths about working out the modalities of the new agreement with the forest brigand. The PM himself has been airdashed in under conditions of beefed up security.”
second only to Scotland Yard: usually cited while hailing the work of the Mumbai Police; the subtext is that they’re not anymore
swing into action: to finally stop drinking chai and reluctantly get off your ass.
swoop down upon: “The Karnataka and Tamil Nadu supremos, in consultation with the Maratha strongman, confabulated with the Special Task Force’s crack sleuths about working out the modalities of the new agreement with the forest brigand. The PM himself has been airdashed in under conditions of beefed up security. Meanwhile the Mumbai police force, second only to Scotland Yard and having been called in to assist with the situation, have now swung into action and are ready to swoop down upon the brigand and his associates.”
flying squads of nuisance detectors: These are the Mumbai Police’s intrepid stalwarts who have been relentlessly patrolling the city enforcing the B.M.C’s recent ban on plastic bags of less than 20 microns thickness.
abscond: to evade police.
scam: normal conditions of doing business in South Asia.
to the tune of Rs 10 crores: estimated dimensions of scam.
point the finger of suspicion
stung by criticism: react to weary but yet admirably persistent public outrage.
take stock of the situation: to pretend to give a shit.
take umbrage: to give a shit.
take up cudgels on behalf of: to stand up for.
cuddling and fondling: [this, we must admit, we have never seen, but Aaron assures us that he has seen newsprint to the effect of “Madan Lal Khurana and Sahib Singh Verma were seen cuddling and fondling in post-election bliss.”]
fracas, also known as dustup: most often seen in close conjunction with unseemly. often applied to parliament and other herdings of political animals.
inveterate, sometimes confused on sub-editor’s desk with invertebrate so one can find references to ‘invertebrate followers of the political scene.’
the India Today ending, also sometimes the TOI edit page ending, which always takes the form of a rhetorical question, e.g.,
is anyone listening?
have the ends of justice been served, that is the question
only time will tell (that old tattletale)… ad infinitum
the ends of justice scattered all over, especially in the Calcutta journals. where are the beginnings of justice? doesn’t anyone care? is anyone accountable for the beginnings of justice? Is that the question?
Eves and Romeos: young women and men, most often seen together in the context of roadside Romeos being accused of Eve-teasing.
hardcores, ultras and clean shaven culprits associated with the Punjab action and other trouble spots.
hot pursuit: recently-much-in-the-news
the classic epitaph/retirement speech phrase: so and so must receive kudos for having rendered yeoman service to such and such.
the enigmatically enhanced pressurise
cooling their heels in the lockup
The Ur Paragraph of Indian Journalism
The Karnataka and Tamil Nadu supremos, in consultation with the Maratha strongman, confabulated with the Special Task Force’s (S.T.F.) crack sleuths about working out the modalities of the new agreement with the forest brigand. The PM himself has been airdashed in under conditions of beefed up security. Meanwhile the Mumbai police force (M.P.F.), second only to Scotland Yard (S.Y.) and having been called in to assist with the situation, have now swung into action and are ready to swoop down upon the brigand and his associates.
In other news today, a flying squad of nuisance detectors (F.S.N.D.) managed to nab red-handed three hardened criminals who have been remorselessly violating the ban on plastic bags (B.O.P.B.). Two other associates in the plastic bag scam (P.B.S.) are believed to be absconding in Delhi. Meanwhile, the Bombay Municipal Corporation (B.M.C.), stung by criticisms alleging that it is involved in the scam, has promised to take stock of the situation. The municipal workers union (M.W.U.) has taken umbrage at the allegations and has vowed to take up cudgels on behalf of their comrades in the flying squads. The scam is rumoured to involve sums to the tune of Rs. 10 crores.
Border Security Force (B.S.F.) cadres have been placed on red alert at the latest trouble spot (L.T.S.) on the Indo-Pak border following anti-national activities being engaged in by a band of hardcores. Highly placed sources at South Block (H.P.S.S.B.) point the finger of suspicion (F.O.S.) at a sinister foreign hand (S.F.H.) for sowing discord. Since the leaders of this band of ultras have been cooling their heels in the lockup of late, the most recent anti-social activities are probably intended to pressurize the government into preponing the date of their release. Kudos to our B.S.F. boys for having rendered yeoman service in putting a lid on this situation.
In related news, an unseemly fracas broke out in Parliament today while Members were “debating” the latest border situation. The issue at stake was a recent master plan that has been mooted by doyens of the Indian security establishment and that is intended to quash all manner of anti-social elements operating in backward areas. Inveterate watchers of the political scene shook their collective head in dismay. Will our leaders ever learn to lead? Will the ends of justice be served? Only time will tell.
Workers Rights and Labour Law: A Backgrounder for the Workshop on Labour was compiled and edited with the help of Jairus Banaji and the Trade Union Solidarity Committee (TUSC) in Mumbai in 1999. It was published for the National Conference on Human Rights, Social Movements, Globalisation and the Law held at Panchagani, Maharashtra in December 1999 by the India Centre for Human Rights and Law, Mumbai.
You can download the full PDF for offline reading. Please note that this work is not for citation without my permission via email.
This essay argues for an analytics of caste power in modern India through an argument of the indeterminacy and fuzziness of its practice, symbolic forms, and modes of articulation in the discourses on caste offered by the synthetic theory of Louis Dumont; ethnographies of the dominant caste and king; and in the discourse of colonial governmentality.
Secondly, this essay makes an intervention in the analysis of subalternity, showing that the lower-caste domain is constitutive of the hegemonic order of caste society by making present the negativity that inheres in the caste order and provides a ground for its criticism and transformation. In this regard, it describes the emergence of social antagonisms in the anti-caste polemics of modern non-Brahman ideologues, with analyses of the particular discourses of Mahatma Jotiba Phule and Kancha Ilaiah, arguing for an understanding of antagonisms as constitutive of the social in the plastic political world of modernity.
Finally, this essay addresses the egalitarian imaginary of modern politics, its introduction in Indian society through nationalist politics, and the generalisation of this form of politics in the postcolonial era through the proliferation of caste antagonisms and the practices of hegemonic articulation in contemporary democracy.
Throughout, there is a consistent theoretical concern with abandoning essentialist conceptions of the unitary subject agent and the sutured social totality, and with presenting the symbolic and discursive construction of subject positions and social relations, affirming the open, politically negotiable character of the social.