Tag Archives: mumbai

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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Bombay Time: Clock Work in the Colonial City, 1870-1955

As a tribute to senior historian Professor Jim Masselos, the Department of History at the University of Mumbai, the School of Oriental & African Studies (SOAS), University of London and the University of Leicester hosted a conference of historians, scholars and researchers of the city at Mumbai University on 6-7 January 2017. Click here to download my presentation (PDF) on “Bombay Time: Turning Back the Clock, 1870-1955”.

Modern clocks and standard world time signify two of the great historical movements in the nineteenth century – globalisation and imperialism – whose connected histories were first articulated in the cities of colonial India and South Asia.

The theory of the “global city” originally described urban centres such as New York, London and Tokyo as key nodes in the flows of global capital, whose management clusters people and technology in urban centres. Much like these contemporary hubs, port cities such as Bombay, Calcutta and Madras were nodes in imperial networks of command and control which extended across South Asia during British rule. Early industrialisation in the 1860s and 1870s made urgent the coordination across expanding territorial and maritime frontiers opened up by new railway, telegraph and steamship networks across the Empire.

By the turn of the twentieth century, Bombay City had emerged as a crucial node and commercial gateway of the British Empire in western India and the Indian Ocean. Electrical transmission of precise time signals from observatories in colonial port cities made possible unprecedented, simultaneous communication across the subcontinent.

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बॉम्बे टाइम: सत्ता, लोकसंस्कृती व अस्मिता, १८७०-१९५५

This is a Marathi translation of my talk and presentation “Bombay Time: Power, Public Culture & Identity, 1870-1955”

बॉम्बे टाइम: टर्निंग बॅक द क्लॉक, १८७०१९५५’ हे माझं सादरीकरण डाउनलोड करण्यासाठी इथं क्लिक करा. आमचे मित्र व मार्गदर्शक प्राध्यापक जिम मॅसेलोस यांच्या सन्मानार्थ मुंबई विद्यापीठाचा इतिहास विभाग, लंडन विद्यापीठातील ‘स्कूल ऑफ ओरिएन्टल अँड आफ्रिकन स्टडीज्’ (एसओएएस) आणि लाइकेस्टर विद्यापीठ यांनी इतिहासकार, अभ्यासक व संशोधकांची एक परिषद शुक्रवार ६ ते शनिवार ७ जानेवारी २०१७ या दिवसांमध्ये मुंबई विद्यापीठाच्या विद्यानगरी आवारामध्ये आयोजित केली होती. प्राध्यापक मंजिरी कामत, प्रशांत किदम्बीरेचल ड्वायर यांनी ही परिषद आयोजित केल्याबद्दल त्यांचे विशेष आभार.

रेल्वे, तारायंत्रं व वाफेवर चालणारी जहाजं यांचं जागतिक जाळं ब्रिटीशशासित भारतात आणि जागतिक पातळीवर १८७०१८८०च्या दशकांमध्ये पूर्ण झालं. या सर्व संदेशन व वाहतूक मार्गांदरम्यानच्या वेळेसंबंधित इशाऱ्यांचं संयोजन करणंही शक्य झालं, कारण अचूक रेखांशीय वेळ मद्रास व मुंबई अशा शहरांमधून एकाच वेळी त्यांच्या विस्तारीत भौगोलिक व समुद्री सीमांपर्यंत विद्युतमार्गे पाठवण्याचं काम निरीक्षणशाळा करत होत्या. पण शहरातील वेळमापन प्रमाणित करण्याच्या प्रयत्नांना नागरी पर्यावरणातील अनेक दृश्य व श्राव्य कालबाधित चिन्हांना सामोरं जावं लागलं: सार्वजनिक घड्याळं, कारखान्यांचे भोंगे, कार्यालयीन पाळ्या, रेल्वेची वेळापत्रकं, सूर्योदय व सूर्यास्त हे घटक होतेच; शिवाय या महाकाय उपखंडात पूर्वेकडे कलकत्त्यापासून ते पश्चिमेतील कराचीपर्यंत स्थानिक सौरवेळा तासाभरापेक्षाही अधिक अंतरानं बदलत्या होत्या.

Continue reading बॉम्बे टाइम: सत्ता, लोकसंस्कृती व अस्मिता, १८७०-१९५५

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.

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”.

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हॅपी बर्थडे, कमिशनर साहेब

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.

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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.

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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 the 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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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.

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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.

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