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Mumbai Fables

Mumbai Fables

Gyan Prakash
Copyright Date: 2010
Pages: 424
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  • Book Info
    Mumbai Fables
    Book Description:

    A place of spectacle and ruin, Mumbai exemplifies the cosmopolitan metropolis. It is not just a big city but also a soaring vision of modern urban life. Millions from India and beyond, of different ethnicities, languages, and religions, have washed up on its shores, bringing with them their desires and ambitions.Mumbai Fablesexplores the mythic inner life of this legendary city as seen by its inhabitants, journalists, planners, writers, artists, filmmakers, and political activists. In this remarkable cultural history of one of the world's most important urban centers, Gyan Prakash unearths the stories behind its fabulous history, viewing Mumbai through its turning points and kaleidoscopic ideas, comic book heroes, and famous scandals--the history behind Mumbai's stories of opportunity and oppression, of fabulous wealth and grinding poverty, of cosmopolitan desires and nativist energies.

    Starting from the catastrophic floods and terrorist attacks of recent years, Prakash reaches back to the sixteenth-century Portuguese conquest to reveal the stories behind Mumbai's historic journey. Examining Mumbai's role as a symbol of opportunity and reinvention, he looks at its nineteenth-century development under British rule and its twentieth-century emergence as a fabled city on the sea. Different layers of urban experience come to light as he recounts the narratives of the Nanavati murder trial and the rise and fall of the tabloidBlitz, and Mumbai's transformation from the red city of trade unions and communists into the saffron city of Hindu nationalist Shiv Sena. Starry-eyed planners and elite visionaries, cynical leaders and violent politicians of the street, land sharks and underworld dons jostle with ordinary citizens and poor immigrants as the city copes with the dashed dreams of postcolonial urban life and lurches into the seductions of globalization.

    Shedding light on the city's past and present,Mumbai Fablesoffers an unparalleled look at this extraordinary metropolis.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-3594-2
    Subjects: History, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-xii)
    (pp. 1-24)

    Thus begins “Tower of Silence,” an unpublished novel written in 1927 by Phiroshaw Jamsetjee Chevalier (Chaiwala),¹ a Parsi from Bombay.*After setting the scene of this grave sacrilege to the Zoroastrian faith, the novel shifts to London. On the street outside the office of the journalThe Graphicis a large touring Rolls-Royce, richly upholstered and fitted with silver fixtures. In it sits a tanned young man in a finely tailored suit, with a monocle in his left eye. He is Beram, a Parsi who blends “the knowledge of the shrewd East” with that of the West and is a...

    (pp. 25-74)

    Bombay is now officially Mumbai.¹ The colonial era is abolished, dismissed as history. I encountered the most visible expression of the postcolonial abolition of the city’s colonial past in the ubiquitous presence of Shivaji, the seventeenth-century Maratha warrior and a national and regional cultural icon. Public spaces named after him abound. Victoria Terminus, the late-nineteenth-century railway station with its ornate riot of roofs, towers, and domes in the Gothic Revival style, is now called Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, and the airport is named after him. A striking statue of the warrior, mounted on his horse, sword in hand, stands near the...

    (pp. 75-116)

    Marine Drive is no ordinary place. Mumbai’s residents, who do not need much prodding to rattle off the problems facing their city, change their disposition the moment the panoramic boulevard on the Arabian Sea enters the discussion. Their eyes turn dreamy and their speech slows down in midsentence as they voice the name in hushed and unhurried tones—M-a-r-i-n-e D-r-i-v-e. Utter the name slowly, clear up spaces before and after it, and you also might feel its aura.

    Running along Mumbai’s arcing southwestern shoreline, Marine Drive calls to mind the visual drama of the city by the sea. This is...

    (pp. 117-157)

    On October 9, 1947, a young Muslim woman committed suicide in Bombay. She was married to a police constable who was adamant that they move to newly created Pakistan. The husband was persistent, but so was the wife in refusing to snap the deep ties to the land of her childhood and ancestors. Finally, tired of his stubborn insistence, she hung herself by a rope fastened to the ceiling of their home.¹

    Tragic though it was, the Muslim woman’s death pales in comparison with the scale of the displacements and killings that marked the unruly end of the Raj. Between...

    (pp. 158-203)

    It was April 27, 1959. As the day wore on, the oppressive humidity hung like a pall over the city. Deputy Commissioner John Lobo of the Bombay City Police was in his office, planning to escape the sweltering heat with a family holiday in the cool Nilgiri Hills.¹ But police work intervened. Lobo recalls that he had spent a typical busy day at his Crime Branch, CID (Criminal Investigation Department), office in the hulking police commissioner’s building. The daily routine of discussing business with the commissioner over a cup of tea had ended at around 5:00 p.m., when the phone...

    (pp. 204-250)

    On the night of Friday, June 5, 1970, Krishna Desai was stabbed to death. By all accounts, he was a popular trade union and political leader. Well known and admired in the city’s working-class districts, he had been a member of the Bombay Municipal Corporation for most of the period from 1952 to 1967. At the time of his assassination, he was a Communist representative in the Maharashtra Legislative Assembly.

    The murder made front-page news.¹ The government appointed a senior police official, R. S. Kulkarni, deputy police commissioner (Crime Branch), to oversee the investigation. The arrests were swift. By Monday,...

    (pp. 251-288)

    In 1965MARG, a Bombay journal of art and architecture, published an issue entitled “Bombay: Planning and Dreaming.” Showcasing plans prepared by three young professionals, Charles Correa, Pravina Mehta, and Shirish Patel, the issue proposed the development of a twin city for Bombay. The editorial by Mulk Raj Anand, an acclaimed writer and the journal’s editor, implored the city to pick up the courage to dream up a worthy metropolis. He wrote that dreaming was no idle activity, for “in dreams begins responsibility.”¹ The responsibility to plan Bombay’s future, therefore, had to begin as dreams, and planning was dreaming.


  11. PLATES
    (pp. None)
    (pp. 289-324)

    A jeep careens recklessly through Bombay’s streets. It is filled with ruthless goons of the notorious Panther gang. They mow down pedestrians without pausing, braking only when they find their target. The man, a witness in a case against the Panthers, is beaten senseless while onlookers watch impassively. They do not intervene, leaving the bruised and battered victim where he falls. An old man cries out in despair, “Who will help? The hearts of these people have been turned to stone.”¹ This isBombay Dying.

    Suddenly, a tall and muscular masked figure in a bodysuit appears, guns blazing. It is...

    (pp. 325-348)

    “Haay Haay Haay Haay . . .”

    On the pavement by the sea, a dark thin man is smacking his blood-spattered naked back with a whip made of rags. People have thrown coins in front of him. This is the first time that Neel has seen such an original method of earning a livelihood.

    Tonight he will reach his shack. Just as a middle-class man’s wife greets him with a cup of tea, this man’s wife will welcome him by soothing his bloodied back with balm. He never found work as a load carrier or as a security guard. Never...

  14. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 349-352)
  15. Notes
    (pp. 353-380)
  16. Index
    (pp. 381-396)