[Reader-list] The City

zainab at xtdnet.nl zainab at xtdnet.nl
Thu Dec 23 21:12:28 IST 2004

23rd December 2004

Winter has set into the city. People have adorned sweaters. The Nepalis
are back in the city, selling woolens on the streets of Fort Market. And
as the city is witnessing some very rapid changes, I sit here, right
before my computer, thinking about individual rights and group rights.

This morning, Sam Pitroda’s photo on the front page of Bombay Times struck
me. Pitroda is in the city. His photo was shot in the backdrop of Nariman
Point/Marine Drive. Some months ago, when Suketu Mehta released his book
Maximum City, his photos too (which were on various front and third pages)
were shot in the backdrop of Nariman Point/Marine Drive. And this evening,
as I walked past NP/MD, a huge signboard said, “Photography not allowed.
Have to take BMC permission to shoot here.” Yet, several people at the
promenade this evening were shooting pictures of themselves and each
other. People with new handycams were all out to take shots of the sea.
And a guy from a group of college-going youngsters said to his mates who
were clicking pictures of the sea and the Queen’s Necklace, “Mumbai looks
sahi (perfect) from here!”

Winter has sent in the city and this morning, news on the third page of
Times of India read, “Migrants going back to their villages.” Given the
demolition drives across the city, migrants from the slums, of the hawker
community, are all going back to the city. The Municipal Commissioner
Johnny Joseph has confirmed this news. As I read this piece, I think of
Stephie, the Chinese woman who owns the saloon near my place. She is from
China. She set up dhanda (business) here, picked up Hindi and now she
earns in five to six figures every month. I wonder why she is not being
sent back to her village. Right now, as I am passing by the hawkers who
have set up stalls on the back side of Hilton Towers at NP/MD, I am
thinking, “Stephie should also go back. I want her to go back. I want
everyone to go back.” Yes, I want everyone to go back. Nobody belongs
here. Everybody should go back. This is freedom struggle part II – GO
BACK! But wait a minute, Stephie is legal. She has a property
establishment. She is not sitting on the roads, on loose space. She is
sitting on prime land. She is legal. But I still want her to go back.
Everybody is going back. She must also go back.

It is chilly as I walk the streets of this city, as I masquerade VT
Station, Churchgate Station and Nariman Point. I feel cold. I read banners
across the roads along these areas which say, ‘Jay Walking is Injurious to
Health’, ‘Jay Walking is Hazardous to Health’, and finally, ‘Make use of
subway to get into the railway station else you shall be fined Rs.100.’
That’s it – hundred bucks fine. And the cops are pretty stern about this
one, this time. People are being disciplined. The subway has to be used.
Crossing the roads which was earlier a practice of time has been curbed.
We have to change our practices of time because space has to be cleaned
and expanded. As I walk the roads of VT, I realize that the illegal global
market has become funny these days. For sometime, it is not there. After a
while, it is there. Then again, it is gone somewhere. I think the market
as an entity is becoming vigilant as the State employs guards and private
security to protect loose, open spaces.

This morning, another piece of news hit me. It says that now that the
commissioner has cleared the slums, he is hiring private security to
ensure that encroachments don’t occur again on the lands. He is asking the
State Government to do something about this because it is state land. He
is also employing Karate Champions to keep the encroachers out. I think
again of the rights of property of the state and rights of property of the
public and rights of property of groups and rights of property of
individuals. Quite a mess nah?
A couple of days ago, I met with a government guy who was speaking to me
about the processes of rehabilitation for slum dwellers. He said to me,
“This morning, I went to an area in the Western Suburbs. When I looked
from the top floor of an unfinished building, I got this birds’ eye view
of an encroachment. I realized that the encroachment was deliberate, an
attempt to raise land prices. This is not to say that I am anti-slum. But
there are times when these deliberate moves are made. It is madness in
this city. Land prices get inflated so easily!” I think it is not just
about space, but the very notions of property which are precarious and
dangerous in this city. We have fought gang wars for property deals. We
have employed the illegal to do for us what the legal could not do. Now we
have hired the private for protecting the public. I am amused right now
and am unsure whether I should laugh aloud or cry aloud or simply wait and

Sanity prevails along Nariman Point. Time is relaxed here. Right now, I am
on the seafront. And I am okay. How about you?

Zainab Bawa

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