coromandal


colaba
May 9, 2011, 5:08 pm
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half century merry-go-round
April 1, 2008, 8:26 pm
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Here is an excerpt from Suketu Mehta‘s Maximum City.  A story in a story about being nomadic, but in the city instead of the desert, and presumeably with more red tape, and with taxis instead of camels.  I guess there are differences, but really the fundamentals are the same:  necessity and property owners are my overlords; I must pare down my dependence on things and be careful to not invest emotionally in people that I soon may have to leave.  Material property and the world are as insubstantial as the time between moves, and the idea of home.

The Rent Act leads to peculiar constructions of “home,” unique to Bombay.  Each April 1, a parade of taxis and tempos will take the residents of the F.D. Petit Parsi Sanitarium at Kemps Corner to the Bhabha Sanitarium at Bandra.  Four months later, they will all move to the Jehangir Bagh Sanitarium in Juhu.  Four months after that, they will all come back to the Kemps Corner.  The mass migrations back and forth to the same place, often the same room, happen because the Parsi Panchayat, which owns the sanatoria, knows that tenants who are allowed to stay on become de facto owners.  So they keep their tenants constantly on the move, even as they provide them shelter.  Some of the families have been doing this merry-go-round for over half a century.  Every time they move, they must reapply, coming up with a health certificate, to prove they need the salubrious quarters of a sanatorium.  They are allowed to keep their bags and some furniture – but not a refrigerator.  Installing a fridge is claiming home, so the residents must subsist on powdered milk.

~Suketu Mehta, Maximum City



simultaneously and substantially dual

 

This is from an article by Arjun Appadurai.  In it, he describes how the world we accept as empirical, the spaces we see and touch and know can only be properly negotiated when we add in an intangible dimension, what we remember and imagine from other places – ones we’ve inhabited, dreamed about, seen at the movies.  By adding the new dimension, which by the way is very real, we see that we live in a much different place than commonly described.

“Because of the degree of media penetration and saturation – which frequently also means media of many kinds and media from many places, particularly television, where it’s available – people live, as it were, in layered places, which in themselves have a variety of levels of attachment, engagement and, if you like, reality … In a world of migration and mass mediation, everybody is living in a world of image flows, such that it’s not simply and straightforwardly possible to separate their everyday life from this other set of spaces that they engage with through the media, either as receivers, or as workers in call centers, or on interactive websites.  The work of the imagination allows people to inhabit either multiple localities or a kind of single and complex sense of locality, in which many different empirical spaces coexist.  So one of these call center people is simultaneously living a little bit in the United States and also living substantially in Bombay.  But Bombay itself, because of films and so on, is not merely empirical Bombay.

In this sense you have a kind of creative, spatial form which isn’t reducible to its empirical facts.  Now those empirical facts – for example, that the trains in Bombay are incredibly crowded  – must be faced at the end of the day.  Even if you’re inhabiting many localities, this one will always be present to you.  But because I do believe in the work of the imagination, I believe your engagement with this empirical world can be somewhat different depending on what translocalities you inhabit mentally, in and through the imagination.  So the train isn’t the same for everyone, not only because there’s a better part and a less good part of the train, but simply because the train is only one element of people’s localized existence.  Again I would say, remembering the urban poor, that the relationship of their experienced spaces to their imagined spaces is always at a disadvantage.  And this must be changed.  But the poor, too, negotiate a relationship between experienced spaces and imagined spaces.  They’re not only living in sheer experience while the rest of us live in the imagination.  That’s my sense of the political economy of these spaces.”

~Arjun Appadurai, The Right to Participate in the Work of the Imagination, Trans Urbanism, V2_Publishing/NAi Publishers



missing bombay
March 13, 2008, 5:56 pm
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From Maximum City, an account by Suketu Mehta of being educated in provincial, hateful Queens, NY

When I moved to New York, I missed Bombay like an organ of my body. I thought that when I left Bombay I had escaped from the worst school in the world. I was wrong. The all-boys Catholic school I went to in Queens was worse. It was in a working-class white enclave that was steadily being encroached upon by immigrants from darker countries. I was one of the first minorities to enroll, a representative of all they were trying to hold out against. Soon after I got there, a boy with curly red hair and freckles came up to my lunch table and announced, “Lincoln should never have freed the slaves.” The teachers called me a pagan. My school yearbook photo shows me looking at the camera with the caption, “It’s so strong I can even skip a day,” referring to an advertising slogan for a brand of antiperspirant. This was how the school saw me: as a stinking heathen, emitting the foul odors of my native cooking. On the day I graduated, I walked outside the barbed-wire-topped gates, put my lips to the pavement, and kissed the ground in gratitude.”

~Suketu Mehta, Maximum City



victoria terminus

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