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Archive for March, 2006

30-Mar-2006

March 30th, 2006

30 th March 2006

 

I met an acquaintance yesterday, after several years. As part of the usual ‘catching-up’, we asked each other what we were doing presently. She mentioned that she is into capital stocks and financing. I told her about my interests in mapping the everyday life and looking at transformations. At some point, she asked me a question, “What is your day like? How do you fill up your day?”

 

I am curious about notions of ‘work’ and ‘productivity’ in the city. I am tempted to conclude that notions of ‘work’ and ‘productivity’ are strongly linked with time. But let’s see where I go with this.

 

Talk about work and it is time to introduce one more character that I have been following at the railway station. His name is Mishraji. A lot of people call him Panditji.

 

Mishraji mans a candy and snack khomcha (a kind of stall) at Byculla railway station. His day begins at 5:00 AM and ends with the last train at 11:35 PM. The khomcha is situated on Platform number 3 of Byculla railway station, a platform where fast trains depart. Mishraji is of the opinion that the advantage of standing at a fast train platform is that commuters don’t haggle too much over what to buy – “ paisa phenkte hai aur cheez le jaate hai. Samay hi kahaan hai? ” They throw the money and pick the item they want. Where is the time? “ Us hisaab se silow gaadi wale bahut time bigaad te hai ” – for that matter, passengers of slow train spoil a lot of time (by haggling)!

 

Mishraji’s ‘work’ involves setting up the khomcha in the morning. On the khomcha are various items including wafer packets, tidbits, sweets, chocolates, candies, biscuits, chewing gum, mouth fresheners, etc. The khomcha is a squarish cube which can be packed and unpacked like a suitcase. In the morning, at 5:00 AM, Mishraji starts to unpack the khomcha . When I am around, he makes a lot of effort to display the items properly. “It is the display which matters a lot. Isko to dulhan ki tarah sajana padta hai (This stall requires decoration of the   scale of how we decorate brides).” He carefully puts out hangers and displays the potato chips – Lays, Ruffles, etc.

(and I think of circulation of commodities and the relationship between labour and commodity!)

He then sets out to put up the non-branded items like fried lentils, aaley paak (a sweetmeat), etc.

Some items are clearly on the ‘expensive’ category like certain kinds of chocolate chip biscuits, Dairy Milk Bars, etc.

 

By about 8:00 AM, Mishraji has managed to decorate his khomcha and display all the items

(talk of display and it reminds me of Mustafa who says that he is a master at the art of display and that he has won several awards for best displays. Wonder what will happen if Mishra and Mustafa were to meet?!?!)

 

He then stands at the khomcha till about 10:00 AM after which he moves to collect stocks for the day. “The rolling is quite high”, he says.

(Rolling of goods/commodities – circulation – uh-hmmm …)

 

Back at 11:00 AM, Mishraji continues till 2:00 PM after which he is relieved for lunch. He comes back by 4:00 PM and then continues on till 11:35 PM, with a little tea break in between.

 

Mishraji is from Madhya Pradesh. He speaks to me in metaphors of Rahim’s poetry. On some days, I have heard him speak fervently in his native language with fellow MPites at the railway station. It occurs to me then that language is most preserved by diaspora. Perhaps language is what connects and produces feelings of communalism and brethren in a strange, big city. And here is Mishraji, one more of the many diaspora I see in this city of multitudes.

 

Mishraji ran away from home because he was beaten severely one day for not completing a lesson in class. Angered by the fact that you can be beaten up severely for something as small as this, he ran away from home in resentment. He moved from place to place, worked in chemical factories in Ahmedabad and Surat, and then somehow landed at the railway stations of Mumbai. Earlier, khomchas did a lot of business because paan and cigarettes were sold as well. At that time, the policy was that the fellows who ran khomchas worked on a commission basis and earned part of the profits. Then, with a government order, the sale of cigarettes and paan was stopped. Today, Mishraji is only an employee of the owner of this khomcha and at some level, he does not like this arrangement. He says he has earned a lot of money in the past, but now, with the present salary scales, he is unhappy. He is looking out for another job, somewhere outside, which will pay him well.

 

It has been sometime since I have been following Mishraji’s story. This is an introduction to him. But before I conclude, I want to say that Mishraji’s dream/aspiration in life at this point in time is to watch a ghazal programme. He tells me that everybody in his family was trained in music except he

(just as he says that everybody in his family has been educated except himself)

and that he really like ghazals.

 

Ghazal concert passes anyone?

xanga

28-Mar-2006

March 28th, 2006

27th March 2006

 

This evening, I am at Marine Drive. It has been several days since I have come to Marine Drive. My fascinations and preoccupations with Khushali and Aga Mustafa kept me away from here. But the experience of the picnic yesterday with Mustafa and his relatives and friends made me think that I am missing out on something if I am not coming to Marine Drive. Let me explain a little here.

 

All this while, I have been on Mustafa and Café Khushaali’s case. A fancy of community space, defining public and space within the confines of a neighbourhood kept me probing. But I realized that I needed to go back to the ‘public space’ with which I started my first research excavations i.e. Marine Drive. There is definitely something different to the publicness and the space of Marine Drive. There is anonymity and yet marking, unlike Café Khushaali where anonymity is non-existent (based on the observations thus far). However, what is present in the space of Café Khushaali are contests of various sorts – contests based on identity, contests of definition of legality and illegality, contests between the neighbourhood and the city in terms of imaginations and representations in the media (I say representations, as in plural, because Imambada and the Muslim World in this part of the city are from time to time, represented as illegal, dangerous and yet, ‘cultural’ and adding to the ‘diversity’ of the city in the print media), etc.

 

I landed at Marine Drive at about 7 PM. Work on refurbishing the promenade has gradually begun. ARC Associates (the consortium awarded the contract for refurbishing) has begun a little bit of work. Interestingly, little concrete cube bricks have been laid out on the promenade, about two feet away from the edge of the footpath. It seems like two walking tracks have been created. For a moment, I felt that the concrete bricks are being laid to create a clear boundary between the footpath and the main road. It presented a sense of boundedness, something that is new to the space of the promenade. Earlier, the story of the space of the promenade was a flow characterized by un-boundedness, by a flow of people from the roads to the promenade, the flow of traffic, etc. In essence, there were no physical boundaries and yet, behaviours and practices of space helped maintain certain boundaries. Now, with the concrete bricks laid down, the first physical boundary has been created. And it makes the space of the promenade distinctly different.

 

The plan for refurbishing the promenade is that it will be made to look world-class, adding to the image of Mumbai as a mega-city, a world-class city! Perhaps the designs have gained ‘inspiration’ from the promenade in Dubai. Some consultations were held with the residents of the area as the design was being finalized. And yet, my question remains that if Marine Drive is a ‘public space’, then whose aspirations should be reflected in the refurbishing and additions to the space. Which public has a ‘stake’? Is there any ‘stake’ at all?

The residents owning flats and living around Marine Drive are largely individuals who have visited ‘abroad’, seen Manhattan and New York, been to Dubai, etc. and in a sense, their aspirations are reflected in the new design. (Interestingly, most of the residents owning flats and living around Marine Drive are ‘migrants’ themselves, most being Sindhis who arrived here after Partition, Gujaratis in the textile business who, prior to the creation of Bombay, had bought property here as investment of their riches, and some Arabs and Parsis, which largely makes up the composition of the ‘Marine Drive neighbourhood’.)

 

It is look at the refurbishing of Marine Drive and I question the notion and practice of ‘intervention’, particularly interventions by architects, planners and designers. How do these interventions impact space? What kind of consciousness and environments do architects, designers and planners work under? Is design free of politics?

 

I walk along the promenade, up and down. It appears that the space of the promenade has been flattened. Yeah, seriously! Contests have been flattened out. Hawkers appear here and there, but there is no sense/perception of power, of hierarchy, of politics. A public is here, oblivious of transformations in the urban, enjoying the sea breeze.

 

Yeah, space has been flattened. And as I walk past NCPA this evening, I start to think of society. It appears to me that these days, contests are either flattened, or eliminated or subverted. And power has now begun to move into the insides of structure, structure as represented by the new built forms and spaces, emerging structures of power, top-down politics, faceless leadership, structures of organization within multi-national companies, controls of media, etc. And as the politics and contests of the street are made less and less visible (I will not say invisible because they are still there, except that now they are not visible to the ‘naked eye’), power and politics begins to become inaccessible.

xanga

Aaliya

March 28th, 2006

26 th March 2006

 

This evening, Aga Mustafa and some of his relatives and friends are going to Mira Road. The aim is to go for the closing customs of the month of Moharram, but Aga’s special interest is in eating the khichda (a Muslim speciality made of lentils and tenderized mutton). He has readied himself for the picnic (though he does not overtly call it picnic). He has packed plates, lime pieces, a bottle of Pepsi, his RSP Scout whistle, his cap and spoons – ready to feast!

 

I meet Aga’s nephew Ghulam, another mad Irani man. He calls me zaani (girl). Today’s post is about Ghulam’s wife Aaliya.

 

A white Maruti van is ready to take us to Mira Road (on the outskirts of Mumbai, under the jurisdiction of Mira-Bhayendar municipality).

I step inside the van. A woman with a chadar (a type of veil worn by Muslim women) is sitting in the corner, a little snuggled. She looks at me a little curiously. I smile at her.

As the car begins to move, she asks Mustafa whether I am his relative. Mustafa asks me to explain myself to her. I tell her what I do.

Aaliya is all of twenty-three. But if I look at her, I think she is thirty-five.

“I had a perfect figure when I married him (she does not call Ghulam by his name). I was thin, even though I was an avid rice eater (rice associated with starch which leads some people to put on weight). Then I delivered Azeeze (their two and half year old daughter) and I lost my figure. I put on a lot of weight.”

“Don’t you want another child,” I asked her.

“Her father says we should have one more child. But I told him that I will conceive another baby only after I have regained my figure. I therefore want to join a gym.”

 

Aaliya was about nineteen when she was married to Ghulam. She says she was in the ninth standard when the marriage took place and hence, she has not completed schooling. Aaliya clearly says that she is from Lucknow while Ghulam is from Iran. Aaliya does not know Persian but she says she is learning a little as she is getting used to the language in the house. At some point, Aaliya tells me, “You see, these Irani people don’t have brethren among them. Look at us Shias, we have so much of love between ourselves and our brothers.” I am not surprised by Aaliya’s words. The belief that Muslims are one homogenous community is as fallacious as saying that milk is red in colour. Among sub-communities within Muslims, there are tremendous antagonisms and prejudices against one another. And therefore, just as there cannot be a singular imagination of the Hindu, I think there cannot be a singular imagination of the Muslim.

 

I suddenly ask Aaliya, “What is the age difference between your husband and you?”

“What do you think?” she asks, smilingly.

I tell her I don’t know.

She responds, “He is forty years old now!”

I am shocked. I ask her, “Did you not know his age when you married him?”

“An Irani aunty brought the rishta (proposal) to my mother. At that time, they said to us that he is about thirty. It is only after I married him that I found out his real age. Earlier, when I was thin, he would say we look mismatched. Now that I have put on weight, he says I look ‘proper’. But I tell you, it happens that when your husband is so much older than the wife, the wife starts to look much older after a while.”

 

Aaliya’s maiden home is near the ghat , close to Bamkhana , around the Dongri neighbourhood. Aaliya was coming to Mira Road for the first time in her life. She was excited and pleased. She comes across as helpless and fearsome. “When I was young, I would never leave my mother and go out alone. I have never faced the world alone. And hence, today, I find it difficult to move out on my own.”

 

Aaliya has mixed feelings towards Ghulam. She finds him unhelpful. “I fell off from the train five to six months ago and twisted my foot. But look at this man, he has not taken me to a proper bonesetter as yet. I have asked him to look after Azeeze while I go to a bonesetter. He refuses to do that as well.” Today, Aaliya walks with a twist, limping her way forward.

 

Aaliya wants to learn how to drive a car. I tell her it is not very difficult. But when she puts up her case before Ghulam, he says, “There is so much traffic and it is dangerous to drive.” Clearly, he is evading her request. She argues back and after a while, he cares not to listen.

 

I look at Aaliya and she reminds me of my own mother who, at one time, was helpless before my father for little, little things. As for me, having seen the helplessness of my mother, I decided to go all out and confront the world. Today, while I have confronted aspects of the world, I have my own new set of fears about success, name and fame!

 

But let’s come back to Aaliya, Aaliya to who this post is tributed and attributed. I look at Aaliya and I come back to the city. It is said that the city is a space where people can explore freedom, where identity can be shed and you can mix into the sea of anonymity. Yet, I look at Aaliya and wonder about her and the city. Perhaps to her, the world outside of her house, outside of her identity, outside of her thoughts, perceptions and paradigms, is too dangerous to tread into/onto. There is a sea of unknown out there for Aaliya, too dangerous and too difficult. As we head back to the place where the car is parked in order to get back home, Aaliya smirks and tells me, “Look at my husband. He is walking away to glory, without bothering and caring to see whether his wife is following him or not. Would he look for me if I went away? Maybe someday I will leave him and go!” In my own mind, I smile as I hear these words. They have been words I have heard from my mother till about some years ago. And now, I hear them from Aaliya.

 

Helplessness, anxiety, anguish, and yet, living.

What do I call this?

Multiple city worlds, worlds that we have not tread into, so I speak here!

I say bye to Aaliya as I step out of the car, heading back home. She says, “Bye. I will remember this time we spent together!”

 

Adios!

 

 

xanga

26-Mar-2006

March 26th, 2006

25 th March, 2006

 

Everyone calls me Aga, says where is Aga? We are missing him.

(I wonder whether he likes to give himself these titles?!?!)

But he is Aga, Aga Mustafa – His Highness Mustafa, Lord Mustafa.

 

This evening I stepped into Café Khushaali.

Aga Mustafa was eating lunch at 6:30 PM.

He turned around to collect his (royal) photograph from me

(His photograph, which has been with me for more than three months now)

It’s an interesting picture which captures Mustafa, but what he actually is and what he actually does is captured as a reflection in the mirror. Mustafa calls his twin images in the photo ‘Ram aur Shyam’.

Ram ki leela rang layee, Shyam ne bansi bajayee , he starts to sing the lines of the song from the film.

He looks at the photo,

Black-and-white, he asks, why not colour?

He is not very impressed with the photograph

But he shows off the photograph to everyone entering the shop

And as each one praises the picture, he starts to change his opinion.

Yes, lovely picture, he says.

And then, he turns around and points to me

Zainab, aks Zainab

(Meaning, this photograph has been given to me by Zainab)

Aks Zainab, karazdar

(I am indebted to her for this photograph.)

 

For him, my being Zainab means something

(Perhaps a reinforcement)

(Perhaps, an encouragement)

(Perhaps, a relationship)

(Perhaps, a brethren)

He points to me, as if I were a reflection of the photograph.

( Aks Zainab!)

 

He is Mustafa

And I am Zainab.

 

Today, Muzaffar and Salim are not in the shop.

Another fair skinned boy is doing the errands.

Mustafa tells me that Muzaffar has gone back to his village. He says he will make marriage in his village, Mustafa tells me. Salim, the younger boy, also went away along with Muzaffar. Hence, I have this new boy now.

Mustafa is definitely not pleased with this new fellow. He is a thief, Mustafa tells me. The other day, he served three glasses of cold tea to the cuustommers/custombers and then, he pocketed the nine rupees. Cuustommers/custombers came and complained to me about the cold tea. I questioned the boy. I gave him two tight slaps and asked him to come out with the money. He apologized. Said he only wants space to sleep at night. I told him no problem of sleeping at night. But he must be honest.

Mustafa is clearly not pleased with this boy.

Ramzaan bhai later comes out and says, earlier, the boy Muzaffar was managing the shop because Aga was not around. Daily, the shop would do business of five hundred rupees. Boy would pocket two hundred and fifty rupees and leave the other two hundred and fifty in the galla (cash counter). The owner would be surprised. Would say, what only business of two fifty? But what could the owner do? He felt it was better to have the shop running than closing it down. But the day Aga stepped into the shop, the shop made a business of six hundred and twenty-five rupees. And the owner was surprised.

Yes, the owner was surprised, Mustafa said, as a fact of matter of self-praise. Six hundred and twenty five rupees!

Ramzaan bhai concluded, there is no honesty these days, dearth of honest people!

Mustafa is totally displeased with the new fellow. He pats him on his head, says he does not know how to make tea. My tea, my tea, Mustafa bandies.

Boy makes many mistakes. Gets wrong change. Takes wrong orders from the client

And each time, Mustafa is nagging him, sitting on his head, telling him how he will drive away the cuustommers/custombers if he does not learn soon.

 

I am interested in this relationship, in this space, which gets created as ‘migrants’ come and take employment under Mustafa in Café Khushaali. A certain notion of migrants circulates in Khushaali. And the most interesting and ironical fact (to me) remains that both Mustafa and Ramzaan bhai are migrants of some sort themselves – Mustafa from Iran and Ramzaan bhai from Jaamnagar in Gujarat. And both have certain attitudes towards the migrants who have been in employment in Khushaali, migrants who have so far been from the various districts and villages of Uttar Pradesh. While I say this, I don’t mean it in the sense of denigration, but I say this in a fact of personal realization that attitudes and notions of migrants circulate among all persons, irrespective of class. And perhaps it is this circulation/imaginaries of notions and attitudes that creates power and power hierarchies in different forms, in different spaces, in different places and different locations. And the power hierarchy and power is practiced among different classes in interesting ways and means.

 

Mustafa starts talking about his house.

I live here, here in Imambada. But I have another three storeyed house under repairs, near Zam Zam Hotel.

I tell him I know Zam Zam Hotel. I was living there once upon a time.

Where?

Where the famous qawalli singer Aziz Naaza was living.

Oh, Palkhi Mohalla you mean.

Yeah.

Oh, but that area has become very bad now. Lots of fighting takes place there. I know, I know. There is a hotel, a circular hotel right beneath Nazaa’s house.

Yeah. Exactly.

Area has become quite bad now.

 

Area has become quite bad now, I think a bit, a little while, over Mustafa’s words. This again strikes as interesting. Mustafa’s words create an imagination and production of space, then and now. Living in Palkhi Mohalla was an experience of living in a world that is now glamourized in Bollywood films. It was an experience of living with crime, with illegality, with people around knowing everything you do, people prying on you, yet a sense of brethren because of communal identity, girls and boys in love eloping, boys taking to crime sometimes to support the love, the operation of the ‘eye’ among people, forms of surveillance outside ‘the state’, etc. etc. And living with crime and illegality in those days, was a matter of living life everyday. Crime and illegality were not the glamorous aspects of our lives then. They were our life. And they weren’t crime and illegality. They just were, our everyday lives – that’s it!

Fights between young boys, between petty gangs, was not new to us. Rumour would circulate – this gang boy knifed that gang fellow. And this rumour was entertainment, outside of state entertainment Doordarshan channel.

Today, it interests me that the notions of legality and illegality are being defined more clearly, more distinctly, and this is happening in a neighbourhood which is marked in the media and in the imaginations of ‘citizens’ as ‘dangerous’, ‘crime infested’!

And as these notions of legality and illegality circulate and are narrated, I once again think of power and the relationships between narratives, images and circulation of information. How is the notion of citizenship being constructed?

 

The evening continues.

Mustafa is back in action. He is working hard.

I have prepared cakes from home and have brought them here to sell.

These are Mustafa’s ‘specal mava cakes for six rupees each’.

Mustafa now wants to expand the business of the shop.

I want to sell samosas, patties, cutlets in this shop. I want to expand it.

Ramzaan bhai agrees. What is this business of black tea that you are doing? What will selling only black tea bring to you? You must sell snacks as well. There will be more business.

Mustafa agrees. But the space is too little. The shop is too small.

Yeah, when you were not around Mustafa bhai, cuustommers/custombers would flock to your shop and say that the space is less. Some even suggested that you put out benches for people to sit down, I said.

He murmurs about delicacies that he can cook and sell.

(And yet, he is aware of how lazy he can be when it comes to implementation!)

I just have to settle some matters with the municipality and then I can expand this shop, Aga Mustafa says.

Meanwhile, an interesting drama unfolds outside, on the streets. A havalar stands near a man selling clothes on the street and negotiates and collects hafta .

Both Ramzaan bhai and I are keenly watching the drama unfolding and the negotiation happening. The havaldar has slanted himself slightly, his body language one of intimidation and power. The seller on the street is carrying out business and negotiating with the havaldar simultaneously.

Ramzaan bhai smirks and laughs. Look there Aga, see what is happening. The havaldar is out on his rounds to collect hafta . He is collecting twenty rupees from all these street sellers. If you put out two benches, then this havaldar will come and collect twenty rupees from you too, daily.

Mustafa shouts in defiance, says he will not pay.

What do you mean you will not pay Aga? You will have to. These days rules and regulations are very strict, Ramzaan bhai says with irritation.

I will not pay. Why should I pay? Mustafa argues back. Look at that restaurant in Dongri. He has a shop inside but he has put benches outside and he is selling his wares there. If he can do it, so can I!

But he must have paid the municipality, bribed, etc. to do it this way, Ramzaan bhai retorts.

No, whatever it is, I will not pay, Mustafa declares.

Ramzaan bhai looks at me and smiles, as if indicating that Aga has lost his head.

 

It’s time for me to move now. But let me just narrate the last event of the day which took place at Khushaali this evening.

As the evening wore on, cuustommers/custombers started to pour into Khushaali. Everyone was pleased to see Mustafa back in action.

Two Irani men came into the shop.

One of them excused himself to me and went straight to the kitchen area to wash his hands.

I have watched this practice earlier as well. Some cuustommers/custombers come into the shop and make way for the washbasin. They make the shop their space, their place. And I think that this production of space stems from the intimacy of relationship with Mustafa. And maybe even from the fact that the people I have seen performing this practice have been Irani men themselves, so maybe there is a communal linkage to it as well.

Mustafa showed off his photograph to the two Irani men.

One of them looked at it carefully and asked me about the details of the picture.

I mentioned that my friend (Zeeshan) had made the picture.

Is ‘she’ a photographer too? he asked

I did not correct the ‘she’ to ‘he’

(Because the truth was that ‘he’ had made the picture!)

Zainab, Mustafa repeated to this man.

What Zainab? he asked

She is Zainab, Mustafa responded.

Zainab, are you Zainab? he asked me

Yes, I am Zainab.

Are you Bohra? he asked me.

No, I am Shia, I replied.

Oh, really? Is that so? Because when I looked at you, I thought you are Bohra.

I am not surprised by this man’s marking of me. Modernity and Shias are somewhat too distant to imagine and perhaps to see a Shia girl like me, dressed in the way I am, talks in the way I do, I just cannot be Shia. I can only be a ‘modern’ Bohra girl or Parsi in the least.

This man got interested and started talking to me.

He offered to treat me to a round of tea and cakes.

Today I experienced hospitality, a practice of this neighbourhood.

When I had brought Zeeshan to Khushaali for the first time, his words to me were, ‘I feel a sense of belonging here. I feel like I am among my people. I don’t feel alienated’.

 

I think the space and the publicness of Khushaali is becoming a very interesting exploration. And while I write and observe, I constantly have to negotiate between the space there is (and which is unfolding as a trajectory) and Aga himself, Mustafa, who creates the some aspects of the trajectory of the space of Khushaali!

 

Aga Mustafa.

I give him twelve rupees, six rupees for two cups of chai and six rupees for a specal mava cake.

He gives six rupees back to me.

Keep the money, he says quietly.

The specal mava cake is a special present to me from Aga.

 

Aga Mustafa.

My Mustafa!

xanga

New Thinking in Urbanization!

March 5th, 2006

“What are the major challenges to urbanization? They are:

  1. Use of Urban Space – commodification of urban space;
  2. Informalization – more development is happening outside planning rather than inside planning. This is a worrisome tendency;
  3. Poor provisioning of infrastructure;
  4. Delivering quality of life;
  5. Mobilizing resources and
  6. Ensuring governance

Urbanization is not proceeding at a pace at which it should!” concluded a speaker at a seminar entitled “New Thinking in Urbanization”. The speaker went on to highlight the various kinds of deficits that we are facing in the challenges in urbanization. They are:

  1. Equity Deficit: including housing tenure, livelihood issues (hawkers) and provision of basic services;
  2. Governance Deficit;
  3. Democratic Deficit: bringing in citizens’ participation, bringing gram sabhas to the wards at the urban level;
  4. Capacity Deficit: elected representatives should have the capacity for governance;
  5. Institutional Deficit: civil society should be able to participate in governance.

 

“New Thinking in Urbanization” – hmmm … … … I wonder how much of the thinking is new. What does new thinking entail?

 

There are various ways to imagine what the city is. I am beginning to re-examine my ways of thinking the city. To me, the city is currently a spatial terrain where various spatio-political and spatio-economic battles are being fought between different groups of people – battles for livelihood, for living space, for breathing space, for ideological space, for political space (in terms of representation) and fundamentally for freedom – battles which are being fought surreptitiously, openly, subtly, vociferously and ferociously. And two of the biggest contests that I see emerging are contests about notions and practices of citizenship and contests for control and power.

 

My question: What is Governance? What does it involve?

 

Jaju, the Municipal Commissioner of Hyderabad comes and makes a presentation on Hyderabad as the cyber-city – www.ourmch.com . Jaju presents the new mascot of a man with folded hands saying “Happy Hyderabad”.

“Do you want me to give you a boring presentation or an interesting multimedia presentation? You have a choice. Tell me. Okay, let me give you an interesting multimedia presentation.”

Jaju starts his presentation. The lady seated next to me nudges and says, “Did you hear the music? Seems like a Hollywood movie!” I giggled.

Jaju went on to speak all the accomplishments of Hyderabad Municipal Corporation – online polls, online feedback from citizens, online registration of births and deaths, e-Seva, et al.

In the question-answer session, Jaju revealed that water supply and sanitation was not managed by the Hyderabad Municipal Corporation. Public Education was out of its purview. Public Transport was also managed by a para-statal body as was water, sewerage and public education. A member of the audience laughed and said, “So, what is it you do?” Jaju responded, “Very little. That is why our Municipal Corporation won the Crisil award for excellence last year!”

 

My question: What is Governance? What does it involve?

 

Power bases are shifting, constantly. These days (in the days of NURM), let’s create para-statal bodies. Power is being taken away from the hands of Municipal Corporations in the name of efficiency and service delivery. Alternatively, you can read the previous sentence as ‘control is being taken away from the hands of Municipal Corporations in the name of efficiency and service delivery.’ Municipal Corporations are assigned insignificant tasks, perhaps reduced to clearing houses. (The State Government wants to increase the reign of control.) (And the Government at the Centre is wielding its control over state governments through schemes like NURM.)

 

And then we talk of democracy and bringing democracy to the grassroots.

And then we talk of local governance.

 

My questions: What is local governance?

                        What is democracy?

 

I sat in a group which was discussing accountability and transparency in governance. As the speaker spoke, it occurred to me that accountability and transparency are not static concepts and entities. These are clearly politically embedded concepts. Power bases are constantly shifting and being restructured, if not negotiated. In such a terrain then, what does accountability and transparency entail? Aren’t these two processes clearly political and very loaded?

 

The speaker went on talking about reforms in accounting systems in Municipal Corporations in an attempt to institute transparency and accountability in governance. He spoke of doing surveys and collecting data and statistics. There is an increasing tendency to organize the city (the unfathomable entity that it is, the wild animal that it is) in terms of data and statistics – in numbers – overlooking the complexities of power and the everyday transactions and relationships.

 

The speaker spoke about how we need to develop pre-determined notions, predict the city, so that we can make contingencies and plans. And I wonder whether the idea is to make the city a tame animal!

 

Ultimately, the golden words were said, “Civil Society should be representative?”

My questions: Representative – what is that?

                        Representative – of who?

                        Representative – why?

                        Civil Society – what is that?

                        Civil Society – who?

                        Civil Society – why?

                        Is Civil Society holier than thou?

                        Is Civil Society holy cow?

 

In the present urban terrain, isn’t Civil Society highly embedded in the political? Are there are other forms of representation? (I don’t know what is representation.) Can there be other spaces for voicing opinions? How democratic are civil society institutions within themselves that they speak of a democracy outside?

 

The city (I speak of the experiences from Mumbai) is presently being reduced to a single entity instead of looking at the multiple entities that it is. I believe that there are key issues of sustainability that are challenging the city. One such issue is the privatization of water, an issue which I contest purely on the idea that ‘a mega city SHOULD receive water 24 by 7’. Why? Who decides? Is it needed?

 

And coupled with the issue of sustainability is the issue of access. As citizenship is being moulded along factors such as property, capacity to pay and legality, who are the people who are being pushed out of the ambit of citizenry and therefore access?

 

The complex city is being made fathomable because it is too complex to understand and therefore to control. Electric wires entangled and dangling in an old chawl to an extent where no sense can be made of them, yet the electricity continues to flow. A time comes when this web and network of electrical wires are tainted as dangerous. Wiring has to be repaired. Likewise, the city has to be repaired. But what about the damages? How severe will these be? … … … … …

 

New Thinking in Urbanization

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xanga