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Intimate Portrayal of Bombay City

Manjiri N. Kamat

By Jim Masselos
Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2007, pp. 414, Rs. 695.00


Festivals like Gokulashtami, Ganeshotsav, Navratri and Mohurram are an integral part of Bombay’s social calendar. They have been and continue to be intricately connected with the city’s politics. Jim Masselos’ book, The City in Action: Bombay Struggles for Power takes us into a foray of Bombay’s urban neighbourhoods in an effort to understand the history of this complex city. It is a collection of essays previously published by the author in various journals and edited books. The essays cover a span that begins in the 1860s and ends in the early years of 2000. In this period Bombay metamorphosed from a colonial city into a metropolis nurturing ambitions of becoming a global hub in the new millennium.   The main advantage of putting together these collected essays is that they are easily accessible to researchers, students and anybody interested in Bombay’s history. Since they cover a long time frame, they allow historians to study the transformations that have occurred in the city and its social fabric. It will not be an exaggeration to say that taken together the essays represent the historian Jim Masselos’s lifetime work. Since they were not published as a collection earlier, they remained sidelined and conspicuously absent on the bookshelf of monographs on Bombay city with the exception of his first book on urban politics in nineteenth century western India. Masselos completed his doctorate at the University of Bombay in 1964 and has continued to work on Bombay’s history ever since. He has also written extensively on the history of Indian nationalism. His research engaged with crowd behaviour in the city’s neighbourhoods long before historians had started working on the city’s urban poor.   The book is divided into three sections. Part I is about the City in a time of empire and includes five essays focusing on late nineteenth and early twentieth century Bombay. Part II contains five more essays about the city in the time of Gandhian resistance.The last section is brief and has three essays on the city in the time of Independence. The most cited essay of Masselos which had first appeared in the journal South Asia way back in 1977 on ‘Power in the Bombay Moholla, 1904-15’ appears in the first section. It shows how the moholla was finding a political voice which at the time was neither hostile to the British in a law and order ...

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