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Bombay: Many Histories


Jim Masselos

THE MAKING OF AN INDIAN METROPOLIS: COLONIAL GOVERNANCE AND PUBLIC CULTURE IN BOMBAY, 1890-1920
By Prashant Kidambi
Aldershot (UK) Ashgate and Burlington (USA), 2007, pp. xxii 268, £55.00

THE COLONIAL CITY AND THE CHALLENGE OF MODERNITY. URBAN HEGEMONIES AND CIVIC CONTESTATIONS IN BOMBAY CITY (1900-1925)
By Sandip Hazareesingh
Orient Longman, Hyderabad, 2007, pp. xiv 246, Rs. 650.00

VOLUME XXXII NUMBER 8 August 2008

A great deal is being written about Bombay/Mumbai these days. The more that is written the more the city attracts further attention – and more writing. The appearance within the same year of two excellent volumes on Bombay, and covering approximately the same period, from the end of the nineteenth century through to the end of the second decade of the twentieth century, is a matter which their publishers and authors probably consider unfortunate. For us readers however the coincidence is not in the least unfortunate; we have ended up with two fine books which approach the city in different ways, emphasize different elements and present the material differently. Both are welcome, not least for the appearance of new voices concerned with explaining the phenomenon that is Bombay/Mumbai. Both volumes are works of considerable achievement which, surprisingly, do not overlap significantly, though they do traverse some of the same ground. Despite this each has its own distinctive set of concerns – they complement, rather than compete with, one another. The differences between them more than amply illustrate that basic point about the writing of history: that historians approach their subject differently and have different takes on the past they are writing about, filtered as they are through the specific perceptions and experience of their authors.   There are of course some similarities between the two historians. Both have similar track records, each having obtained a doctorate at a British university, Oxford in the case of Kidambi and Warwick for Dr Hazareesingh. Both have ended up with lectureships in Britain, Kidambi in Colonial Urban History at the University of Leicester and Hazareesingh in the Ferguson Centre for African and Asian Studies at the Open University. Both are fascinated by Bombay and concur in seeing the first two decades of the twentieth century as formative in impact on the city and in setting its development and direction thereafter. Kidambi sees it as ‘a watershed era in Bombay’s evolution as a modern metropolis’ (p.9) and Dr Hazareesingh as ‘a crucial period of change in both urban forms and political conditions in Bombay city’ (p8). Both are concerned with the affect of British imperialism – the conditions under which a colonial city operated within the empire, the nature of colonial governance, and the encounters and contestations between European and non-European societies that resulted therefrom.   Kidambi wants to redress the neglect of the urban in histories ...


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