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City Beautiful?

Faiz Ullah

By Naresh Fernandes
Aleph Book Company, New Delhi, 2013, pp. 168, Rs. 295.00


My first experience of Bombay was that of cognitive dissonance. This was partly due to the fact that my imagination of Bombay as a city was shaped, in substantial measure, by the newly emerging body of English literature based on the city and partly because the first place I was acquainted with, back in 2006, was Hiranandani Gardens, a planned township in Powai. I wondered, standing in the central plaza of this surreal space, if the small men and women of Rushdie and Nagarkar, Mehta and Roberts, lived in Ambrosia, Florentine, Kensington or Evita, few of the creatively named buildings here. Did they work in global financial companies like CRISIL and Deloitte, or the notorious chemical and drug manufacturer, Bayer?   Hiranandani Gardens, as I later came to know, like many other projects in Bombay, remains indicted for gross misappropriation of development rights and dashing the prospects of creating affordable housing in the city where more than 60% of the population lives in slum-like conditions. Understandably, the business in this township goes on as usual, pulling a veil, as it were, over the dispossessing violence of arbitrariness and impunity that have come to define our public culture. It was only much later that the discomfort I was experiencing in my day-to-day life in Bombay found a resolution. As I started reading Amitava Kumar’s excellent A Foreigner Carrying in the Crook of his Arm a Tiny Bomb a singular image of the city began to crystallize in my head. Mr. Kumar cites a small extract from a short essay by the Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben in the beginning of the book. It goes like this: ‘Some years ago, I had written that the West’s political paradigm was no longer the city state, but the concentration camp, and that we had passed from Athens to Auschwitz. It was obviously a philosophical thesis, and not historic recital…’   It is not really a coincidence, I thought then, that the company, which is known to have used slave labour and manufactured deadly gas to exterminate millions found a ready home in Hiranandani Gardens. The city sucks on the labour of its millions of inhabitants to shape, and fulfill, its many fantasies articulated in the abstract notions of state-of-the-art and world-class while, at the same time, continuing to render them unwanted.   All these ideas revisited me again while reading veteran journalist and writer Naresh Fernandes’ new book, ...

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