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Offering Meaning to a City

Naved Farooqui

By Gyan Prakash
HarperCollins Publishers, India, 2010, pp. 396, Rs. 599.00


Mumbai Fables by Gyan Prakash is as layered as the city it explores. Walter Benjamin mentions a collectors passion bordering on the chaos of memories. The collector for him was as much a part of as he was apart from the various texts that make memories. There have been several writers who have used the collector as a tool to understand modernity but in Benjamins hands the flaneur this literary trope had taken newer dimensions. Gyan Prakash stylizes in such a literary flaneuristic journey as he sets out on the streets of Mumbai with the goal not to strip fact from fiction not to oppose the real to the myth but to reveal the historical circumstances portrayed and hidden by the stories and images produced in the past and the present. The flaneur has been an important tool to understand the phenomenon of urbanism and modernity. Prakash the literary flaneur plays a double role: while remaining a detached observer he attempts to be a part of the populace exposed to the reproduction and circulation of the fables of the city and apart from the historical sociological anthropolo-gical political architectural literary and historical narratives that he unearths and contextualizes. Though the scope of the book is vast it is the treatment meted out to the selected episodes that make it as disparate and coloni-zing as the appropriation of land that the author so much dwells upon and layers meaning to. It is the departure from the way Baudelaire and Benjamin not only understood but also tried to place the persona of flaneur in which problematizes the style that Prakash espouses. Though Prakash claims that he is not deploying this trope the book on Prakashs part seems to be a quasi attempt at being a flaneur. It is in this quasiness that the book enters the realm of pedantry. This incoherent style of Mumbai Fables traverses between historical and the literary leaves the reader in a flux as chaotic as the proverbial Mumbai local. The intertextual world of Mumbai fables escapes the trap of history as it attempts to focus not on the hard city but the soft city a city of illusion myth aspiration nightmare unravelling the history of the city as society. Albeit it is in its neo-literariness that the book becomes as taxing as the citys traffic jams. For all its stylistic flaws the attempt at offering a meaning ...

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