CSI Mumbai’s Weblog

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Happy New Year

Posted by csimumbai on January 17, 2009

A happy new year to all and apologies for the long delay. After M arrived in Mumbai, we have been roaming around the country. We met Jameel and Jennifer in their village, Hanswar; spent time in Lucknow and Delhi where we met Amy Bhatt. Now, we are back in Mumbai. I’ll have a research update soon. In the meantime, here is a photo of Jameel saab at his brother’s wedding.


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Safe in Mumbai

Posted by csimumbai on November 27, 2008

I am doing well in Mumbai. I was home in my apartment in a Northern suburb of Mumbai when the attacks happened in South Mumbai.  Ironically, I came to know of the enormity of the events by a Seattle reporter. I had gone to bed early last night and it was not until the morning call that I came to know that close to a 100 people had died. 

My point; life seems eerily, almost artificially normal in most parts of Mumbai. 

At some later date, I will tell you about the horrors and howlers of media reporting during such events. But that’s for later.

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Repairing the Archives

Posted by csimumbai on November 9, 2008

The government archives are being repaired. Therefore, researchers have been temporarily dislocated from their research room and rehabilitated in an office on the same floor. The archive is housed in the famous Elphinstone College building. The decision to repair the research room was sudden, brought on by a consequence of events. Elphinstone College  acquired some money and decided to re-floor some of its rooms with marble. The floor in the room above the research room was the beneficiary of this generosity. But the roof of the research room was unable to bear the weight of the marble floor upstairs and was threatening to fall on the skulls of historians. As a result, we have all been evacuated and are getting used to the routine in our new settings.

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Posted by csimumbai on November 9, 2008

You may have read that regional chauvinism has swept through Mumbai once again. The reiteration of chauvinism can be seen in slogans or regional markers painted at the back of vehicles. One of the slogans, painted on the back of a couple of SUVs, was “Lashkar-e-Shivoba” (army of Shivaji), a take on the infamous Lashkar-e-Toiba. When I saw the slogan, I didn’t know whether to get scared, get angry, or smile. After all, I saw these cars during the week there was violence directed at “outsiders”. But now I can see the funnier side; it’s funny how in a locality names or markers can be emptied of meaning and filled with new meanings.

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Obama at Shivaji Park

Posted by csimumbai on October 17, 2008

Barack Obama was invoked at Shivaji Park in Mumbai on October 15. This was at a public rally to celebrate the 61st birthday of a prominent OBC (other backward classes) leader in Maharashtra. As you know, OBC politics in India raises and engages with the question of affirmative action policies of the state. The leader, Chagan Bhujbal, takes credit for winning 54% reservation for OBCs in Maharashtra. Bhujbal believed that affirmative action was crucial to reviving the floundering capitalist system and said that Barack Obama held a similar view!

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History and Humidity

Posted by csimumbai on October 17, 2008

I worked as a business journalist most of my life, but when it came to writing headlines, I always had the instinct of a tabloid journalist. I wanted to use ‘History in Heat’ as the title of this post, but decided otherwise. I can use the tongue-in-cheek headlines some other time.

It’s hot in Mumbai; October is always muggy but this year it is particularly blistering. After working for a few days in the hot and dusty state archives, I decided I needed a change. The communist party of India library in Mumbai was my refuge because it’s the only air conditioned library/archive I have encountered till date. When my dissertation committee asks me why I have a surfeit of communist party of India sources, I can’t say I share their worldview. I’ll have to say, it was hot in Mumbai!

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Intellectuals’ Politics

Posted by csimumbai on October 9, 2008

I would love to narrate more tales from the state archive, but I think I have harped on it enough. For instance, I wanted to tell you how it reminded of play school. You have your favorite seat and your beloved friends and if somebody sits in your seat, you make them get up. This happens in the archives quite frequently. The veterans of the archive have a structured routine, which the tyros have to learn to adapt to.

But the past week, I was also privy to the cultural politics of intellectuals. As you know, research on icons like Shivaji and Ambedkar is an extremely sensitive issue in Maharashtra. Studies on these icons are invariably seen through a communitarian lens. For instance, if you are a ‘foreigner’, ‘Brahmin’ or ‘Muslim’ writing on Shivaji, your motives for taking up the project are suspected and your work will come under intense scrutiny. Same is the case with Ambedkar. I work on neither of these personalities; though Ambedkarite politics in Bombay is an important aspect of my research. A respected scholar in these parts of the world guaranteed me ‘full co-operation’ if I focused on Ambedkar and ‘exposed’ his ‘double standards’. Another scholar wanted to me to look at Ambedkar’s political philosophy through the prism of human rights. There is a lot at stake, emotionally and intellectually, in preserving or maligning the iconicity of these figures. It’s crucial for young scholars to avoid pitfalls they may fall into, unsuspectingly. I hope CSI Mumbai keeps suspecting the politics of intellectuals.

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Santa and Lord Ganesh

Posted by csimumbai on September 21, 2008

Santa dwarfs Lord Ganesh at Babajan Chowk in Pune

Santa dwarfs Lord Ganesh at Babajan Chowk in Pune

My apologies for not posting earlier; Madhavi and I recently shifted to the northern most suburb of Mumbai and did not have access to the internet for a long period of time. I am posting a photograph I clicked a few days back during the Ganesh festival in Pune. The Ganesh festival and the month of Ramadan coincided for a few days earlier this month and offered an opportunity to observe the claims on urban space by enthusiasts. I won’t bore you with my trite observations, but here’s a display that caught our attention. Santa came to Pune to celebrate the Ganesh festival; he turned 45 degrees from right to left and stuck his tongue out at the audience at the end of each turn, while Lord Ganesh looked on.

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Politics of the Archives

Posted by csimumbai on September 1, 2008

A few days back, yours truly conveyed the news that the archive was a space for some historians to partake libations and catch-up on their sleep. The archive is also a place where historians socialize and there are patterns to their interactions. Gender is an important factor that shapes social communication. The men in the archive seem to establish contact with other males more effortlessly than they do with females; it’s not uncommon to find them sharing a cigarette or a chai within a few minutes of their introductions. The few female historians that come to the archives are often excluded from these impromptu encounters. I must add that some women historians also seem to liaise more easily with each other. This does not mean that there is an unbridgeable segregation of sexes. My point, and there is nothing new about it, is that gender shapes social relations in the archives.

Language and nationality are important aspects of “archive politics” too – they not only influence exchanges among historians but also between the archivists and the historians. For instance, Marathi is the language of preference and convenience for the archivists. I have found that a smattering of Marathi adds to the ease of communication with them. Similarly, nationality eases or proves to be an obstacle to social networking. International scholars, national scholars (Delhi based) and local scholars are enmeshed in complex networks of interactions. They gossip or pass judgment about each other’s work or scholarly practices e.g. “he plagiarises”, “he is not rigorous” etc. Class and seniority are also important structures that shape every day relations. For example, the deference shown by local junior scholars to their senior counterparts is obvious – they walk up to the senior colleague’s seat to greet him every day. Class also comes into play in the archives, but in more subtle ways. For instance, historians from up-market south Mumbai are envied their easy access to the archives by those who travel from the northern suburbs, especially on a blustery monsoon or a sweltering summer day.

I haven’t spoken about religion yet. Religion comes into play too but gets entangled with other features of social life. For instance, the place I am haunting these days is frequented by a burkha-clad historian. Her connections to the complex webs of researchers, that I alluded to above, seem almost non-existent. I guess it doesn’t seem odd to anybody that a veiled Muslim woman is at the margins of our everyday existence.

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Tyranny of Concepts

Posted by csimumbai on August 20, 2008

The break in the rains created an opportunity for walking in the city. I have been thinking about doing this for some time, but the monsoons were a deterrent. I walked in the working class neighborhoods of central Mumbai. One of things that caught my attention was the plethora of political parties that have offices in this part of the city. All the major political parties of the region – Congress, Shiv Sena, Nationalist Congress Party,  Maharashtra Nav Nirman Sena, Republican Party of India, and the much maligned Communist Party of India – were here. The subjectivities of the working class makes for a heady cocktail.


Walking in central Mumbai was great. After all, the place will be an important part of my thesis. But I realized how difficult it was to think beyond popular concepts. For instance, the changing landscape of the mill district has been discussed by many journalists, architects, and social scientists. I could not do away with some of the terms they have used. Gentrification was one such term that kept coming to mind. Instead of focusing on the rich everyday life of the neighborhoods, I kept falling back on gentrification to make sense of the place. How have some of you tackled this issue?

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