"The city is being swept away by the metropolis. This action does not just replace one noun with another, but radically turns one state of affairs into a state of perpetual motion. As a collective action -- a verb more than a noun -- the metropolis destabilizes our concepts of time and place. With the dissolution of the city into the forever- emerging metropolis, our existence slides into permanent mobility." - L. Lerup, in After the City


seven. sunday.
off to travel for a couple weeks up north: ajanta, ahmedabad, chandigarh, possible stops in jaipur or delhi… a great day of conversation yesterday at the MMRD (Mumbai Municipal Redevlopment Agency) and with some friends of a friend, but will have to wait until next time, because my Kamayani Express train to Jalgaon won’t…

1.29 Naval Base, nariman point, and colaba seaside ZP
sunday, a day of rest and long walks under draping trees. who knew that the most peaceful part of the city might be the naval base, on the southern tip of colaba? this mile-long military establishment feels less militaristic than some parts of the city. here thick walls hide fading fortresses of Victorian-era british military austerity, while plaster peels and guards yawn. bicycles cruise up and down the street, or the occasional bus, and the even more occasional private car. the roads are wide, for once-quick transport, no doubt. in all of Mumbai, this would be the place to run, away from the sun for the trees shade everywhere, away from the cars, because no one comes here, away from the pollution, as this tip is surrounded by water on all three sides, narrow and verdant.

from here the bus to Nariman Point, where one can see the southern city as a compass rose, all of its variegated qualities shrouded in a saltwater smog. to the north: the dense green of towerless Malabar Hill and just beyond, Grant Road and Mahalaxmi, whose high-rises tumble down to chowpatty beach and marine drive’s elongated arc. to the south: the tightly packed business district of the backbay reclamation (including mumbai’s very own world trade center), flanked to the east by a ZP, zopad patti, a ‘hutment’ (informal) zone & official map term for slum area, this also flanking the water’s edge in a bizarre contraposto to marine drive’s sweep on the other side of nariman point. it is sunday, and the Nariman CBD is a ghost town taken over by hawkers and loiterers who claim the streets which lead to the water. where there are not loiterers there are guards; every building here has its own guard, or two or five, sitting behind iron fences which bear the signs: no hawkers, no taxis, no entrance without permit. down one of these gate-lined streets a boy with a horse runs, the horse wearing plastic flowers in her mane, the boy whipping her with his skinny arms. down another street a man follows me for awhile until I tell him to leave me alone. around the corner, a glassy movie theatre with a metal detector entrance admits the well-to-do for a sunday afternoon movie. here, two guards simply pace the sidewalk in front of the building, which is not fenced. these corporations and agencies must live in fear, and that fear is reflected back into the general aura of the area.

I continue south and soon am walking along the along the streetside edge of the ZP, which from nariman point looked much more deep than it is – only 3 or 4 houses thick from the sidewalk to the seawall, which melds seamlessly into the homes. life is spilling out onto the sidewalk – a little girl baths in a pothole of muddy water, a woman pisses into a street drain, laundry hangs from a bus stop, everything more narrow and cramped than I have ever seen. further along, this narrow strip begins to expand and claim more land as the street pulls away from the water’s edge, and the ZP becomes a veritable village, first comprised of landlocked wooden boats within which tired men and cargo lay, evolving into even more established territory where multi-storied, pastel-colored alleyways lead to slits at the water’s edge. here the front stoops are well-cleaned and cared for, and women sit in the doorways brushing their hair, chatting. the space is tight, but orderly, not as destitute as a few hundred yards back. from here space expands further into a small single-storey mini-village, with a few stalls selling veggies or sweets. this is still within the limited, approx. 50 m. zone between the road and the sea. I pass a cricket game in what passes for a small public square, a meeting house with microphone blaring politics. then, just as quickly, the whole settlement ends in an iron fence, as a municipal park begins. all of this transition happens along the linear space of the road for about 1/3 mile.


six. Navi Mumbai.
the heat of day
gives way to quiet, and something resembling cool. I am typing in my room with the lights out, the first time I’ve been able to think today, having broken a strange 12 hour fever that left my joints weak and burning, my mind paranoid with thoughts of typhoid? dengue fever? a dose of over-the-counter antibiotic has worked miraculously. it is a holiday weekend (Republic Day), many people have left the city, the streets are relatively quiet. tuesday is Moharum, and also the election beginnings, for which the government has put a 4 day ban on the sale of all alcohol, to keep things ‘calm’ (although foreigners, with passport, will still be able to purchase booze…) occasionally I can hear the drip of water that comes from my ceiling’s peeling plaster corner. my upward view looks like the pockmarked surface of the moon.

1.26 Harbour Line out to Navi Mumbai
Joseph Campbell once theorized that to understand what is most valued in any society at a given time, we should look to its tallest buildings. once, in Europe, these were the churches. in Mumbai, the temples come third – being superseded by water tanks, which use gravity to help assist the flow of water down through snaking blue aboveground pipes, and housing blocks, now the tallest buildings in most areas, a testament to the value of and need for housing everywhere.

without intention, today’s harbour line derives again ended at temples – two, in two different towns -- because they are still the most distinct architectural elements around. the housing blocks, though often rising higher, are of such uniform unspectacularit y that they blend into an inarticulate landscape. the harbour line: Navi Mumbai’s lifeline to the city. Navi Mumbai: charles correa et. al’s once hopeful strategy for dealing with Mumbai’s growth, a huge swath of land to the east of the peninsula with no linear limitations, as exist in narrow Mumbai peninsula itself. according to Mehta’’s book, Navi Mumbai’s realization fell far short of its intentions when a few primary developers, who had committed to building their office towers across the water to the east, instead set up shop in already-vital South Mumbai. this backdown left Navi Mumbai without a forceful raison d’etre for and economic and residential livelihood, and crowded even more an already squeezed South Mumbai.

the difference after crossing thane creek is marked, mankhurd being the last stop on the western peninsula and feeling very much like the proverbial “last stop”: a tightly packed slum neighborhood, which I was warned by the folks at UDRI not to venture into alone (although quite frankly, the station area felt safe enough). in one area thick concrete square ‘pens’ defined an odd, too-regularized boundary, the shack roofs all of uncanny uniform height, an order imposed by the wall without for the relative sardine-like organicism within. slightly further to the east, as the land rolls by, water lines run alongside the rail, and have been punctured in areas. here families gather to take showers, or collect water in buckets to take back to their homes. the bridge crossing over thane creek dramatically windy, so much so that we have to hold on tightly to keep from being pulled and pushed, dangerously close to the open edge of the compartment.

once over in Navi Mumbai: everything feels newer, but also less… vital, as so often happens with quick, novel planning attempts. the typology is more recognizable to my American eyes over here — gargantuan train stations, even for less crowded stops, topped by parking garages only half-stuffed with mopeds, ground level temporary drop off, and the sion panvel highway which runs parallel to the rail at this point, reminiscent of Bart or of D.C.’s system. I stop at belapur, the terminus of the train I am on, and climb a railside hill to check out a humble pastel temple, which affords a low panorama of the surrounds. up the road a water tank, in the 280 degree distance white gray towers, and just below the temple one of the more amazing housing projects I have seen – what looks like an Italian hill town nestled into the cradle of a low ridge (remarkable enough to have caught the eye of another branner’ite, in another time….) I spend an hour here, telling the residents that their homes are amazing, the module a three storey unit rotated and reflected back to back, connected via elevated walkways, creating courtyards that meander one into the other, a series of cascading verandas. the residents laugh, telling me it’s only a CIDCO project (the development agency responsible for much of Navi Mumbai) and that if I want to see something nice I should go one stop further east, to Khargar…which I do. the station immediately more welcoming, although overdone…a vast, white, pleasantly daylit platform, with a massive entrance beneath a colonnaded, triangulated roof. outside the architectural permanence still accommodates station stall-life, though in limited manner: there is only built-in room for half a dozen stalls, which I gratefully patronize. at least from the station, I see what the belapur envious mean – except that beyond the station there is little to see. khargar itself is a short drive away in the distance, and the immediate surrounds of the station are like most other American suburban rail stations I have seen: not much. a half-finished high rise, within which squatters have already made their temporary claims, some informal shack dwellings, the area completely lacking the usual market. across the busy road, a marble slab manufacturer sits under a tent. up beyond this I see a humble temple, making its announcement only via an orange flag. I ask the marble proprieter if I can go visit, and I wander up the hillside past a small settlement, one room homes with plastic tarp roofs, a raging garbage fire in the not-too-distant distance…and then, the temple: 4 concrete columns defining a space not larger than 4 sq. m, orange roof, orange flag, and the most earnest offerings of flowers, placed next to a stone slab which boasts a child-like carving of a deity’s face. a streak of coloured paint, some incense, and there you have it -- worship. for a few hundred rupees. the complete honesty of the gesture brought me to my knees as I looked around: the small shantytown on the hill, for whom the temple exists, the highway thereafter, and adjacent the rail, and on the other side of the ridge, growth in all of its concrete verticality. something about the moment encapsulated everything I have felt about this city for the past 10 days, which I am still, after all this writing, unable to articulate.

walking back to the station, I followed another water line to the busy road. even a high speed road gets its roadside shitters in the early morning -- it takes more than modernization and fast cars to change people’s needs, or provide sewage and toilets where there are none.

of this model in Navi Mumbai -- granted I did not see every station by foot -- but I am skeptical. it takes away the public space of the street, most vividly felt in the immediate vicinity of the rail stations in Mumbai itself. in Europe it is the squares, in the U.S. perhaps (depressingly) our shopping malls and movie theatres, but in Mumbai the space of the public is the space of the street. looking at Correa’s work today he understood this too, in his ‘Hawker’s Pavements’ project, which recognized the need for street-sidewalk design to accommodate a variety of activities at multiple times of the day. (see URL above) the enormity of these Navi Mumbai stations anticipate growth, as evidenced by their size, and yet cut the station, and the rail, off from integration with these satellite towns, which much now be reached via automobile (for those who can afford this means of transit). the station, rather than being a node for activity, becomes an isolated monolith next to a highway, beyond which is an isolated settlement, like the one in Khargar. it is disheartening to see this landscape looking like a shoddy version of americana, two modal lines running adjacent, choking activity along their arteries, separating the space of living from the space of movement. granted, downtown Mumbai’s railside living is undoubtedly dangerous, noisy, relegated largely to the poor and spatially compressed…but the stations themselves are a nexus of life and exchange. no matter the nature of the surrounding neighborhood I have always felt safe within/next to a Mumbai train station, even with its ferocious competition for standing space. it is, at least, claimed, INHABITED space…and maybe with time these draconian Navi Mumbai spaces will be claimed as well, but they are limited by their heavy handed architecture already – their choked adjacency to highway, their distance from the CBD’s of these outlying towns.


something about sunset
in Mumbai captures a feeling particular to this city, as it is both tragic and relieving. the sun sets into dirt-thick smog, disappearing long before it hits the horizon. the smog actually parts, like water, accepting the candy-colored (like the Robitussin-hued ‘jam’ I eat every morning) orb as it sinks. the air becomes cool, the sky bruised – and I know that’s a clichéd descriptor of dusk -- but here it is accurate. the sky DOES feel bruised – choaked with pollution, fragile after another days’ beating. on the flip side, at dusk the promise of a cooler evening makes people walk a little more slowly as they head home. at dusk, I also must start thinking about where I am going to position myself in the city when it is dark. like in any large city, I cannot wander freely alone after nightfall.

1.23 bus 123 to Malabar Hill
but here the ominousness feels even more stark: descending Malabar hill, one of Mumbai’s wealthiest neighborhoods, a jogger told me : “this looks pretty during the day but make sure you are not here after nightfall.” Malabar’s swaying trees and fancy cars belie a tense existence with its lower surroundings, which are seedy and greedy, perhaps rubbed raw by the enclave above its head. this, and the more hectic pace of traffic over in this section of the city, made tuesday a hard day. with every horn I felt brittle, realizing more clearly that the cars DO rule – one is expected to scramble out of the way, the wheels won’t slow. but horns honk even without reason, the blaring is incessant, and can be like a slow torture-drip. granted, driving here must be very frustrating as there are pedestrians EVERYWHERE…but, due to a lack of an organized grid with predictable crosswalks, walking is too. still, there were moments of savior: a jain temple caved out of marble, under renovation, the stone carvers’ tink-tink-tink revealing new, milk-white marble beneath the gray-colored grime of what had been. there is no sensation like warm marble on bare feet. a tiny alley, roofs 4 or 5 feet high, which led to a grass-covered basin beneath a high rise, the hillside covered with hundreds of shirts pants shorts: a neighborhood dhobi-wallah (laundry send-away). curious kids wanted to chat and were thrilled to have their picture taken, which they gawked at in pleasing amazement. later, exhausted and despondent, looking at the picture was a simple dose of perspective.

1.24 Western Line to Virar
a physically dramatic day that started early when a European woman attempted to jump off the train, which was going too fast now, and ended up skidding stomach down on the platform at Churchgate. there was a furor, everyone looking to see if she was all right and mumbling to themselves. later, on the return from Virar (end of the main line) it was Mission Impossible: a vendor with a bundle of goods actually scaled the outside of the speeding train to reach the adjacent car. shortly thereafter a group of young teenage boys showing off for me by leaning far far out of the train, one came within an inch, literally, of having his torso ripped off as the train sped by a pole, unusually close to the train compartment. even he was terrified, wide-eyed and laughing in that young-macho way that only teenage boys do, the world over, as far as I can tell.

the Western Line – definitely the busiest of the three. platforms are being expanded, evidenced by the naked metal trusses, still without roof or even platform beneath. this is the line that goes through the heart of north mumbai’s CBD’s and wealthy residential areas, such as Bandra East, Santa Cruz, Andheri. around these stations the crowds swell and going north they pretty much stay that way for an hour. on the return it’s a different story; after these stations the train empties until Churchgate, again stark evidence of the southern CBD’s limitations as a viable residence for most urban dwellers. also around Santa Cruz one notices the implementation of partitions between the rail lines, to avoid track jumping. [whimsy: the tops of the metal rails are rubbed shiny by riders who stick out their feet and run their toes along the fence. it makes a pleasing rhythmic thump that increases in speed against the bottom of the foot, and the temptation to do this is beyond mere copying: it was night, hard to see,
and I only noticed the shine after I had put my own foot out. it made me feel like a kitten among kittens – that our physical urges are so predictable and uniform...] further north in Borivali, which is generally accepted to be the end of Mumbai city proper, there were a handful of ‘established’ tent homes between the tracks. this was the one and only place where I have seen this level of entrenchment on the tracks proper. still further north as the city gave way to rail-station towns (separated by expanses of green), evidence of organized development is everywhere: a concrete tower still wet in patches, replete with decorative formwork on the façade; thick concrete fences lining the tracks in an attempt to keep the town more ‘planned’ and prevent informal trackside growth (Mira Rd. an especially striking example of this block planning); and billboards at every station showing a smiling white family in front of a pool, the proud new owners of a unit in a building development that is part of a suburban station-centered real-estate chain.

one gleaming white building high up on a steep hill in Virar caught my eye, and I wondered if it wasn’t one such promised paradise, which I wanted to see. after a redeeming glass of hand-pressed orange juice I took an auto-rickshaw through the town to the base of the mountain only to realize it was a hindi temple. the climb steep & hot, stone steps smeared with the crimson powder of hindi ritual, stalls on either side like a vertical market, selling baskets of offerings and juices and waters, and almost all with TV’s, even 1000ft above the town. once at the temple and out of breath the simple pleasure of sitting on the floor with a friendly family and chatting for 15 minutes, sharing a banana. further up I had a spot to myself on a stone, and looked out at the smog covered valley below, the town of Virar spread erratically, with gaping holes the ground on the outskirts of town to accommodate what I guess will be the foundations for more concrete towers. the pinnacle was windy; in addition to the fluttering gold and red ribbons there was the gentle whir of a single windmill, which belongs to a power agency who is sharing the mountaintop with the temple. wires, temples, ribbons, goats, rocks, boy-on-roof-breaking-coconut, mini-playground for small children ... and somehow there was still something close to…silence.

it’s impossible to wrap your mind around this city without making some generalizations, but once you do, you fail to understand the city. I have been reading some more official planning documents today, which lament the chaos of the transportation infrastructure, and call for making the system’s roads and rails more cohesively organized, and public transport more appealing to the driving classes (although the rails do have a hefty %80 user rate). the descriptions of a newly envisioned Mumbai, with clean, air conditioned railcars to entice the upper-middle class away from their cars, elevated crosswalks, dedicated sidewalks, and overhead expressways seems to be a reasonable enough solution but in part seems fails to acknowledge day to day issues of why people move through the city the way they do. people walk on roads not because there is not room on the sidewalk, where sidewalks do exist, but because the sidewalk is the domain of the vital informal economy, saturated with stalls. upper-middle class folks perhaps stay away from the rails not because the cars are dirty, but because the train interchanges are physically brutal…even when there is no rush-hour, and the cars are empty. if the city wants to resolve some of THIS madness, the trains will need to stop for longer than 17 seconds per station. even then it will take more than air conditioning and bigger platforms to change the fundamental nature of the Mumbaikers commute and entice the wealthy out of their cars, which hardly clog the roads in comparison to the cabs (and which provide a necessary and relatively accessible means of point-to-point road transport, as inexpensive as they are). speaking to a woman on the train yesterday, she put it succinctly: “living here, everything is a struggle. for one job there are 1000 applicants.” it is grab as grab can, a mentality that seems to be embedded beyond the reality of whether a particular situation demands it. regardless of what the solution is to the snarl of daily congestion – on trains, on roads, for pedestrians (movement is lugubrious everywhere, except on the train where it is ferocious) – I (perhaps naively) wonder if the only way to make everything work like clockwork is to make the city look and work like a clock. it is hard to imagine this city’s energy without its messiness, but then too, the effort to become a ‘global city’ is just that: there will be a standard of function and form that is accepted as acceptable to those whose lives are bound not by just this singular place.

otherwise…a pretty low-key day that has still left me wiped. spent a little time up in the Taj tower around the corner, adjacent to the original palatial edifice. it is perfect de Certeau: twenty stories tall it is the highest thing around, and a stone’s throw from the Gateway to India. windows in the halls are miniscule, making the semi-private space of the hallway feel like a fortress both from within and without. a staff person let me enter a recently vacated room where a near-full window wall of glass gives a picture-perfect vision of south Mumbai below. the particular room I was in faced the monolithic form of the Gateway, with its hawkers and tourists and taxis sitting eerily silent and frozen from the air conditioned perch of the room’s breakfast table. this was Mumbai reduced to a comfortable 65 degree vision and nothing more. and yet I found myself wondering, if one did have the luxury of staying here, but the curiosity to go out and ride the train into a grotty neighborhood that escapes the tourist book, only to come back to this palace at night, wouldn’t there be something valuable in this? to NOT normalize the dirt and the poverty, but to be reminded, constantly, of two coexisting, utterly contrasting worlds? not that one should need the Taj in order to not normalize – wearing Tevas should be enough. I often find my position here to be morally dumbfounding, and quite humbly, confusing -- that I am looking, seeing, recording, thinking, and more and more I feel the need to do something in kind for my consumption of this city besides the occasional ‘tip’ to child. moreover, the whole hassle of bargaining – I begin to wonder what the point is. for the sake of fairness and not being ‘ripped off’ when the truth is, even with a branner budget i DO have more money than the average person on the street? the ‘principle’ of it becomes ridiculously foggy and stupid feeling. but so too is it maddening to walk down the street wearing a big ‘wealthy consumer’ on one’s forehead, when you’re not here to shop at all. at some point it ceases to feel like shopping, however, and to feel more like giving someone their daily income for something as ridiculous as a kitschy sticker of ganesha with rupees around his head. I “don’t-need-that” less than “you-need-this”: a bizarre inversion of consumer desire.


Representing Far Places

In the canoe wilderness branches wait for winter;
every leaf concentrates; a drop from the paddle falls.
Up through water at the dip of a falling leaf
to the sky's drop of light or the smell of another star
fish in the lake leap arcs of realization,
hard fins prying out from the dark below.

Often in society when the talk turns witty
you think of that place, and can't polarize at all:
it would be a kind of treason. The land fans in your head
canyon by canyon; steep roads diverge.
Representing far places you stand in the room,
all that you know merely a weight in the weather.

It is all right to be simply the way you have to be,
among contradictory ridges in some crescendo of knowing.

W. Stafford

four. glocality & rugby rushhour

1.20 train to Masjid (Central Line), foot to Charni Rd. (Western Line) via Kotachi Wadi
the market presses up close to the rail, and here in Masjid (one stop north of Churchgate, the WL terminus) the scale and density change is noticeable. immediately outside of the station I am along narrow hectic back streets for 1/8 mile before I hit the concrete sweep of an overpass. here there is dense taxi traffic along a 4 lane road, yet the neighborhood remains oddly…unbroken. the traffic is a minor nuisance, seems simply to be passing through: people cross, and the market streets continue on the other side, a few feet away. really allowing myself to get lost back, heading generally WSW, sometimes hitting a dead-end alley, which feels isolated and uncomfortable, once getting luxuriously drawn into an airy courtyard coop where space opens up to high balconies and a small central shrine. it is easy to be in this courtyard -- even as men stare at my picture taking there is no discomfort. three little girls come to say hello. I follow my nose for a couple of hours – not trudging along, not really stopping, but the winding takes time and the maze doesn’t seem to end. tea at the jewelry shop, the hand tools filling me with nostalgia for days when my life had the same quiet rhythm. sitting in Kotachi Wadi – a small hamlet close to Chowpatty Beach – one realizes the effects of the auto. somehow this hamlet remains undisturbed. turning off the main street, with its incessant horns/bells/people, it is suddenly…. hushhhhhhh. the streets are too narrow for traffic, besides the occasional moped, which is grating and out of place. low-roofed Victorian bungalows hunker beneath the high rises not too far away. here I feel like an outsider, even though it gets its share of visitors. people live here quietly, wanting to be undisturbed. then finally to Charni Rd. Station by the sea , where the 6 lane Queens Rd. runs adjacent to the WL. a busy overpass next to a new luxury high rise, which the other night from Marine Dr. I misread to be an elevated patio for the highrise…

1.21 Bandra to the sea and back (CL)
the oddness of the billboard along the train track : “We could talk about 73 foreign offices in 30 countries. But being your most trusted global bank is what we really care about.” it is facing the CL, where an overpass is located, to catch the attention of riders and drivers alike. what I couldn’t capture in time was the squatter settlement adjacent to that same overpass. Mumbai is trying to go global, there is no doubt about it. in churchgate station a snack shack assures visitors it wants to give clean service with “fixed rates: pay only what is on the sign” (as opposed to bargaining for your tea). right now there is a small Mumbai food festival outside of the modern art gallery, everything white and plasticized to give a sense of cleanliness. ‘Mumbai unbreakable’ is the anti-terrorist police campaign that implores everyone (in English) to make the city safe. the Biennale Mumbai reader proposes developing ‘neighborhoods of excellence’ centered around high class retail and residency – an understandable desire to gentrify but in many ways the least of the city’s pressures as it continues to grow.

I walk for awhile, west, ending at the Taj Land’s End. it is even more unsettling than the original here in Colaba. aptly named and located at the end of the Bandra peninsula, the inside is a Hilton, off-color carpet & all. it is one of those disorienting places where, 30 minutes ago feeling humbled by local streetlife now suddenly it is so many “how can we help you’s” -- even though I am filthy, sweaty, and look like a hippy-ninja compared to the man wearing golf loafers. none of this is a surprise really, that suddenly my colonial status is made flagrant with the assumption that I belong in this palatial air-conditioned tomb. cut off from everything by a long seaside promenade the hotel is not only culturally isolated but physically as well. the promenade, almost a mile long, is used largely by hotel guests – an unimaginable abundance of space in an overcrowded city. the signs posted along it are the visitor: “beware of jaundice, do not consume street food. this is a non-hawking zone.”

more generally … walking streets and riding trains and crossing roads one sees: everywhere the small-scale economy moves its goods. not so much via the bright-red baby freight trucks (which are painted to look ganesha, the Hindi elephant god) but on the trains and roads themselves. two or three men hauling wooden carts 5 times their size, compete with the cabs. a women with a basket of fish on her head buying a rail ticket becomes drenched by the water running through the weave down onto her sari. there is a way people walk when they have a heavy load on their heads, their hips loose and swaying, which makes them glide over ground quickly. in the train cars too there is an economy: an upper class woman covered in jewelry buys even more bangles and rings from a woman riding our car. on the backstreets, shops the size of my room churn out wrapped packages of ‘engineering goods’ which then get stored in a cellar where a man sits and simply guards them. I have yet to see a recognizable factory, or viable department store. two French women at leopolds (local bar) are wondering where to find tattoo guns to buy for a friend in france; they are supposed to be cheap here, where many of them are manufactured. this conversation after watching Blood Diamond, about the conflict diamond market in sierra leone (surprisingly good; leo’s finally stopped looking like a teenager), in a packed theatre. the sex scene (I assume it’s what followed after they looked longingly at each other for 3 minutes?) completely deleted, there wasn’t even a kiss…(although oddly, 4 blocks away is the dildo-sex movie street stall area). the informality of food production as well…there are small gardens along the railways, rows of bright green leaves breaking the monotony of steel, brown-gray sludge, and garbage.

the sidewalks. often there are none, and where there are I’ve learned they are for shopping. if you want to get anywhere it’s typical to walk on the roadside instead, with the cars. this single small gesture, of leaving the stall-saturated sidewalk to walk on the road, gives me a small pleasurable feeling of Mumbai becoming familiar. more often then not, in the less cosmopolitan neighborhoods, the sidewalk is just a third lane, often delineated in a different material (stone, break) – a brilliant multi-use zone where cars park, cabs pull over, people walk, and stalls set up their goods. it sounds chaotic but it works very well.

1.22 Central Line to Karyan (54km)
in the morning the breeze through my window is cool, and i can see the man in the neighboring building brush his teeth on his balcony. there is a rhythmic bell around 8:45: ring ring RING ring ring RING ring ring RING. it is playful and reliable and makes me smile.

a full day, took the central line from Victoria Station (VT, now Chattrapati Shivaji Station, as part of Mumbai’s massive renaming campaign) 54km north up to Kalyan, the last major junction within the urban Central Rail line -- although lying outside the boundaries of most city maps. these same maps refer to the neighborhood clusters that line the rail route as ‘colonies’ – an eerie but apt term that makes one think of ants, accretion, and forces of nature piling habitations. many of these colonies well-established; houses are concrete and a lively market streets veer off from the rail lines. also looming above the rail are 1970’s soviet-looking concrete towers in various states of habitability, some brand new with unfortunate geometric attempts to violate the ‘block’ – so the balconies terminate in dr. spock-ear points. or the windows are round. or the building garishly painted. these towers often don’t exist in isolation, but are part of and adjacent to the colony – a possible planned attempt to house the area’s growing population. traveling north I also passed a few industrial areas, some extinct as evidenced by rows and rows of empty mill buidings, some still spewing smoke. saw one manufacturer of the 20 ft. diameter wide metal water and sewege tunnels. monolithic and out of context, a glaring visual reminder that the city is still being built, organizing itself, trying to resolve gross infrastructural shortcomings.

in Kalyan…a small & busy town, with a strong Mumslim presence. passed a cerulean-colored Mosque whose open doors gave me a glimpse of a man standing in silence under a window’s sun, other men napping on the floor. I longed to go in where it looks quiet and cool but felt inappropriate. got lunch, stood in the station roundabout for awhile and watched the auto rickshaws circle and circle and circle and circle…there was very little English, a total relief although difficult to order food, and all day in fact I saw not a single foreigner. flatteringly, though: a few people on the train ask if I am half-Indian. or French.

on the return down the line I stopped at what caught my eye on the way up: the town of Mumbra, huddled beneath a monolithic rock face. the topography as you travel north surprises; Mumbai central is so very very flat, much of the land reclaimed in-fill (as the city was once a series of islands). high up nestled into the rock I could see a small temple, to which I made my way, slowly passing through the sloping town, which dissipated quickly and led to a set of steep concrete stairs, every couple of minutes revealing a new panoramic element of the land below: the Ulhas River, lined by dense green trees and cultivated fields, the snaking rail-line which generally follows the river at this point, the adjacent local road through the town. amazingly: the whole climb up I never lost sound of the din of human clamor below. sitting at the temple, sketching, the landscape thus ceased to become a picture-perfect postcard, voices reminding you that the neat and tidy miniature, so easy to objectify, is infused with life.

the space of the train itself, and its tracks, is SO activated it’s unbelievable and inspiring: a women brought her portable foodstall (really an enormous basket) on the train during rushhour and made belphuri for passengers, strangers talk casually, women sit on the floor and sell or peel and eat fruit (one offering me some papaya which I gratefully enjoyed), younger women chat with me, ask what I am recording and why I am on the train, whether I like Mumbai, etc. etc. people on cell phones, others doing as I love to do and hanging out of the door. and some people’s lack of bodily fear continues to amaze my orderly sensibilities: I saw men on the tracks who, when two opposing trains are passing, simply squat and occupy the small niche of space just below and adjacent to the body of the train. a man leaning far far out exuberantly balanced on one leg, the other hanging over open space; 4 year old children in school uniform racing down the tracks and laughing as a train speeds by. the tracks as place is everyday news, is apparently not limited by marginality. the station platforms themselves usually ramp down into this area. I did my first track jump (or ungraceful totter, as it may be) and find myself wanting to examine this zone. the stations themselves during rush-hour: my god, such violence, and I say that in earnest. the force with which people pull-push-elbow-yell-yank-jab etc. to hurl themselves on and off the train leaves me bruised and muttering astonishments. this struggle for a space on the train is completely raw and takes my breath away, literally: emerging from the spin cycle of a washing machine one is glad to still have life and limb. the train riding makes VT station seem tame, even with its throngs and bustling night market. its rear entrance ingenious, the street comes into the station, streetlamps continue into the open entry, cabs and cars passing into a drop-off point … all of which minimizes the garish gothic formality of the building a mere backdrop for the more pressing vortex of movement and exchange.


three. orienting & venturing.
the other morning while at the internet cafe I aural-spied on a couple from new york – documentary filmmakers – as they tried to make arrangements to meet with interviewees for their film. it wasn’t really spying, as you really have to yell to be heard on the payphone there, which means conversations are public events. at one point she sighed with exasperation to her husband: “it takes four times as long to get anything done here!” I was both disdainful and sympathetic at once – I know what she means, but you have to learn to love, or at least accept, this aspect if you ever want to really be in this city.

learning to be here. I have thought about the experience of falling hard in love, and the past few days (still less than a week?) have not been dissimilar. the excited uneasiness. the complete viscerality of learning about someone. becoming comfortable here has been one of the most physical experiences I have ever had – the heaviness of the air, the constant near brush-up against the speeding vehicle, the jostling, the waiting, the dangling out of the train car to feel air rush by on my face. I have discovered the trains, and thankfully I feel invigorated about my proposal. walking the length of the churchgate station platform the other night almost made me burst with joy -- so many bodies so quickly, it was like being in a river where the current sweeps you along. one of the closest things to wilderness I have yet encountered in an urban environment, the movement of people so insistant and necessary and utterly…unglamorous. like water – which knows not to be beautiful, but just is by virtue of its compulsions. although I have not ridden the full extent of the lines I have incorporated them into my early explorations, which have allowed me to venture further and further north into the city. which is huge. colaba is a weird safe haven of travelers – you’d never know that on day one, when even colaba feels like a jungle. after a couple days of truly getting lost, finding myself in alleys and streets with my compass in hand (literally. my most trusted guide has been to head due west at times – thanks for the tip, jc), I feel more physically absorbent. I’m not tripping on every other torn up sidewalk brick. I can walk with more confidence. find that ambiguous safety zone between opposing lanes of traffic. I’m learning to wait to buy my ticket.

each informal exploration I have been on – and it’s only been three or four, hard to imagine – makes me feel like a child learning a new language. I have never learned so much in so little time. the way everything is compressed and layered one upon the other – in a city of 15 million space is of the ultimate. space beneath highways, train tracks, rights of way, medians, EVERYTHING is inhabited. walking along marine drive a couple of nights ago: even this most cosmopolitan and famous of promenades where the city’s joggers can be found is squeezed. within a 200meter section you have moved from the overcrowded train line and it’s garbage-ridden tracks, across a cricket field, 8 lanes of traffic, an overpass, and a promenade, to reach the edge of the sea. further along, the highway off-ramp squeezes the promenade, and houses a restroom underneath. the lengths of all the rail tracks are inhabited, oddly becoming solitary spaces for people using the bathroom, or simply wandering. even as a crowded train rushes by there is anonymity in speed: everyone sees but no one can stop. the water’s edge too becomes a field in touch with the infinite, again for personal business or the contemplative, depending on the area of the city you’re in. the way bodies and machines come so close to each other here: stoplights are heeded but the cross walk is irrelevant. the horn rules the street, the foot wide median not so much to prevent collision but to provide the (sometimes known as) jaywalker with a stopover point between this-side and that-side. cars are a nuisance to pedestrians as much as pedestrians are a nuisance to cars. people jump off trains before they’ve stopped, nearly skidding onto the platform; they lower themselves into the track trench to cross over, rather than going all the way around to get to the opposite platform. there is little sense of the spatially sacred or off-limits. it makes me wonder: all those “danger: electric third rail” signs we find in the u.s. has anyone ever tested to see if they’re real?

and this machine-body proximity & boundary irreverence is the least of it. as I spend more time here and the shock of constant overstimulation gives way to a more sustainable frame of mind, some things become much harder. the luxury Taj hotel and the half-alive malnourished, the cab driver who must make sure not to run over the feet of the small naked child who stands in traffic, sucking on mango skin. this co-existence is devastating. but I also second guess this shocked reaction – not to the gross disparity between the haves and have-nots, but to the way in which one is not hidden from the other, as so often happens in other, more comfortable cities. it is as sarah said the last night at dinner: there is something more honest about nothing being hidden, as distressing as it is. and. IT. IS. typed on a laptop acquired at an unimagineable sum for many who live here.

to be here one must go with the flow – and the flow, I am finding, is a raging river, which both intoxicates, and breaks.

two. initial daze.

can't really describe my psycho-physical state right now. mumbai is more cosmopolitan than i expected, and so far i have not been hit by a car. i got ripped off buying a bottle of water, and then bought a second one (which made me realize how ripped off i had been the first time around). i spent a little time in my room, feeling as if my life and my brain are beginning some sort of explosion, not a sudden one but more akin to the big bang, where the particles just move lugubriously outward, through space.

Mumbai is life and death pressed up close together. everywhere. this realization – both a visceral, physical one, and a cognitive one, is what makes my eyes fill with tears multiple times a day – to be standing in this organism of a city as it sloughs, breathes, destroys, and is reborn. the water smells, the spices smell, the trees are taking over the buildings. skinny begging children squat next to a railway track which is across the street from a brand-new luxury tower. much of it defies comprehension. a night at the Taj costs $250, a train ticket 8 cents, and a half-alive woman sitting beneath the train ticket window can barely hold her hand out to beg, she is so weak. the informal economy is everywhere, in both exhausting and exhilarating forms: walking down the street and having to avoid every advance to purchase is countered by the joy of looking into an alley shop where men sit on the floor carving jewelry. although i sat on the plane on our descent and imagined all these grand plans for my very structured and very productive time here i realize with humility that learning daily life, even moving about and not getting run over by a car-bicycle-moped-rickshaw-cow takes a huge amount of energy. the sensation of not being able to forget oneself, so much a part of other solitary travels in Alaska or the outback, is unimagineable. all day i have been exhaustedly aware of myself -- my complete foreignness, my need to be alert, my single-femaleness, and paradoxically, my desire to eventually relax a little and become a part of this madness in some small way.

who knew that a shower in the evening could be even more pleasurable than one after three weeks in the mountains? I am learning to thrive off the simple joys here in this most complex of cities: a quiet corner beneath a stairwell next to an empty courtyard where no one can see me. mango juice. my first miniature box of Indian cigarettes, which taste so terribly I am sure to not become a smoker. chai after dinner. sleeping street dogs who tremble as they dream. a walking pace that slows along back streets. thick muscley vines on trees. my pencil. a nightly swig of scotch, which I am convinced is keeping my tummy happy. which it is.

my first few days I was jet-lagged, waking before sunrise and having the pleasure of listening to the way colaba (the area where I am staying) begins to stir: first the crows begin their cacophony, slowly joined by the rumble of the first trucks down on the causeway (the main commercial street). I hear the occasional taxi horn before any human voices out in the courtyard reach my ears. at some point the crows cease, and are overtaken by the hiss of someone frying breakfast down in the courtyard.

I have tried to make yoga on the marble floors of my room a daily morning practice – lengthen the spine, breathe deeply (only to realize that my throat is crudded up with smogdust). my first morning I headed down to the water to catch sunrise, past cathedral school (allegedly one of the most posh English schools), southwards, wanting to see the sassoon docks which ironically, at their entrance, boast to be a ‘calm zone.’ false advertising. although I’ve been here only 1.5 days, it is hard to imagine a place undulating more tightly with bodies and goods – not only of people and puppies but of the shiny-silver-wet fish in baskets, fish of all sizes, unloaded from crude wooden boats up onto the quay where women negotiating prices with the male fishers. (everything is a negotiation: the cost, the movement, clean air, drinking water). I am stepping over 3 feet long fish and 5 feet long eels and piles and piles of soggy miniature shrimp. fish sludge drenches my toes, and I want to capture it all on my tiny camera but refrain: supposedly there are no photos allowed down at these docks. also, I can barely move my hands to get into my bag anyway. even amidst this throng I am comforted by the overworked but still-soft hands of women on my arm as they try to move me out of their way -- I appreciate the feel of their hands on my skin.

the city is fully awake as I head back, but I still manage to find a quiet street with a dilapidated old indo-victorian, it’s façade weighty but undulating delicately. it is quiet enough here to sketch, as I rest my book on a 2 feet thick fence which runs the length of the sidewalk. the lot adjacent to this building is empty. a man stops while I sketch and asks if I am an architect, then tells me he is into development and “herbal medicine, and would I like to meet tonight to talk about mumbai’s heritage buildings?” he seems nice enough but I politely decline, telling him I’ll email him should I need a guide, and no, I don’t have an email I can give him in return. am I being overly cautious? anyway, the adjacent lot is going to house another ugly highrise, similar to the dirty salmon colored one across the street from the crumbling remains of the elaborate building I crudely sketch. development seems to be happening everywhere, small informal real-estate offices line some streets selling property to whom-i-am-not-sure. colaba seems to be getting a facelift; besides the usual constant state of sidewalk repair that makes walking down a sidewalk more like a mountain stream crossing, some of the old Victorians are laced with bamboo scaffolding, held tenuously together by what looks like twine. although OSHA would never allow it I prefer this hand-rigged scaffolding that almost looks like a decorative net over these facades. the city seems to be in a constant state of assemblage and disassemblage, from half-built concrete building skeletons (some being born, some dying, sometimes hard to tell which) to the sidewalks being exhumed.

I am learning, slowly, using my time as best as I can without burning too fast and early. I am still jet-lagged and exhausted. had a productive time today at the UDRI (Urban Design Research Institute), which published mumbai’s book for the recent Venice Biennale in which a comparative study between 16 world cities from a social, economic, and cultural standpoint was conducted. that’s all?, i wondered. the young female architect there was very helpful, threw out a dozen names of pseudo-government development agencies that I should go to, along with their respective authorities. it was overwhelming, I feel underqualified to tackle analyzing the future of mumbai’s development. however, she did talk to me about the 3 principle railway lines and their terminals, so I at least have a concrete start from which to attempt my rail-line deriving. she adamantly warned against second class rail cars, telling me I might get crushed to death. (in rush hour the carts get up to 500 people full, when their max capacity is somewhere around 220). I almost told her I’d commuted in Tokyo for awhile, but decided I would see for myself what a tolerable comfort level might be. anyway, the city has these grand plans, largely driven by reorganized transit spines (roads) to intersect the existing rail-lines. this would create a multi-noded metropolitan network. of course, this demands ‘relocating’ thousands of squatter settlements, which are being ‘rehabilitated’ eastward towards navi Mumbai. eventually such settlements would be given permanent block residencies along the rail lines, which doesn’t seem to give them much room to grow, as they necessarily will have to.

although Mehta’s book (maximum city) is fascinating I fear it has distorted some of my view of this city. much of the book is about the hidden underbelly that makes the ‘unofficial’ city work: fundamentalist political factions, ganglords, corruption in the police force, etc. thankfully I felt my shoulders relax a little more as i wandered the streets today, but it remains difficult to negotiate the balance between street smarts and suspicion, naivete and openness. I am constantly approached – not only by women carrying children and men selling goods but also by men who want to “be my guide.” in my wariness I feel I am shutting out all possible encounters in the name of conservatism, or of not feeling vulnerable. my common sense tells me that I am being common-sensical; another part of me feels like I am that which I never want to be – a wary traveler constantly on guard.

yet, I feel strangely at peace with this dirty, turbulent solitude. although I am fatigued by the simplest of navigations, I feel centered and un-panicked about the prospect of 45 more weeks of everyday-being-an-unknown. I am still relishing in it, trying to ride the ups and downs necessary in every day of travel. I have moments of pure joy, to witness the way a system so apparently out of control is working simply by nature of human nature; I have moments when i just need to breathe – to savor the sense of being overwhelmed. and I AM, even as I say I feel centered. I am centered enough to sense that at times I am overwhelmed – in awe of the world, aware of my own rigid smallness. this city humbles me, above all; it makes a free spirit seem a product of privilege rather than residing in a deep understanding of relinquishment or survival. somehow it all comes down to crossing the street, which goes most smoothly when you weave most dangerously between the cars, you and the machine effortlessly negotiating the impatient space of the road.

I also suppose it is not my role to fit in here. it is not what I am here to do, although in a sense my entire proposal was about throwing off the shackles of site-seeing to try and understand the mundanity of local urban movement and scale change. but even with my miniscule equipment I feel like a reporter. I grab my camera all the time – although the graphic distortion is unappealing the freedom of a tiny point and shoot makes the sacrifice worth it, I think – and it’s still only a fraction of what catches my eye. EVERYTHING catches my eye in some way. which is why I come back to my room and feel the need to stretch and exhale – that there is just so much to want to know, but only so much we ever will . . .

one. journey to Mumbai.
bittersweet excitement. they make them as monumentally neutral as possible: gleaming white walls and waxy-shined floors, cavernous beneath a precipitous truss. the ladies are all dressed in red, the men in blue -- soldiers of hospitality to welcome you to nothing -- what are you leaving? what are you going to? these sterile bellies are beautiful, the wombs of the world's well-to-do's crying goodbyes and smiling hellos. you never want to stare at the the bawling kissing couple being wrenched from each others' arms, but you do. you never want to stare at the family reunited for the funeral, but you do. you never want to turn to look at the bitter passenger grumbling about how "there's no first class cuz we're all one class!" but you do. because we're not. because it's a heartbreaking luxury to leave the saline smell of a california coast in winter. it's a luxury, once again, to throw what you think you know to the wind.

the trip from San Francisco to Mumbai : talk about space compression. I leave out the time aspect, as it was one of the longest journeys, with a 10 hour layover in london. my feet left California soil with a little sand on them – the last afternoon at pacifica beach bright blue and full of surf. you could see the swells rolling in from miles away, & again I am always amazed by the similar forms that wind creates regardless of its medium. what would it be like to live in a fog-drenched town like pacifica, and how much longer until the developers buy out every salt-weathered shack down there?

the international terminal at SFO empty and pristine, a vaulted cathedral space. SOM did a good job announcing the unspoken capital of the Vast & Open coast. I could hear my footfalls on the immaculate floor as I headed to the ticket counter, where bright-red clad virgin atlantic staff announced their “flair.” I did not realize that virgin atlantic was so ferociously touting to a lifestyle niche of the population (trendy hipsters). every seat has a screen connected to a handset, with several dozen movies/show/music to choose from (plus character-typed combination suggestions : the romantic? the daredevil? etc. etc.) and a plethora of technology to keep you connected to people not only on the ground but in the friendly skies. it’s the nerve at 35,000 feet: “text the cutie in aisle 43!” ironically, the tech doesn’t work very well, as per the 5 second lag between the control handset and the registration on the screen. regardless of inner-cabin social dynamics, watching the west roll away beneath me was breathtaking. this is the most patriotic thing you'll ever hear me say, but america is truly stunning.

the layover in heathrow – 11 hours long. I was surprised by how unglamorous the world’s busiest airport is, ceilings low, terminals disjointed and stuffed with bad stores. wandering around in a daze I noticed how the various methods of travel into downtown London all have their unique departure corridors from the terminals, depending on the prospective clientele the mode anticipates servicing. the $30 heathrow express hallway is covered with spiritual bank advertisements against a well-designed backdrop of opaque glass and metal. the bus station, to which I made my cash-strapped way, is disconnected via parking lots and gray rain, and had that ubiquitous, stale aura so well-practiced by greyhound: you are now.here going no.where, wait outside in the exhaust. anyway, a trip to kew gardens via Victoria station (no pics allowed!) gave me the chance to see the national archives, the gardens themselves, and most memorably, a sample of pristine London suburbia: near-miniature nostalgic cottages with raw building materials you want to run your hands over -- rough brick, smooth pebbles, clean plates of glass expressing the new mods moving in. the storefronts look like medieval england, except the signs say 'wineshoppe' instead of 'blacksmith.' it's pretty lovely actually, plasma screen TV's and all.

much needed sleep on the plane to Mumbai. getting off the plane wasn't as jarring as i had assumed it would be. the cab ride was fascinating, ugly glass towers, sewage rivers, mini cars and all. although the smell of this city is indescribable (as is the yellow dust which hangs incessantly in the air and makes my throat feel raw) there is something close-to-familiar about it. it is athens on coke, panama city on speed. i found myself feeling thankful for my time in greece, and while the kineticism and poverty were of a different magnitude the experience of being brought out of my missouri self into a realm where things worked differently was valuable.

airplane over california. it's like watching a movie, full of cuts -- the land changes so quickly from this distance, at this speed -- snaking suburban cul-de-sacs give way to the gridded urban density of a city (and always the hills and rivers that interfere with the orthogonal); the blank watery canvas of blue; ridges of the east bay stretch & swell until the become, quite suddenly, snowy peaks in the fading light. domesticity gone, except in a few scattered fireflies of warmth nestled in the topographic cradle of where three peaks meet: the safety of a valley. now, night, and the hermetically sealed life of this cabin. we're backpackers in a metal pill. they've given us toothbrush, sleepy-eyes, headphones. kick back, sedate yourself with the deafening roar of this fragile shell of steel. like a lullaby it always puts me to sleep. that, and the knowledge of movement barely perceptible except in the quake of turbulence, the occasional arcing sway of a directional adjustment. i am traveling at 600 mph -- the earth shamed to a miniature toy -- yet i am still enough to be dying to move.