"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


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 in Mumbai, the temples come third – being superseded by water tanks, which use gravity to help assist the flow of water down through snaking blue aboveground pipes, and housing blocks, now the tallest buildings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.

No comments: