"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


twelve. last days in Mumbai.
the spectacular mundane: thoughts on the derive
Mumbai draws to a close, and at just the time when my traveler’s mind is crossing the threshold from experimentation to addiction; part of me wishes I could be here long enough for re-hab. this process of normalization is at odds with the conventional idea of travel, in which the consumption of fascination draws us forever forward to novelty and the exotic. most tourists pass through this city in 2 days; in the way of 'sights' there are few compared to the rest of this astonishing country. and yet, for 3 weeks I've marveled at the mundane, which was spectacular, and now am observing a slow reversal in which the spectacular returns to the mundane. perhaps it is at this point, if one were to push through this phase and come out on the other side, such that the mundane and spectacular are compressed into one single rhythmic entity called Life, one might cease to be a Traveler and begin to be a Dweller... although this implies that travel is not living and dwelling is not travel.

dwelling as travel... this is precisely what I am seeking to understand about the cities I visit, even as I occupy the polar opposite paradigm, or perhaps this is not the case at all -- my city for the next 9 months just operates at a different scale, and is dispersed throughout the world, my occupation to observe it far and wide.

the incident that sparked these ruminations happened on one of my last derives, when I, now comfortable enough with the lack of enforced boundaries between the body and Mumbai's speeding trains, paid no attention to the approaching sound of the express train. a nearby man was saying something to me – again I ignored him, having become adept at the art of ignoring unknown men, when suddenly he came up to me, grabbed my arm, and yanked me away as the train blasted past, creating a turbulence that potentially would have knocked me over, and perhaps tragically in the wrong direction. I had entered the zone of true naivete; no longer new enough to be constantly on guard, yet not wise enough to know the more subtle rules and regulations that govern the minutae of daily life. I was also beginning to understand the logic of how interior compartment vectors operate, as people position themselves strategically and in groups to facilitate the mad commuter rush off the train at the appropriate stations.

Sion (CL)-Mahim (WL)- Bandra Seawall-
Mira Rd.(WL) - Bandra rail station
as the derives expand in number and reach, my proclivity to comprehend them as isolated routes within this city wanes, and they become components of a broader (although still unbelievable paltry) understanding of the city ... even as that understanding has come about precisely because of the route-findings and executions themselves. as the city becomes more comprehensible, the route finding becomes more intentional, allowing me to appreciate the Situationists' efforts to understand their well-known home city of Paris through new eyes. as the route finding becomes more intentional, and the lens of observation more attuned, the literary narrative that parallels the spatial sequence of a route gives way to a more thematic way of thinking about the city. parallels between areas are drawn, certain dynamics occur again and again.

my last 2-day derive resonated with and encompassed all others, beginning on the Central Line and ending on the Western, following not the roads that run between the two rail lines but the creeks and rivers which flow west to the Arabian sea, and which are not divorceable from the density of life which sprouts up alongside them. the derive's general section can be described as: rail-road-water-rail-road-sea, which looking at a map of Mumbai is quickly grasped in this linear city squeezed by water, and once longitudinally joined by infill and bridge.

the weight of water: floor, wall, sewage, sea
Sion station: sunk 15 feet below the road which leads towards Mahim and Dharavi, one of Asia's largest slums–although the community is so large and well-established it is no longer called 'ZP' on the maps but is a thriving neighborhood of chaotically mutli-storied shops and huts. water runs through it - in two parallel pipes of approx 10ft diameter, the water itself inaccessible, the forms of the pipes acting sometimes as floor and sometimes as wall for the roughly built shacks which press up against it. other times these pipes become the pedestrian pathways through the settlement, the void around them filled with dirt, trash, and debris, creating a pungent second ground. Dharavi sits squarely between the Central and Western line, just south of Bandra's CBD, with its gleaming white towers and vibrant corporate billboards in the not-too-distant distance. walking over the Mahim bridge, which hovers over Dharavi, the Western Line and the water pipes, the air is difficult to breathe as it is so thick with the smoke of burning garbage. the stream-cum- sewage swamp which flanks Dharavi still nourishes frail, bright-green trees and the occasional snow-white egret, although the water swirls in an opaque grey sulfurous sludge, which closely downstream becomes the river where men bathe, and further on the sea where the wealthy Bandra-ites who live in waterfront high-rise towers stroll upon the exposed rocks at the ocean's edge. (this rock-field is also the place where I later inadvertently slipped into the brown sea as a gathering of 10 curious men watched my strange photo shoot; it was somehow an appropriate baptism).

the mode as multi-functioning public & private space
more than anything I will remember Mumbai for its necessities, which are answered in the most urgent and creative of ways, and which generate a raw vitality. the train, although overcrowded beyond tolerability during the rushhour, epitomizes the city's fragile exuberance. despite cramped quarters and the cutthroat dive to board, it is a social space, a public space, an economic space, where room is always made and conversation is easy. seat configurations support this, facing each other across the width of the train. watching an oncoming train, faces rush by in a momentary glimpse and they are smiling, hands reaching out as if to touch, shouts and hollers to the milli-second neighbor across the way. even when the trains are empty the doors are full and faces are forward, into the wind, perhaps into the hopes of a better future. the door's edge is a space of psychological and physical respite in an overcrowded city. standing at the borivali station overpass I saw two trains in stasis, and mens' arms were stretched like threads between the two compartments, some bodies resting against the shell of opposite train, others simply gesticulating, communicating. in sum, the trains in Mumbai are not only for transport but serve crucial visceral functions: release, connection, competition, conversation, bravado. on a packed train a few brave men will sometimes even ride on top.

train stations serve as nodes for settlement, as in the case of Mira Rd., a bedroom tower community north of the city proper that is distinctive for its uniform residential tower-typology which caters to the rising lower-middle class. at the Mira Rd. station, and at surrounding stations surrounding, multiple billboards boast: AIR CONDITIONED LOBBY/HIGH END AMENITIES/ EXCLUSIVE BUNGALOWS/ FIRE FIGHTING EQUIPMENT/ 24 HR. WATER SUPPLY/ BIGGER FLATS/ NON-STOP POWER SUPPLY/ CLUBHOUSE/ SWIMMING POOL (see http://www.rnabuilders.com/ for more). at Mira Road a large stone wall separates the tracks from the neighborhood, and an empty swath of dessicated grass called the jogging track lies unused in the center of a group of these towers. still, the streets are shaded by height, and for many the promise of a reliable roof, reliable power, reliable water, and fire-fighting equipment is no doubt alluring (as fires in informal settlements can be devastating).

the buses: in Mumbai, quiet and private, people facing forward, the conductor establishing a hierarchy which perhaps infringes on the sense of the communal so easily found in the train. not viable for long distances, as traffic is so horrendous 15 km can take nearly 2 hours to traverse. the buses the most private of the modes I have experienced here, save for the obvious cab or tuk-tuk (rickshaw). as I moved further from this metropolis, and even up in Delhi, my presence became more of an anomaly, and thus, added an aura of the jovial, curious,and conversational as people tried to help me get where I was going. (and many wondered why a foreigner, who could take a cab, would ever take the bus).
the sidewalk: to walk, to sell, to build, to live. where they are flanked by walls or fences sometimes they become the floors of homes or stalls. it is heartbreaking to see where these sidewalk dwellings have been torn down, the faint scar of quick brick sidewalls still remaining as a backdrop for the hasty reemergence of even more temporary tarp and stick dwellings. near slums sidewalks becomes parking and dumping grounds for waste both human and otherwise, and streets becomes the space of the pedestrian passing through.

Mumbai is, without a doubt, the most pulsating, organic, depressing, laden and renewed place I have ever been... in a word, unbelievable. and difficult to leave.

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