Cities also grow in their unbuilding. This observation, made by many writers in different contexts, produces an uneasy equivalence between destruction and construction. But particular modes of destruction and their effects retain their potency in the manner in which cities are reinscribed. In the case of Bombay (renamed Mumbai in 1996), I argue that the alignment of territory with an imaginary map, in the course of events such as the communal violence of 1992 and its serial bombing in 1993, is intimately tied to the redirection of large amounts of capital into new construction, even if the relationship between reconstruction and destruction is not self-evident. For example, historic preservation too braids destruction and reconstruction together but in a shell that retains the past as physical identity.
The delirious production of a vertical city began in the repressed aftermath of the riots and blasts, which had already displaced vast numbers of people, slowly but surely. Rumor had it that large numbers of Muslims left the city after the riots and entire neighborhoods moved ever so slightly, one kilometer at a time, to accommodate themselves to the new geography of the city, postviolence. In a parallel circulation of destruction and reconstruction, the application of new rules for building, which involved the resettlement and “rehabilitation” of slum-dwellers, allowed for large-scale demolitions to take place and allowed the occupation of space thus “freed” by real-estate capital.1 Like the riots and their fields of killing and death, the destructive unveiling of city qua territory by the bomb blasts exists in a spectral relation to the uncertainty unleashed by the systematic demolition of the city’s productive economy. The closure of its mills and factories, the demoralization and immiseration of its vast numbers of “toilers,” and the progressive loss of the traffic of goods through its docks set into motion a catastrophic, speculative appetite for spaces evacuated by this industrial city.
The blasts, it is said, turned the city itself into a weapon and war machine against itself as cosmopolis. But this fragile cosmopolis, it seems, was little more than a space of neighborhoods with identifiable “sensitive areas” and “trouble spots” (to use the language of police maps), which would erupt periodically into paroxysms of predictable violence. In the aftermath of the blasts, the city has become an arena inscribed by the capacity of state and private power to displace, unsettle, and rearrange populations at scale, placing them within new temporal forms and new institutional platforms for making claims. These operations of power have cultivated subjects neither fully delinked from previous territorial arrangements nor fully committed to the new forms of residence that they have been forced to adopt.
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I thank Claudio Lomnitz for inviting me to put this piece together. I also thank all the artists who trusted me with their images and who made special efforts to connect with my work. Satya Pemmaraju, who has just completed a book of images based on the new economy of Hyderabad (Last Mile/Electric Sheep), took the time to produce three new images for this piece. Robert Gerard Pietrusko, both a valued interlocutor and a design consultant for my book in preparation, processed images generously provided by Gautam Pemmaraju of Mumbai from the music video that his design house Maxi produced for the U.K.-based music artist State of Bengal. Gautam himself provided much encouragement over the years during which I worked in Mumbai, and his photographs and video work shot on Mumbai’s myriad postindustrial locations have been a steady source of inspiration. I also wish to thank Lebbeus Woods, whose work inspired me well before I met him and who kindly agreed to put his images into dialogue with these images inspired directly by Mumbai. I also thank Arjun Appadurai and Carol A. Breckenridge for their sustained interest in and encouragement to my project.
- Appadurai (2000) makes the connection between the riots and demolitions, suggesting that a “spectral” connection exists between the “cleansing” of the urban poor and the kind of ethnic cleansing that occurred during the riots. I am interested here in how this cleared space is then occupied by circulating capital.