polis: a collective blog about cities worldwide

Ripe: A Memory

by Katia Savchuk

On October 21, 2008, police in Maharashtra, India, arrested Raj Thackeray – incendiary leader of the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS), a militant regionalist and pro-Hindu political party – for inciting
violence against north Indians taking railway recruitment exams. Nervous about a violent reaction from MNS supporters, authorities stationed 20,000 policemen across Mumbai. Businesses pulled down their shutters, and I was sent home early from work. The anticipated backlash never occurred, with only a few isolated sparks of violence across the region. I wrote this in a cab that took me home through eerily empty streets:

Banyan trees preside over their street kingdoms, roots hanging like whiskers. The four o’clock light makes buildings calm. Sun squares decorate red and blue and gray facades. Balconies and window bars are strung with wet wash: the middle class above, the street people claiming a stake below. Closed shutters tame the afternoon on streets that still breathe and jingle as the colors of the sky change. Clothed in khaki and mustaches, policemen stand in cliques at intersections, rocking batons. We rush through Dharavi. The potters’ smoke raises a black wall; this is the time when the kilns run. My driver honks and speeds. This isn’t the place for a foreigner to be on such a day. The air is ripe with unfulfilled fears, with active waiting and memories of communal violence. We cross the Mithi - black sewage triggers my gut. Distant buildings are ominous silhouettes, back-lit. Nausea pursues me past the stinking river to the empty highway. An empty highway in Mumbai is a sign of trouble. The minaret of the mosque jostles the hotel placard. The unfinished Sea Link makes its mechanical bed in the bay, awaiting colonization. Millions disperse so easily. I have never moved fast enough for the hot breeze to blow while the sun is still out.

Credits: Image of Mumbai violence from Reuters.