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My Dream City Navi Mumbai Essay Help

Of all the ways in which Mumbai has been called a city of dreams, at least one is literal. It is sometime in the late 18th century, and the engineers of the East India Company in Bombay are losing a battle against the sea. They’re dumping boatloads of stone into Worli creek to build an embankment, but it has collapsed once and it collapses again.

That’s when an engineer named Ramji Shivji Prabhu has a dream: the goddess Mahalakshmi and two others inform him their stone idols lie submerged in the creek. Can some space be made for them on land? Prabhu has them fished out and installed in a shrine built nearby on land gifted by the administration. The wall holds.

This story was found in a bakhar, a Marathi literary form that recounts colourful histories, and may seem a little fanciful for our times. But that embankment – the Hornby Vellard, completed in 1784 – was very real and can be said to have given shape to the modern city of Mumbai (the official name since 1995). It was built at the initiative of William Hornby, then governor of Bombay, and over the next few decades was followed by the construction of causeways to link the seven islets separated by sea and swamp.

The city of Bombay grew through the conjuring up of land from the sea. Embankments were built, hills were flattened, the rubble dumped into marsh. Along with the suburbs that came later, metropolitan Mumbai today crams more than 12 million people into an area of 438 sq km, a solid chunk of land jutting out from the Indian peninsula into the Arabian sea.

“We’ve created a city out of water,” says Mariam Dossal, retired professor of history at the University of Mumbai, who has studied reclamations during the British period. “It was a major feat. The subsequent development of Bombay owes a huge amount to the reclamations.”

The seven islets – their anglicised names being Colaba, Old Woman’s Island, Bombay, Mazgaon, Parel, Mahim and Worli – came to the British in 1661 as part of the dowry of Charles II, who married into the Portuguese royal family. “It came as a surprise,” Dossal says. “Charles wasn’t sure at all about how much land he had got, or where the islands were.”

After initial confusion about Bombay possibly being located somewhere near Brazil, the British took possession in 1665 – whereupon, Dossal says, “They realised it was not even 18 square miles of land, and that communication from one island to another was a problem.” Bombay was quickly palmed off to the East India Company for a paltry £10 a year – which suited the company just fine, as it was looking for a new base on the west coast of India.

The company understood that more land would mean more revenue, and reclamation was a hot topic across Europe – with large projects having been undertaken earlier in the century in Holland and the fens of East Anglia. The seven islets, separated only by shallows during high tides, looked ideal for recovering land, but the effort and investment required was still daunting – even if, according to Dossal, the Portuguese may already have attempted to build some causeways, meaning the seven islets were by then likely only four.

An early challenge to reclamation was the “Great Breach” between Bombay and Worli. In 1685, the deputy governor reported: “Concerning the overflowne lands, there hath been a thorough inspection but we find it not feasible to stop the great gap.” Solutions seem to have been found by the early 18th century, however, and soon prison convicts were being marshalled to fill the breach.

Decades later, the Hornby Vellard strengthened the existing mud embankment across the breach. Completed in 1784 with the help of a certain dreaming engineer, in time it allowed more than 700 acres of low-lying land to be drained for agriculture and the city’s expansion to the north. Today, the area boasts some of Mumbai’s most sought after addresses.

Several other breakwaters and causeways followed, and by 1838 the island city of Bombay was contiguous. With the first comprehensive plan to reclaim land and grow the city’s boundaries established soon after, private companies entered the fray; it proved such roaring business (for a while) that reclamation companies accounted for 95% of the paid-up capital of all those registered between 1863 and 1865. More land in Bombay became habitable and the terrain flattened out as, one by one, hills were broken up and dumped into the sea.

“These were very ambitious projects,” Dossal says of the reclamations. “They required great technical skill, engineering expertise and financial management.” In the archives, she has found meticulous estimates of the costs involved, factoring in stores, foundries, barges, the levelling of hills, and how the workmen would be paid – including “Chinese stonemasons, whose rate was higher”.

But perhaps the scale of planning and effort is best illustrated by a failed reclamation project. Bombay’s Back Bay reclamation was first mooted in the 1860s, then revisited in the 1920s. More than a thousand acres of land was to be created by building a seawall more than 6km in length with rock blasted from a hill some 30km away. A dredging craft would excavate 25 million cubic yards of mud.

When work began, however, the mud was not as soft as anticipated so the dredger’s hourly capacity was lower, meaning the project would be much delayed and flagrantly overshoot its budget. A council member and lawyer, Khurshed Nariman, led a gleeful attack against the “Back Bay Bungle” in the press and courts, accusing British administrators of incompetence and financial wrongdoing.

The project was shelved with only parts of the Back Bay reclaimed, but it was still enough to give Mumbai one of its iconic landmarks – the seafront promenade of Marine Drive (also known as the Queen’s Necklace for its glittering arc of lights). Nariman’s activism led a part of the Back Bay to be named after him in independent India: Nariman Point.

With the reclamation of Marine Drive, “The idea was that the reclamation would provide space for public buildings and ease population density,” says Gyan Prakash, professor of history at Princeton University and author of Mumbai Fables. “Once reclamation was done, the attention turned to design and architecture” – in this case, art deco-style apartments along Marine Drive that embodied the cool, affluent cosmopolitanism of modern Bombay.

Not all of the city, though: large numbers of its people lived in significantly less swanky surroundings, and still do. Even today, 60% of Mumbai lives on pavements or in “slums” (defined by the census of India as “unfit for human habitation” for any number of reasons).

Take Dharavi, for instance. A century ago it was at the edge of Bombay, created by an existing Koli fishing settlement plus potters and tanners displaced by the city and, later, migrants from various parts of the country. Now, with the suburbs densely populated, Dharavi is at the heart of Mumbai. It is prime land for the city’s builders and a different style of reclamation is being attempted.

Several “slum rehabilitation” projects have been proposed (and largely thwarted) to let builders house existing residents in apartments built on part of this land, while making their sizeable profits from developing the remainder. A common criticism of these projects is that it puts the priorities of builders ahead of Dharavi’s current residents, who will have to live at densities unheard of even for Mumbai. A controversial reclamation of land not from the sea, but from a sea of people.

The city’s last major reclamation from the sea, at Nariman Point in the 1960s and 70s, was marked by accusations of collusion between the government and builders. “A lot of the reclaimed land was given out to private builders without public auction,” Prakash says. “Khurshed Nariman had railed against corruption in the 1920s – but now that muckraker’s name was used for the scam-ridden Nariman Point.”

Corporate towers came up on the reclaimed land. A sign went up outside one of the first edifices: “Nariman had a point and we are on it.”

“Barring the Nariman Point reclamation, there was no substantial change to the city since the 1940s, when the Queen’s Necklace was completed,” says Mustansir Dalvi, a professor at Mumbai’s Sir JJ College of Architecture. Yet in the last decade or two, he adds, “The fabric of the city is being torn apart.”

This he attributes in large measure to redevelopment, where the city ups the Floor Space Index (FSI) – the built-up area permitted on a piece of land– and “perfectly good buildings” are torn down and rebuilt. “It is the city being vampirical on the city itself.”

Story of cities #12: Haussmann rips up Paris – and divides France to this day

Only fleeting reminders exist in Mumbai today of its emergence from the sea – a preponderance of causeways; landlocked places with waterside names such as “creek” and “foot wash”. But once or twice a year in the monsoon, large parts of the city go under water, the trains stop, and so does Mumbai.

The deluge of 26 July 2005 was particularly bad, triggering floods that killed hundreds of people. There were several reasons: inadequate drainage rebuffed by a high tide, certainly, but also the city’s hunger for space – too much land built upon; the reclaiming in recent years, often illegally, of mangroves and floodplains that act as natural safeguards.

“Today, the one commodity in Mumbai costlier than gold is real estate,” says Dalvi. “There is a kind of unbridled desire to keep building” – which has dangerous implications for the future of the city.

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