Once upon a time

Gyan Prakash is the Dayton-Stockton Professor of History at Princeton University. A JNU alumnus, he did his MA in history here, specializing in the history of modern India. His research and teaching focus on "urban modernity, the colonial genealogies of modernity, and problems of postcolonial thought and politics. He advises graduate students on modern South Asian history, comparative colonialism and postcolonial theory, urban history, global history, and history of science."

Mumbai Fables, his recent book, from Harper Collins, gives some inkling as to why his work is so widely respected. Salman Rushdie, for instance, calls this ‘a fascinating exploration of my favourite city, full of insider knowledge and sharp insights.’

A place of spectacle and ruin, Mumbai exemplifies the cosmopolitan metropolis. It is not just a big city but also a soaring imagination of modern urban life. Millions from India and beyond, of different ethnicities, languages, and religions, have washed up on its shores, bringing with them their desires and ambitions. Mumbai Fables explores the mythic inner life of this legendary city as visualized by its inhabitants, journalists, planners, writers, artists, film-makers and political activists. In this remarkable cultural history of one of the world’s most important urban centres, Gyan Prakash unearths the stories behind its fabulous history, viewing Mumbai through its turning points and kaleidoscopic ideas, comicbook heroes and famous scandals. Starting from the catastrophic floods and terrorist attacks of recent years, Prakash reaches back to the sixteenth-century Portuguese conquest to reveal the stories behind Mumbai’s historic journey. He looks at Mumbai’s nineteenth-century development under British rule, and its twentieth-century avatar as a fabled city on the sea, to examine its emergence as a symbol of opportunity and reinvention. Different layers of urban experience come to light as he recounts the narratives of the Nanavati murder trial and the rise and fall of the tabloid Blitz, and Mumbai’s transformation from the red city of trade unions and communists into the saffron city of the Hindu nationalist Shiv Sena. Starry-eyed planners and elite visionaries, cynical leaders and violent politicians of the street, landsharks and underworld dons, jostle with ordinary citizens and poor immigrants as the city copes with the dashed dreams of postcolonial urban life and lurches into the seductions of globalization.

Shedding light on the city’s past and present, Mumbai Fables offers an unparalleled look at this extraordinary metropolis.


In our Urban Studies and History categories, 408 pages in hardcover, Rs 599, ISBN: 9789350290071

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