Ganga Building Chronicles

01 May 2012

ABOUT THE STORY Among the motives that fiction has in common with history and with ethnography is the urge to defamiliarise, to peel back the layers of a person, object or age to reveal the expanse of its inner life. In this massively detailed and panoramic life story of a building in Mumbai over the course of more than a century, the urban researcher Prasad Shetty generates a portrait of the city as distinctive and memorable as those found in the fiction of Salman Rashdie, Vikram Chandra or Rohinton Mistry, or in the reportage of Neera Adarkar, Sonia Faleiro and Katherine Boo. Not entirely fiction and not entirely non-fiction, Shetty’s story in fact occupies an intriguing junction between the two forms. All the great currents that make the city distinctive in Indian lore—migration, entrepreneurship, urbanization, landscaping, tenancy, multiculturalism, fragmentation, synthesis, speed, partnership, individualism, a capacity for rapid metamorphosis—wind themselves into exquisite patterns in Shetty’s narration, routed through the lives of characters who at once seem as immediate and vivid as friends and yet, from the story’s enormously high vantage point, as small as ants. Before our eyes, a village vegetable plot turns into a kitchen for migrant workers, a tenement into a tower; the poor rise to prosperity and the rich are enfeebled; fortune’s wheel turns and the engine of commerce sparks and rumbles. When, at the close, Ganga Building turns into something sleek, beautiful, and 21st-century, it seems almost that it is not just the old tenants who have been defrauded, but also the city’s past.



Prasad Shetty is a Mumbai-based urbanist and a co-founder of the Collective Research Initiatives Trust (CRIT).