“Fixity is always momentary.” The line from Octavio Paz’s The Monkey Grammarian, a poetic pilgrimage to Galta, in the heart of Rajasthan, could serve as an introduction to this book by the architect and Harvard GSD professor Rahul Mehrotra, a compilation of writings of his (published between 1990 and 2021) which guide us through the urban maze of India, especially that of Mumbai, the place of his birth, where he lives and works.
The supercrowded metropolis is the scene where opposing forces play out simultaneously. The author goes through its history, showing the dialectic conditions that define its current state. The static, orderly seat of colonial power has given way to a chaotic, formless urb of uncontrollable economic pressures and unprecedented migratory flows. Mumbai is a mix of tradition and modernity, planning and disorder, prosperity and poverty; dualisms Mehrotra condenses in the image of Victorian arcades now colonized by fleeting bazaars and street vendors: the instantaneous urban ready-made.
His intention is to address the city made of events and appropriations, religious processions and festivals, all city-producing instants, and to set it against a static, nostalgic vision of a postcard-worthy city. Ultimately to thus give architects and citizens the tools for harnessing the ephemeral, toppling permanence as the only standard for urbanity. For the contemporary city, as in Paz’s journey, stops but for an instant, to then immediately resume its incessant succession of mutations.