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Social Text 22.4 (2004) 65-89

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Provincializing the Global City

From Bombay to Mumbai

Mera joota hai Jaapani
yeh patloon Englistaani
sar pe laal topi Russi
phir bhi dil hai Hindustaani . . .
O my shoes are Japanese
my trousers English, if you please
on my head, red Russian hat
my heart's Indian for all that . . .

This song runs through Salman Rushdie's novel The Satanic Verses as the theme song of migrants who cross oceans only to discover that their hearts remain inviolably Indian.1 Gibreel Farishta, the Bombay film star in Rushdie's novel, sings this tune from his favorite film as he and the novel's other hero, Saladin Chamcha, land in England. The song recalls what the unemployed graduate who is the protagonist of the 1955 hit Hindi film Shri 420 (Mr. 420) dreamed of when he first sang this song in the film's opening shots. Raju was on his journey from the north Indian town of Allahabad, once an important cultural nerve center of India's national modernity (the home of India's "first family," the Nehrus), into Bombay, the city of dreams and possibilities in the aftermath of independence. In both instances the song announces an arrival into cosmopolitanism and attendant anxieties about national identity and belonging.2

Gibreel's humming of the song (in the 1980s "present" of the novel) first sung in 1955 across cinema halls and streets in India, and as it turned out throughout many parts of the Communist world, is both an evocation of film as the alternative reality of Bombay and a calling of attention to another moment, another history, of the representation of Bombay as a global city. Rushdie folds this older narrative into his own in ways that trouble the often self-congratulatory cadences of the global present, not to mention its reification of difference as alibi for rethinking citizenship in globalization. I read these two texts together—one cinematic and one literary—not just because they are remarkably part of the intertwined weave, the text-ile of the city (a metaphor that is in itself most apt for Bombay), but in order to map the shifts in the representational space of the city, so that the imaginative and the historical processes by which Bombay as a global city of the South is constituted today might be better understood.3

One key paradox that this article explores is that the moment in which Bombay begins to be embraced by theorists and practitioners of global [End Page 65] cities and globalization in the North is also paradoxically the moment of Bombay's provincialization. I use provincialization as a primarily relational term. Though it has historically sedimented notions of particularisms (regional or local), homogeneity, and anticosmopolitanism, I want to suggest that it gathers all these meanings only in relation to how globality and cosmopolitanism are constructed. Thus, while Allahabad was seen as the city of high nationalism during the early decades of the twentieth century, in relation to postindependence Bombay it becomes affiliated with notions of provincialism. The following discussion entails an account of how provincialization has been central to the project of the Hindu Right in Bombay and how that project is integrally articulated with the material transformations engendered by global capitalism.4 I track the contradictory articulation of the global and the provincial in Bombay through the circulation of the two texts I identify above as marking different histories of the representational space of Bombay. The 1950s and the 1980s are thus read as key moments in which narratives of citizenship were constituted, contested, and rearticulated with transformations in both the national and the global economy as represented in the city of Bombay.

Much of recent scholarship on Bombay has emerged in the wake of the perceived dissolution in the 1990s of Bombay's iconic status as the nation's cosmopolitan center.5 The dissolution was marked violently by the riots of late 1992 and early 1993, in which thousands of Muslims were massacred in Bombay, and about a quarter million of them fled the...


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pp. 65-89
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Archived 2005
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