Dec 31, 2010

The fall of Bombay's mills

Bombay's (Mumbai) Lower Parel area contains some of its swankiest offices and trendy clubs that symbolise the emerging urban India. Their calling cards have names such as Mathuradas Mills Compound and Kamla Mills Compound which are a reminder of the great city's 'brick and mortar' industrial past as a textiles centre east of Manchester and south of Ahmedabad, that other great Indian milling town.

Falling profits and soaring land prices, along with the strong-arm trade union politics of that era led to the closure of these mills and the loss of livelihood for thousands of mill workers. Astronomical sums of money are said to have exchanged hands between politicians, bureaucrats and organised crime in the selling off of this land.

The compounds, an area of more than 500 acres of uber prime property in the heart of the city, were sold off in chunks, leading to the offices and clubs that dot the mill premises today. I spent a year working in this neighbourhood and walking on evenings after work to the train station, could not help wonder about the noises and smells of the brooding, derelict worksheds, tool rooms and smokestacks that lay around me.

For a very readable history of Bombay's mills, see Darryl D'Monte's "Ripping The Fabric: The Decline Of Mumbai And Its Mills".  [Book review here, author interview here.] 

For an interview of Datta Samant, the trade union leader, see here

For a moving photo essay on the mills, see SloganMurugan's Mumbai Paused photoblog.

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