ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Hydraulic Citizenship in a Leaky State

Hydraulic City: Water and the Infrastructures of Citizenship in Mumbai by Nikhil Anand, New Delhi: Durham; London: Duke University Press, 2017; pp xiv + 296, ₹ 995.

Nikhil Anand’s book, Hydraulic City: Water and the Infrastructures of Citizenship in Mumbai is a neat weave of the water stories of the city of Mumbai. The argument that he builds in the everyday politics of claims and articulations, and depiction of the city water infrastructure that enables it, is insightful and deeply engaging for both an ethnographer as well as a lay person. Particularly for a first-time reader of anthropological work, the interludes that find themselves wedged between the six chapters act as islands of familiarity within such detailed work. A collection of short videos titled “Ek Dozen Paanimentioned in the book drives home some strong points with simple narratives. These stories shed light on the role that water plays in the settlements of Mumbai. Thesevideos have also been reviewed here as they neatly lie alongside the stories that the author tells. Water, the enabler of urban life as Anand puts it, or as Ismail Sharif from the first video calls it Zindagi (life), is reinvented in this book just as the role of the citizens, the political representatives and the infrastructures of water supply.

Most ethnographers find that the boundaries between friendship, research and politics amalgamate while engaging with research subjects. Recently, a young ethnographer in a workshop in Bengaluru, expressed how her positionality as a researcher came into question when a suicidal pregnant girl landed at her doorstep one night looking for help. At that moment, words from the second interlude “Fieldwork” from Anand’s book came to my mind. To see him analysing the researcher–subject relationship from his experience of being inundated with requests to resolve everyday troubles that the people in the settlements face, and apply it back into his narrative of everyday negotiations over water, is fascinating. This review begins with the secondinterlude because of the importance that Anand gives to the space that the researcher occupies and experiences while doing ethnographic research in the city. Within the larger story lies a lesson for young ethnographers who sometimes may miss out on giving sufficient attention to methods, experiences, positionality and reflexivity while conducting ethnographic research.

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Updated On : 27th Oct, 2018
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