Jhaveri ’07 an ‘ambassador’ for Mumbai

Student writes a guide to his city

Friday, January 19, 2007

Sometime between finishing a summer job and beginning this semester’s midterms, Shanay Jhaveri ’07 researched and wrote a 112-page guidebook to India’s bustling metropolis Mumbai. Scheduled for release in March 2007, the book is being published by the design magazine Wallpaper.

Jhaveri’s book – like other Wallpaper guides – explores Mumbai, which was formerly called Bombay, from a design perspective. The guide will be part of a series released on the magazine’s 10th anniversary and will be sold in specialty bookstores.

The portrait he paints of Mumbai differs from the “antiseptic” approach some guidebooks take, Jhaveri said. “I wanted to make readers soil their fingers. I am trying to disrupt the image of Bombay as this amazing place,” he added.

A Mumbai native, Jhaveri describes his own attitude toward the city as a “love-hate relationship.” Studying at Brown has enabled him to take a more distant view of the city, but each time he returns home he finds himself readjusting his conception of Mumbai. “Every time I go back I am either shocked or appalled,” he said.

But Jhaveri is far from cynical and said he sees the city’s diversity as attractive. “Because of modernization encroaching, there are millions of contradictions, which are so alluring and romantic,” he said.

Wallpaper approached Jhaveri, who had interned at the magazine after his sophomore year, about the book in August. Jhaveri said he had only two weeks to research the city before he had to begin writing.

Research for the book allowed Jhaveri to discover new aspects of his own city. A tour of the city’s slums exposed him to a bustling industry of street markets and craft production, he said. He met with local musicians, food critics, interior designers and art collectors, who added to and corrected his knowledge of Mumbai.

Though Jhaveri looked at the city through the lens of architecture and design, he said he tried to raise larger questions of identity and social and historical conflict.

Jhaveri said changes in the city’s architecture are representative of India’s developing identity. New construction in Mumbai often employs a modernist style because “it has no correlation with the past and represents India’s hopeful future as an independent country,” he said.

He said tearing down older architecture to build skyscrapers suggests how India is “posturing itself to the West.” He said he interprets the changes as representative of the city’s “low self-esteem” and its desire “to assert itself to the world as a financial capital.”

Concerned that India’s image in the West is one-dimensional, Jhaveri said his book seeks to explore the city’s full range of experiences. “The image of Bombay in the press is overly optimistic,” he said.

“Bombay is a globalization party,” Jhaveri said of the city’s economic boom. But negative elements, such as the lack of sufficient infrastructure to support the city’s growth and the spread of HIV/AIDS, have been overlooked, he said.

When he began writing the book, Jhaveri said he sought to avoid the typical omnipotent guidebook voice. “A lot of guidebooks are written by God,” he said. “They don’t have a distinct voice behind them.”

Balancing his own tendency toward academic writing and the “persnickety” style that Wallpaper readers – which the New York Times in 1998 labeled a “tribe of newly affluent global nomads” – expect was challenging, Jhaveri said. After several re-writes, Jhaveri said he thinks the guidebook managed to a find a “new voice of Bombay.”

As its sole writer, Jhaveri had almost full control over the guidebook’s content. With this freedom, he decided to enlarge the architecture and retail sections of the book at the expense of other sections like “sports and spa” to suit the city’s offerings. “It’s not a Western city, so the Western prototype does not apply so neatly,” he said.

Though he has never taken a class focused on Indian culture or architecture, Jhaveri said his academic pursuits at Brown helped shape his approach to Mumbai.

An art semiotics and modern culture and media concentrator, Jhaveri said his background in art history helped him “disentangle the city,” while his study of modernism in modern culture and media courses gave him the “voice to contextualize where Bombay is,” he said.

Jhaveri said he is both excited and anxious about what the final product will look like once the photographers have added to his narrative and the editors finalize his manuscript.

“It’s daunting to have written a book,” he said. Still, he said he is glad to feel like an “ambassador for Bombay.”

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