What does it mean to live in the city and yet live amidst wetness? We explore this question through the experiences of Mumbai’s indigenous fishing community, the Kolis, that live amidst the wetness of the Thane Creek, Arabian Sea and Ulhas River and the expanding concrete of Mumbai, Thane and Navi Mumbai. The film is framed as a juxtaposition, the story of two cities, two Mumbais, that are entangled in a dynamic tension.
The first city is a knowledge and experience of Mumbai of the sea, that comes from living according to the rhythm of rising and falling water levels, where temporality in the Koli’s fishing practice is deeply connected to temporality in land use. This informs Koli’s relations with sea and land that transcends the fixity and claims associated with propertied ownership. The second city is an experience of Mumbai that emerges from the Koli’s encounters with the terrestrial, propertied city, one driven by the imperatives of capitalism.
Today, the city of the sea seems set to be consumed by the city of property: a story told through fisher experiences of infrastructure projects that capture the sea and embodied understandings of toxicity, surveillance and catches of garbage. The fishers’ slow estrangement from the sea and their turn toward the land is, however, marked by struggle – revealing that fisher sensibilities are simultaneously wet and dry, but that they seek to reshape this muddiness on their own terms.
But as climate change threatens to unmake our world, reminding us that Mumbai’s watery past is not gone but lives on through periodic flooding, we seek to recover the Koli’s (forgotten) histories, (tacit) knowledges, (embodied) practices and struggles for justice so that we may understand how to inhabit the city and yet embrace wetness, with all the tension and struggle that this involves. Perhaps this would allow other dwellers of the city to see themselves as offspring of the sea, like the Kolis.