introduction. Water Works
Every day, engineers working in Mumbai’s Hydraulic Engineering Depart-
ment source and distribute 3.4 billion liters of water through over three thou-
sand miles of pipe to the city’s residents and businesses. Residents receive
this water for a few hours a day, according to a schedule made by engineers
and planners. Working between the ward and zonal offices, engineers decide
when, and for how long, each of the city’s 110 hydraulic zones gets water. The
schedule is then operationalized by a small army of chaviwallas (key people),
who ride in municipal vans on crowded city roads to turn eight hundred valves
on and off with a series of specialized cranks and levers (known as keys). As
they turn valves at the rate of one for every minute of the day, their rather
mundane work produces dynamic and temporary pulses of water pressure in
city pipes that hydrate the lives of over thirteen million residents. Their work,
together with the five hundred water engineers and seven thousand laborers of
the Hydraulic Engineering Department, is absolutely necessary to produce a
vital matter of city life: water.1
Yet, despite all of this phenomenal labor and engineering, the hydraulic
city is leaking profusely. During the hours of water supply, some pressured
water hydrates the lives of known publics. The rest silently seeps out of pipes
to unknown ( human and non human) others. As a result, the water infra-
structure is full of contests and controversies. Residents are always shouting,
complaining and protesting for more water.2 When groups protest in their
offices or on the streets, engineers sometimes respond by trying to rearrange
the water pressures and the hours of supply. They try to give more water to
protesting publics by providing them water for “more time.” However,
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