Preface: Water Stories
Rain, floods, rivers, pipes, tides, and springs. Water is moving and is moved.
Humans have experienced water as the giver of life and death. They have
imagined it as three atoms or one of four ele ments, springing from the head
of the divine, or floating under his son’s feet. Human histories can be char-
acterized by the search for and control of water. Wells, canals, aqueducts,
lakes. Cities and civilizations have withered in its absence; others have risen
through their control of the oceans. The social life of water has a deep, com-
plex, and remarkable history that quickly traverses social, natu ral, and po liti-
cal bound aries.1
This book addresses the way water is made and managed by cities in a
period of dramatic environmental change. In par ticular, it explores the every-
day uncertainty with which water is accessed by those living on the margins
of the state and the market in Mumbai, India. As states increasingly seek to
distribute things through market mechanisms, this research asks why water
continues to be demanded as a public good, particularly by settlers (also
called slum dwellers) who are marginalized by public institutions.2 The city
and its citizens are made and unmade by the everyday practices around
water provisioning— practices that are as much about slaking thirst as they
are about making durable forms of belonging in the city. Yet this is only one
of many stories about this city of water. The city, surrounded by the sea,
irrigated by a river- sewer, and annually flooded by the monsoons, is soaked
in water stories. They constantly disrupt the stories and arguments I tell in
this book.
In a wonderful essay about the power and promise of stories, K. Sivara-
makrishnan and Arun Agrawal (2003) point out that stories have multiple
vocalities and multiple sites of production. Unlike discourses, stories are
particularly attendant to the diverse locations at which human agency is
thwarted or dreams are partially realized. Stories are unstable. Stories are the
stuff with which cities are made (Calvino 1972). They pres ent other ways for
the world to be known. Unfortunately, while Mumbai is filled with stories of
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