Freitag, 20. Dezember 2013

Maximum City Bombay - Fort Stikine

"The history of each city is marked by a catalytic event [...] For the Bombay of my time, it is the riots and the blasts of 1993. Bombay was spared the horrors of Partition in 1947. [...] But there was an earlier trauma in the psychic life of the city, which marked the before and after for old-timers: the explosion on the Fort Stikine, on April 14, 1944.

The Fort Stikine was a ship supposedly carrying bales of cotton and, like the hundred odd-boats that were then as now waiting in the harbor to get a berth in port, was anchored offshore. The intense pressure that cotton bales are stored under, along with the temperature on that very hot day, caused the cotton bales to catch fire.[...] But the Fort Stikine had a secret cargo. It was carrying explosvies - this was wartime - and it was also carrying a secred cargo of gold and silver, worth £2 million, brought from London to stabilize the sagging Indian ruppee. Then the fire department did the worst thing they possibly could, they towed the burning ship into the harbour [...].

At a quarter to four, there was a terrific bang, a pall of smoke, and the windows of the houses in the Fort area rattled. Twenty-five minutes later, there was another explosion, and the windowpanes shattered. The amunition had caught fire, and the ship exploded at dockside, which was then full of dock laborers nad firefighters. Two hundred and ninety-eight people died immediately.

Then the rain started.

The sky over Bombay was filled with gold and silver, masonry, bricks, steel girders, and human limbs and torsos, flying through the air as far as Crawford Market. A jeweler was sitting in his office in Jhaveri Bazaar when a bar of solid gold crashed through the roof [...]. A plate of iron landed on a horse and neatly decapitated the animal. [...] It was as if the city had been bombed.

The disaster of the Fort Stikine is with us still. Bars of gold from the ship were being found as late as the 1970s, during dredging operations at the docks. But there was a mountain of debris from the explosion, and the British municipal authorities  chose to create land out of it. They started filling in the Back Bay, where the mangroves used to be, in what is now Nariman Point, leading in time to the worst-planned office district of modern India [...].

Mehta, Suketu: "Maximum City - Bombay lost and found", S. 113 f. Hervorhebungen im Original. 

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