Like ‘cutting chai’, ‘chawls’ is a very Bombay/Mumbai term. Not many who live outside this megapolis will understand what it means. And if they do not, it is unlikely that they ever will because chawls are an endangered species, a built form that is disappearing even as Mumbai goes through changes that are inevitable for all big cities.
Why should one particular built form be so important to the history, culture and diversity of a city? Neera Adarkar in her edited volume on Mumbai’s chawls tells us precisely that. In 15 chapters, she takes you on a historical journey of Mumbai through the stories of chawls, Marathi, Gujarati, Muslim, mixed—middle class, working class, dalit. Each is different and yet together they speak of a Mumbai that is vanishing, some that has already disappeared, and some that might linger on a little while longer.