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The present project connects to my previous research through its central theoretical and analytical questions, but the histories of Kathmandu and Mumbai are quite distinct, separate, and unique. They undergird dramatically different social and biophysical settings within which to undertake any study of the social life of urban environmental sustainability.

At the same time, the connective flows of information, ideas, and affinities that brought these locations together in my field research experience—as nodes in a housing advocacy network that brought together Kathmandu and Mumbai-based rights activists—were real and significant. Specific relations of power were formed and reinforced as interconnected local organizations worked to address their cities’ housing and environmental dilemmas, forms of power we stand to miss if we stop at the conceptual boundary of two distinctive, separate cities in two countries with wholly distinctive histories.

Nevertheless, Nepal’s capital city, Kathmandu, has a long and layered history as a trading center of many kingdoms; it remained on the outskirts of colonial empire. Mumbai (earlier Bombay) is quite roundly a colonial city, and its fort, white and native enclaves, slums, and suburbs have distinctive qualities even as they compose patterns that one might also see in other modern Indian ports and
presidency cities that were forged in the colonial encounter with the British.

As Gyan Prakash writes, “the physical form of Mumbai invites reflection on its colonial origin . . . in fact, the Island City occupies land stolen from the sea,” and it “bears the marks of its colonial birth and development.”1 Unlike Kathmandu before the tragic earthquakes of April 2015, Mumbai’s built environment has few monuments to a deep past, yet it testifies to land reclamation and occupation in the construction of a vast empire of colonial commerce.2