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Sharada Dwivedi

On her book Anchoring a City Line, a history of the Western Suburban railway

Sharada Dwivedi
What made you write this book?
It was a challenge because nobody had done a history of the railways before. And then British records in the Maharashtra state archives increased the book's scope.

The challenges of writing history...
In our country, it is the lack of records, particularly a history of places. Much of our knowledge comes from the oral tradition

But then isn't history always someone's perception of what happened?
History can never really be objective, the writer's bent of mind tends to colour it, but it is only when you are judgemental that history gets distorted.

From your knowledge of its history, how is Mumbai evolving today?
The corporate sector is more involved in financing restoration and conservation efforts here now.

What's the greatest challenge facing the metropolis?
There are two, actually. One is the constant migrations. The other is that our infrastructure is stressed beyond any normal limit. Look at our housing, our transport.

What do you think about the recent drive by the Central railways to evacuate encroachment near the railway tracks?
I do empathise with people living in these settlements, but I also feel that in a democracy, nobody can take the law in their own hands and encroach on public space.

What do you think about the issues of conservation and development?
One corporate head asked me how we could save buildings when people are dying, when education's a greater priority. I told him that by the time we took care of all these things, we would have no heritage left.

How did you stumble upon writing history?
We started doing a series of articles on heritage precincts for a local paper.

What was your partnership with Rahul Mehrotra like?
When two people from different professions work together, it really gives an added dimension, because you are looking at the same subject from two points of view.

Your future plans?
A book on royal vintage cars, one on women who have lived in purdah.

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