City Wrap: ‘Leaderless Protests’, Habibi Funk & a Shakespeare-inspired aviation tragedy

The weekend edition features the news you couldn’t read, the songs you didn’t have the time to hear, the questions you were too tired to ask, and the places you never had the time to visit


A file photo of Bengaluru garment workers protesting against the Centre’s decision to amend rules governing withdrawal of EPF contributions. Photo: PTI
A file photo of Bengaluru garment workers protesting against the Centre’s decision to amend rules governing withdrawal of EPF contributions. Photo: PTI

The Mint City Wrap is a curation of the most compelling stories emerging from our cities today. While the focus is on urban centres, the Mint City Wrap engages with wider geographies in the effort to connect stories with each other across places and borders.

The Weekend edition of the City Wrap is the guide to the urban present for the attention-deficit and the terminally fatigued. It features the news you couldn’t read, the songs you didn’t have the time to hear, the questions you were too tired to ask, and the places you never had the time to visit. The Weekend Edition is a response to this predicament, though not a solution for it.

Radically networked, from Bengaluru to Accra

Last week, Bengaluru played host to violent protests by garment factory workers, largely women, who opposed the government’s changes to the withdrawal rules of the Employee’s Provident Fund (EPF). If you want to know why the workers protested, read the open letter to the prime minister. Say, hasn’t there been an awful lot of open letters of late? If you need lessons on writing open letters, please see McSweeney’s ‘Open Letters to People or Entities Who Are Unlikely To Respond’. But much was made of the apparent ‘leaderless’-ness of the protests. Nitin Pai writes of how the protests were mobilized so quickly and so imperceptibly via social media, reflecting the politics of ‘radically networked societies’. Such incidents of communities using technology to leverage existing social networks reveal the changing face of collective mobilization. Bengaluru’s garment workers are not alone in such mobilization. In Accra, the capital of Ghana, civic activists are using mobile phone-based initiatives to boost electoral participation and democratic governance. Collectivization might not have a face in the future, but the power of collectives remains unassailable. Do go through these photos of amazing women who are involved in informal work and organizing to ensure labour security. A leader is only a symbol for change. These women wanted change, not a symbol.

You think the Arabs can’t groove?

Habibi Funk is something the world has failed to thank the Middle East for. Habibi Funk is a loosely held genre of Arabic songs from the 60s and 70s from Egypt, Algeria, Lebanon, Syria and Morocco. Fadoul, especially, was a brilliant musician who was Morocco’s response to James Brown. Listen to the unbelievably infectious “Sid Redad ” and observe yourself. By insistently associating the politically fragile region of the Middle East with beards and bombs, we end up feeling absurdly surprised when we run into something like Habibi Funk. But of course, we are presently of unsound mind since we are mourning the loss of Prince, just as we were about to emerge from the grief of Bowie’s passing. Here is a collection of Prince’s best.

Shakespeare in Swahililand

Here is a wonderful review of an intriguing book about Shakespeare. ‘Shakespeare in Swahililand’,by Edward Burton-Lee is an account of the many surprising ways in which Shakespeare is ‘woven into the shifting cultures of East Africa’.

But do you know what else Shakespeare is marginally responsible for? An aviation tragedy. Starlings are among the bird species mentioned in Shakespeare’s work. In 1890, Eugene Schieffelin, who loved birds and who loved the Bard, introduced starlings into Central Park. By 1950, the starlings went forth and multiplied and drove out native species like the bluebird and the woodpecker in North America. On Oct 4, 1960, a Philadelphia-bound Eastern Airlines carrier collided with a flock of starlings and crashed, resulting in about 62 deaths.

A question, a conversation, and a place

The question: Will babies born in space feel homesick for the Earth? An interview with Nitin Arora, one of the engineers who designed the Kalpana One space colony.

The conversation: Edward Glaeser and Paul Romer discuss the causes and consequences of rapid urbanization in developing countries. Spoiler alert: “the bigger the imbalance between the demand for life in cities and the supply of life in cities, the worse it’s going to be for the disadvantaged.”

The place: The last operating synagogue in Afghanistan. “In 2001 this synagogue, located on Flower Street in Kabul, was home to the last two remaining Jews in the entire country - Zablon Simintov and Ishaq Levin. They were famous for being arch-rivals, and repeatedly turned each other into the Taliban.”

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