Monday, June 08, 2009

Of Ships, Dreams & Tiphares

(Ships at Sitakunda ship breaking yard in Bangladesh)

(Ships stacked together at Chittagong in Bangladesh, some more information related to the agencies, policies and different stages of ship breaking in Bangladesh is available here)

(Ships at Alang ship breaking yard in India. For people wanting to pursue researching on Alang, KRVIA has done a very good study of this place. Some more information here)
Like beached whales, these rusting giants of the seas come to breathe their last in the ship breaking yards of Asia. These Elephant's graveyards formed out of devouring and recycling these Goliaths lie at the extreme margins of the world, where cost of labour and environmental policies in contrast to the rest of the world facilitate exploitation. At present, most large scale ship breaking yards are in South Asia and specifically in:
India (Alang)
Pakistan (Gadani)
Bangladesh (Chittagong, Sitakunda)

Like the city of Tiphares from Yukito Kishiro's Battle Angel Alita ("A megalopolis 'Tiphares' in the air soars in the sky, and the town of scrap 'the Scrapyard' iron extends under that") , these terrains survive on the waste dumped by the floating world that upholds its morals of sustainability and equality by outsourcing the opposites to far off horizons away from its cone of vision.
Interestingly in Of other Spaces Foucault writes "...the boat is a floating piece of space, a place without a place, that exists by itself, that is closed in on itself and at the same time is given over to the infinity of the sea and that, from port to port, from tack to tack, from brothel to brothel, it goes as far as the colonies in search of the most precious treasures they conceal in their gardens, you will understand why the boat has not only been for our civilization, from the sixteenth century until the present, the great instrument of economic development (I have not been speaking of that today), but has been simultaneously the greatest reserve of the imagination. The ship is the heterotopia par excellence. In civilizations without boats, dreams dry up, espionage takes the place of adventure, and the police take the place of pirates." And if this is true then one can only imagine these spaces where boats (that are the very representatives of dreams of escape) are torn to pieces by the same prisoners (informal labourers) yearning to flee from these poisoned lands.

(image from which according to me is one of the very few good photographs available on the internet taken at Alang ship breaking yard)
But all these dialectics aside, I have never had the opportunity to go to any of these places, but I can imagine the sheer scale of these ships and human bodies working on them along a waterfront that keeps changing its configuration everyday as ships get cut into smaller pieces and new ships arrive. I am also curious of the nature of landuse and typologies where most population is informal labour, with skewed sex ratio and other population statistics that will give contemporary planners and urban designers a nightmare. But at the same time I instinctively want to believe that geographies like these that lie on the margins of our society may have within them clues for a completely new form of production of space.

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