Fluid dynamics: A prediction for the 24th century

Review Fluid dynamics: A prediction for the 24th century These are warning signs, the end of the world is nigh.
– Kavita Pai, Turbulence

Sarai Reader 06:Turbulence
edited by Monica Narula, Shuddhabrata Sengupta, Ravi Sundaram, Jeebesh Bagchi Awadhendra Sharan and Geert Lovink
Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, 2006 

In a clue so cryptic as to discourage even the doughtiest crossword zealot, Turbulence, the latest Reader from the New Delhi-based new-media initiative Sarai, gestures towards a fast-forward future – one that has already arrived, and is very chaotic. Dubbed "a practice for and of a time that has no name" by an editorial collective based in Delhi and Amsterdam, Turbulence is the sleekest, edgiest and grittiest avatar yet of the Sarai Reader Series.

Now in its sixth year, the Reader has acquired a reputation of being the wild child of the publishing calendar. It has become known for collections so ambitious and diverse that each preface over the years has included a defence of 'eclecticism' – and every review has chosen to comment on it. While proving that it is possible to be both eclectic and consistent, Turbulence seeks to push the boundaries beyond a mere celebration of communicative diversity, by setting out to map terrain that is, at times, unnerving.

The title of this new volume is perhaps the most intriguing of any Reader to date. Turbulence, as any student of science knows, is a crucial factor of fluid dynamics, and refers to the opposite of the phenomenon of 'laminar flows' – an ordered flow of fluid such that information about future behaviour of that flow can be predicted by determining the exact nature of the present.

Turbulent flow, on the other hand, while proceeding in the same general direction as laminar flow, has to contend with the additional complexity of randomly fluctuating velocities. A further engagement with physics reveals deeper, more profound, metaphors: turbulence is the transition from order to disorder; turbulence increases with an increase in velocity; turbulence increases with friction and grittiness, and remains one of the unsolved problems in physics. However, it is by only the most veiled of gestures – the cryptic clue mentioned at the beginning of this review – that Sarai Reader 06 reveals its intention to serve as an atlas-cum-almanac for the exact point of transition into turbulence: 2300 AD.

This is, admittedly, a long shot. But as the opening quote of art writer Cédric Vincent's "Mapping the Invisible: Notes on the reason of conspiracy theories" states, "there is no such thing as a coincidence … Nothing happens in this universe … unless an entity wills it to happen." Apart from signalling the dawn of the 24th century, 2300 also happens to be the critical value of another scientific term – the 'Reynolds' constant', at which a fluid normally shifts from laminar to turbulent flow. Hence, 'Re 2300' is the point at which turbulence is achieved in a fluid system under normal conditions.

Ideological and obdurate
Turbulence clarifies its intentions with R Krishna's opening piece, "The Time of Turbulence". From that point on, the collection sucks the reader into a compelling and chaotic world of pirates, profiteers, hyper-textual encounters and "modernity's fractally germinating, ever questioning bastards". Vincent's succinct unpacking of the concept of the conspiracy theory sits shoulder to shoulder with anthropologist Michael Taussig's excellent "Cement and Speed" – a text that somehow speaks simultaneously of the love of craft, the violence of development, and the collapse of time, space and distance.

The Reader itself is divided into short sections that are both internally coherent and chronologically cohesive. Both Taussig's and Vincent's texts are found under the first section, "Transformations". In the "Weather Report" section, the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina lies alongside a first-person account of the tsunami that struck Southasia's southern shores in 2004. A funeral party mourning the killing of a 16-year-old girl in Kashmir by security forces is witness to the fury of the almighty in "Zalzala", meaning 'earthquake'.

"Strange Days" is one of the most engaging sections of the Reader, and provides a historical context to the present-day flux. Ground-level texture from the ghadar of 1857 sits uneasily alongside Bangladeshi journalist Naeem Mohaiemen's account of the deification and contested legacy of Shiraj Sikder, the leader of Bangladesh's violent leftist Sharbahara Party. Meanwhile, Delhi literature professor Debjani Dengupta's text is a narrative carefully pieced together around the Direct Action Day that took place in 1946 in Calcutta.

As with the Sarai Readers that preceded it, Turbulence moves beyond the purely textual, with images by Ravi Aggarwal and Monica Narula, among others. "Like Cleopatra", a graphic series by the Delhi- and Assam-based artist Parismita Singh, stretches the fabric of street-survival and alienation to breaking point, as it builds a seemingly innocuous narrative of life in Delhi University's North Campus.

Sarai Reader 06, like the rest of the series, works precisely because the contributions seem to have been edited by a thoughtful and light hand. Each text speaks out for itself, unburdened by the baggage of its neighbours. The Reader's single underlying theme, if there is one, is probably best summed up by Berlin-based computer wizard Frank Rieger's closing text. "If we don't enjoy taking on the system, we will get tired of the contest," he notes. "And they will win. So instead of being angry, ideological and obdurate, let's be funny, flexible and creative."

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