New Login   

An Undying City

Narayani Gupta

By Azhar Tyabji
Mapin Publishing, Ahmedabad, 2006, pp. 300, price not stated.


The elegant photograph on the cover of this book shows Bhujiyo Hill, as distinctive a signature of Bhuj as Mont Sainte-Victoire is of Aix- en-Provence, reflected in the waters of the Hamirsar, with a solitary boat rowing towards the city. It is a picture of utter tranquillity. The back cover carries another photograph, also seemingly tranquil—of a whitewashed building with a shadow of another building on it. Only later do we understand that the ‘shadow’ indicates a disaster and a terrible tragedy—it is the outline of an adjacent building which collapsed in the earthquake of January 2001.   Babur remarked that India was a land of towns that can come to life in an amazingly short period, and can disappear equally swiftly, and be deserted within days. Famine, dearth of water, earthquake, military invasion, can cut short a town’s life as quickly as a king’s whim can create it. Over the centuries, as better infrastructure and defence works were designed, towns continued to be inhabited even when political patronage had moved away. In the last century, it was assumed that towns would be permanent, and they also became the chosen habitat for increasing numbers of immigrants.   Bhuj is the story of a town founded by a king’s whim, kept alive through centuries because of trade, threatened by crippling natural disasters but coming back to life each time. Written by a young art historian who has worked on urban development and heritage conservation projects, it is a refreshingly unusual book—narrating social history and art history, and making a powerful plea to planners to involve the community in the task of rebuilding a town. The summary on ‘method’ (pp. 274-79) should be read by anyone involved in an urban design exercise—the writing was preceded by collecting old maps (and we all know what a frustrating exercise that can be) and old photographs, enlisting residents to identify buildings, and interviewing several hundred people. It is the kind of book we need for each of the 200 or so large towns of South Asia.   We read the story of the kings who built the city, and the arts they patronized. It is explained how the people were linked in multiple ways—within neighbourhoods (falia), by economic activities, through shared languages. The peaceful history of Bhuj was disrupted only by earthquakes (that of 2001 recalled those of 1819 and 1844). The author goes on ...

Table of Contents >>
Please or to Read Entire Article

Free Access Online 12 Back Issues
with 1 year's subscription
Archive (1976-2011)
under construction.