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The Story in Vignettes


Sucharita Sengupta

THE OXFORD ANTHOLOGY OF THE MODERN INDIAN CITY (TWO VOLUMES): THE CITY IN ITS PLENITUDE /MAKING AND UNMAKING THE CITY: POLITICS, CULTURE AND LIFE FORMS
Edited by Vinay Lal
Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2013, pp. xlvi 382; pp. xlvii 469, Rs. 950.00 each

VOLUME XXXVIII NUMBER 7 July 2014

Long before the city became trendy, there was the Indian city. It existed in our colourful and incredible mythology. It existed when the first of human civilization took root on the subcontinent. It was central to the multiple kingdoms that flourished from corner to corner in this vast land for centuries. Yet, when we gained Independence, our self-image as a country was one that was largely bucolic. Perhaps, the take-over of existing cities or creation of new ones by the British, marking them out as centres of arrogant power, turned them into places of revulsion and fear? Or was it Gandhi’s distaste for what the city purportedly bore—modernity of the western sort—and his fantasies of village republics that etched the village as the desirable polar opposite in the minds of his admirers? In the midst of such idle speculations, the fact remains that the urbane was as much part of Indian spatiality and life as the rustic.   A lot of post-liberalization chatter about ‘urbanizing India’ could easily lead one to believe though that this is the first time ever that such a phenomenon is occurring. Perhaps this has to do with the construction of swish gated community style housing, glass-fronted office buildings, multi-brand retail malls, and other amenities, all in the service of a notion of the ‘good life’ akin to what you’d find in the West, or in any comparable ‘world city’. The enchanted world that rapidly urbanizing India wants to live in is the one hypothesized by Saskia Sassen as the global city, a place teeming with technocrats, cogs in the wheel of the multinational firm, working tirelessly to make the city an engine of a certain type of economic growth. These little city republics will be more at ease with other such city republics across the world. Looking outwards to create a network society of the kind anticipated by Manuel Castells, where money and information flows seamlessly, they will soon rise above and apart from what binds them to the rest of the country, or the hinterland.   Mistaking good analysis for good models, urban planning in India has gone about trying to plant replica global cities on local soil, with the haste of the White Rabbit, crying plaintively, Oh dear! Oh dear! I shall be too late! Quite expectedly, this has had some rather peculiar results, not least of all in terms of ...


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