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Examining Bangalore

Prem Chandavarkar

By Janaki Nair
Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2005, pp. xviii 454, Rs. 750.00


“The city, or more properly ‘the urban’, has had a fugitive existence in the political, cultural and sociological imagination of modern India.” Janaki Nair hits the nail on the head with her opening sentence of the book. It is not that the Indian city has never been an object of study, but that much of that study has been descriptive rather than analytical, veering toward demographic and social profiling. The notion of the city as a specific form of social life that recasts the meaning of citizenship, culture, nation and politics has received little shelf space, for any notion of Indian authenticity has always been located firmly in the village. The Indian city has therefore held a schizophrenic existence. On the one hand it has been a symbol of modernity, that agent of history that is building the new independent Indian state—holding within it the centre of gravity of politics, media and industrial production. But on the other hand, it has been deprived of any sense of cultural authenticity or conceptual understanding. It has lived in a state of suspended animation, trapped between a distant and mythicized memory of a glorious past and the optimistic vision of a technological future that is yet to arrive.   So I picked up this book with a keen sense of excitement. By declaring Bangalore as the object of her attention, under the title The Promise of the Metropolis, Nair clearly recognizes that Bangalore is currently held by many to be a symbol of the future of India. Flipping through the book before beginning to read it, it is evident that this is no superficial piece of work—it is rigorously researched, and the chapters cover a wide conceptual field, ranging across the disciplines of history, town planning, law, architecture, politics and gender. And by beginning with a head on confrontation with the fugitive existence of the concept of the city, Nair raises hopes that this book will be a preliminary step in constructing a theory of the Indian city.   But early in the book, one realizes that Nair does not view construction of a theory of the city as an easy task. Any attempt to circumscribe the city with any sense of coherence is problematical, for the city is a highly contested space. The book begins with the recognition of Bangalore’s legacy as a divided city. There is an older city towards ...

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