Guest post from a friend, Devika Narayan
I attended an intense and exciting discussion on Delhi where many people from different fields spoke. The following is a patchwork of their words (more or less) . A total mishmash of voices, ideas and arguments. Hope it is some what coherent.
They talk repeatedly about Delhi and the loss of memory. The long, forgotten past which is erased from our collective memory. A pathological inability to recall the biographic journey that brought us to here. We advocate a sustained determined effort to unlock the gates of memory and end this distorting amnesia.
Indulge in guilty nostalgia. The Sarkari city of the 80s and the government bungalow, the open spaces and the fifty bird species in the garden. You become an easy intellectual target who is attacked for being a middle class romantic, longing for an invented past . But don’t dismiss nostalgia you say, drawing upon nostalgia as a technique of critiquing the present can be a useful exercise. However, while reconciling the experience of the endless centuries gone by with the chaotic present, one must also claim the future in a conscious way. The has been a lack of public debate when it comes imagining the future of Delhi. That is to say, debate about contemporary architecture, about housing, about alternative city plans are absent. We need to construct an imagination of the future in the most democratic and open way possible. City planning is not a technical process but is instead deeply political. We can not entrust the planning of the a city to ‘experts’ and ‘technicians’ whose objective is to mould cityscape as per the power of their will. We are trying to plan the poor out of existence-eliminating them from imaginings of the city, sweeping them off the map. Our city will never resemble a master plan. After all, how do you plan informality? Can you plan informality?
Delhi is a city of migrants. Regional identities don’t really matter. There has been no aggressive assertion over the city by a regional group because there is no ‘local’ community, no archetypal Dilliwallah . However, its a misleading to construe Delhi as a an accommodating, benevolent cosmopolitan city center. It doesn’t give a damn where you come from but asks instead why you have come in the first place. It not pro-migrant but ruthlessly anti-poor. How else do you explain the repeated evictions and slum clearance drives, the determined attempt to make city space free of not poverty but the poor themselves. Delhi has a terrible record of its treatment of the urban poor.
What has happened to the ecology of the city over the decades? The ridge and the river are the brackets which have enclosed the city for centuries. An assault on the ecological environment of the city.
The surrender to capital. A new shrillness to the city.
How does post-reform capitalism not just close certain channels but also open new ones? The proliferation of technology and media. New forms of pleasure.
The strong exclusionary tendency when shaping city space. However, Sarkari Delhi was more ‘open’ not intentionally but by neglect. Now the system has ways of being selectively and brutally efficient when it so desires.
We must be aware of Delhi’s historical intellectual privilege. These forums for reflexive debates on urbanity is unique to Delhi. The urgent need to create an alternative city archive.
The need to rewrite and restructure space in the most democratic and inclusive way possible. The republic of the streets must survive.
remembering the traumatic sites of Delhi history. 1857. 1947. 1975. 1984. Revisiting the dead and exploring this emotional landscape. How does the memory of trauma survive?
You can listen to the session here: