[URBANTH-L]REV: Sinha on Hosagrahar, _Indigenous Modernities:
Negotiating Architechture and Urbanism_
jancius at ohio.edu
Thu Feb 8 01:19:28 EST 2007
[x-posted from H-Urban]
H-NET BOOK REVIEW
Published by H-Urban at h-net.msu.edu (February 2007)
Jyoti Hosagrahar. _Indigenous Modernities: Negotiating Architecture and
Urbanism_. New York:
Routledge, 2005. xiii + 234 pp. Illustrations, notes, index. $43.95
(paper), ISBN 0-415-32376-2.
Reviewed for H-Urban by Amita Sinha <sinha2 at uiuc.edu>, Department of
Landscape Architecture, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
One of the few books written on the urban history of South Asia,
_Indigenous Modernities_ is ambitious in its effort to demonstrate that
the momentous changes in the social and physical environment of Delhi,
taking place between 1857 and 1947, exemplified "indigenous
modernities." In many non-Western societies, modernity arrived with
colonialism. It was therefore an imposition from outside, not a
homegrown enterprise evolving from within existing social structures.
According to Jyoti Hosagrahar, what one sees in the modernization of
Delhi are hybrid forms, not ideal types as envisaged by the global
project of modernity. She offers infrastructure development, use of new
technologies, introduction of novel public institutions, and growth of
new housing typologies as examples of these hybrid forms. Every change
in the social mores and physical spaces was contested, negotiated,
discarded, and adapted. The end result was not a pale or an imperfect
version of European modernism, but something different in which
traditional and modern, old and new, coexisted uneasily in a state of
dynamic tension, in a fluid, ever changing dialectic.
Hosagrahar sets out to read this cultural landscape in the window of
time that ushered in modernity. In five chapters she traces the
fragmentation of the domestic spaces of _havelis_ (mansions); the
withdrawal of the community from the public realm; the breakdown of
traditional health and sanitary systems; privatization; and the
commodification of community property. Modernization extracted a
terrible price, combining as it did urban reform with profit-seeking
motives. The stresses generated by these imposed social changes were
enormous and had the potential to destroy the social fabric. That,
however, did not happen. The colonized inhabitants proved resilient and
appropriated modernity in ways they saw fit, ensuring their survival
and furthering their lot in life. Delhi survived the departure of
feudalism, the birth of nationalism, and the attainment of
independence, all in less than a century. Hosagrahar's study
illuminates the price the city paid and its ill-gotten gains in private
and public spheres.
In the aftermath of the Mutiny/First War of Independence (1857),
_havelis_, residences of landowning gentry, suffered from neglect and
were converted into warehouses and smaller residential units. These
large houses had been the mainstay of neighborhoods, because the
occupants supported artisans and their trades. At the same time, the
rising entrepreneurial classes sought to live in hybrid versions of
courtyard housing and European-style bungalows. Although the courtyards
shrank and extended families fragmented, older lifestyles did not
Attempts to produce public spaces as a _public good_ were contested
vehemently, accustomed as the residents were to using available land
for their own purposes. Enforcement of by-laws and other regulations
met with considerable resistance since matters concerning property
rights and territorial encroachments had previously been resolved
within the community or arbitrated by the elders. New urban spaces
generated by the building of institutions such as the town hall became
the venues for nationalist demonstrations, so a kind of civic realm,
independent of religious or royal associations, did emerge, even though
it had a conflict-ridden genesis. New medical systems of knowledge and
the practice of their technologies produced spaces and built forms--
hospitals and dispensaries--that did not entirely displace the shops of
_hakims_ and _vaids_, practitioners of _unani_ and _ayurvedic_ systems
of traditional medicine. Similarly municipal services including
piped-water supply, sewage systems, and trash collection did not result
in the banishment of sweepers.
Hosagrahar draws upon municipal archives and her own interviews with
Delhi residents to write an urban narrative that is handsomely
illustrated with historic maps and photographs. The earlier chapters on
_havelis_, streets, and geographies of health make for more interesting
reading than the last two chapters on land development and new housing
projects meant to create a "modern" citizen. I would have liked to know
more about the influence of changing housing typology on gender roles,
children's socialization, family structure, and social networks or why
certain sections of the domestic sphere, such as the kitchen and bath,
resisted change more than others and were transplanted into the
bungalow. One also wishes that other types of public spaces, not
just the street and square, were discussed. For example, what was the
role of greenery in ameliorating the effects of urban congestion?
In the narrative Hosagrahar sketches out for us, neither the colonizer
nor the colonized appears to act out of noble motives, although the
subject population deserves our sympathy in their attempts to make
sense of rapid social changes and adapt to them. While there was no
outright rejection of modernity (except perhaps the last desperate
gesture of rebellion in 1857), there was considerable resistance to
heavy-handed authoritarian measures as well as reformist agendas.
Private interests, more often than not, triumphed over public good.
Environmental changes were attributable to concepts and mechanisms that
were imported, not indigenous. The forms they took and practices they
bred, however, remain Indian and, in that assertion, Hosagrahar is
right: Western ideals of modernity always took shape in local contexts.
The term "indigenous modernity," though, implies an absence of an
external causal agency that was not really the case with the colonial
urban landscape of Delhi. A more appropriate term would have been
"contested modernities," capturing the full flavor of Hosagrahar's
In the twenty-first century, a new avatar of colonialism,
globalization, is once again changing the urban landscape of Delhi.
Just as sectors such as Civil Lines, Cantonment, and New Delhi consumed
a far greater number of resources and were dependent upon old Delhi for
services, so do the new satellite cities of Gurgaon and Noida depend
upon older sections of the city. And just as New Delhi's landscape was
"modern" in its definition, resting upon its differences from
Shahjahanbad/old Delhi, so do these new developments aspire to a feel
and image that is _global_, derived from Western prototypes.
Dualities abound in post-independence Delhi. Municipal services in most
sections remain inadequate, squatter colonies proliferate, there is an
acute water shortage, and most citizens do not have access to sanitary
systems. This landscape of impoverishment is juxtaposed with a
landscape of luxury in shopping malls, skyscrapers, and vast greenery.
With hindsight, it is tempting to categorize the late nineteenth- and
early twentieth-century efforts as a failed or incomplete project of
modernity, destined to persist in its mutant form into the next
century. Perhaps the trajectory of modernity would have been different
had its projects been implemented with greater sensitivity to cultural
codes and customary practices; we should plan for the future accordingly.
. See Amita Sinha, "Women's Local Space--Home and Neighborhood," in
_Bridging Worlds: Studies on Women in South Asia_, ed. Sally Sutherland
(Berkeley: Center for South Asia Studies, Occasional Papers, No. 17,
1991), 203-224; and Amita Sinha, "Bungalows of Lucknow Cantonment,
India," _Open House International_ 24, no. 2 (1999), 56-63.
. See Anthony King, _Spaces of Global Culture: Architecture,
Urbanism, Identity_ (New York: Routledge, 2004).
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