From New Delhi, writer Rana Dasgupta
All entries in this category: Everyday cities
Thinking back to an earlier post on this blog, written at the time of Israel's bombardment of Beirut, I don't want to lose sight of the fact that contemporary cities are increasingly militarised spaces, and that city warfare is one of the major preoccupations of today's military strategists. Even the fortress of the City of London betrays such preoccupations, but there are other cities, of course, where warfare is a much more literal and everyday component of city life.
This has been the long-term focus of the work of Eyal Weizman.
Am in England for a short story festival in Sussex and once again contemplating the strangeness of my home country. I therefore post a poem I wrote after my last visit here to describe this feeling, at the centre of which is the invisible "they" who are the subject of so many sentences spoken here. Abstract and unidentified, vaguely benign and yet menacing too, "they" seem to make all the decisions, and the human being seems to invoke "their" name as the only way of naming the forces that make the world.
Jan Chipchase lives in Tokyo and runs a beautiful blog of photographs he has taken in cities all over the world: acutely observed details that help him read the cities he goes to. He calls this photograph, taken in Kobrasol in São José, Brazil, "Clues To Where People Sit."
Let's not forget the romance of cities. So much of the news from Paris is bad these days, but there is always that amazing texture. Have a close look here.
Have just returned home to Delhi from 10 days in Sydney and Melbourne to find that this blog has been chattering quite effectively without me. It is always good to feel dispensable!
One of the subjects it has been debating is whether I, born in the UK, deserve to call Delhi home at all, and whether I can presume to write about it. Peter Harrap introduced the debate:
"I have just found out that we are in fact addressing someone who is not Indian at all, but British-born and bred. Rather like illiterate Indians voted in Newhru's daughter because she had herself renamed "Ghandi"."
"Whilst anyone I believe can be invited to write about anything and anyone and anyplace. There is a certain moral code in literature or just the world that we do declare or interests, biases and backgrounds. Can we have a real Indian next time please? You could lose viewers (or at least discerning viewers) otherwise!"
Apologies to all readers. I'm in Melbourne at present for the Melbourne Writers' Festival and have hardly seen an internet connection since I arrived.
I have walked the streets, however. As always that strange feeling of arriving in Western cities. Have all the people been lifted off by aliens, leaving only this eery quiet? Who is controlling the steady lines of black-dressed walkers in the main streets, whose pace never flags and whose personalities are suppressed beneath the order of things? Where are the singers, the greetings, the laughter, the fruit stalls, the conversations, desired or not? What strange machine generates this silent traffic, which seems to have no desire?
In Andrew Meier's fascinating Russian travelogue, Black Earth, we find the following vignette from Moscow:
"Beyond lust and fear, Moscow breeds power. You cannot help feeling that you are trespassing in its path. Every effort is made to impress upon the populace its privileged proximity to the unlimited power of the state. This is not just state power as in other countries. This is not merely the pomp of officialdom, but the deliberate demonstration of the state’s power over the people, an ever-present slap in their face.
Delih traffic lights are significant commercial zones. While the traffic lights count down their 120 seconds and fast people have to deal with stasis, the two-minute sellers leap to their trade of ornaments, magazines, household supplies, etc.
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