Urbanity as an idea doesn’t come easy to us Indians right now. We have been told that India is a land of villages and urban has always been looked upon as the ‘other’. This however is far from the reality. India has been one of the first countries that can boast of a ‘civilisation’ and formation of a ‘society ‘as seen in the Indus valley civilisation.
An urban society is a heterogeneous construct that through its behavioural and societal traits learns to live together in amiability and a common rationale. Also, it is my conviction that an intrinsic part of this heterogeneity is the element of ‘poche’ or the interior and sometimes hidden. And it is this ‘interior urbanity’ which is quintessential urban in the India context and also significant, such that it gives our cities a unique layered flavour.
Recently, I attended a discussion ‘Meaningful City in India’ where the panellists were trying to theorise the rationale of the present day city and what then is the ‘meaning’ of the city. Each panellist chose an aspect that they were aiming to ‘include’ in the city construct to dwell upon. From the present day city that is primarily designed for automobile and ignores the pedestrian, a city which doesn’t guarantee safety to women, a city that is unequal and unjust and promotes exclusion either because of income, caste, class or religion, to also a city that despite of these ‘injustices’ grants an anonymity that an urban dweller seeks, grants a freedom and individuality that he might not have enjoyed in a rural setup where the family and societal ties are much greater.
I believe that in case of the urban poor, this exclusivity takes form of an urban poche or the interior urbanity that runs adjacent to the ‘other’ city but resides in ‘left over pockets’ of the city. Poverty dwells in the no-man’s land of the city, which have not been defined in the ‘official master plan’ of the city. These spaces are land next to the railway line, land under the high tension wire, and land near a storm water drain or even an open sewer, ghettoes, unconstructed plots, ecologically sensitive areas such as near a pond, river or the ridge. These areas which were left ‘white’ and un-defined in the master plan adapt a new identity and morphology and in large sense become an underlying skeleton for the city and are essential for the functioning of the city.
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