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Sunday, 6 April 2014

Urban, Cultural, Economic and Social Transformation: History of New Delhi 1947-65

Title: Urban, Cultural, Economic and Social Transformation: History of New Delhi 1947-65
Author: Nilendra Bardiar
ISBN: 978-93-82395-49-2
Binding: Hard Cover
First Edition: 2014
Language: English
Cover Photo(s): Ms Sathya Scinha

About the Author:
Dr. Nilendra Bardiar is currently working as Assistant Professor at Delhi College of Arts and Commerce (DCAC), University of Delhi. He previously worked as Research Associate with Indian Institute of Dalit Studies. He has done MA (2005-7), M.Phil (2007-9) and PhD (2009-13, awarded in 2014) in History from JNU.

About the Book:
There has been a spate of studies on Partition and the arrival and subsequent settlement of non-Muslim refugees in Delhi. The communal violence and uprooting and migration of such a large number of people, which has till now, been unprecedented. But hardly any of these studies have kept the city as a whole and its new evolving geography, economy and culture as a major focus. At most, their human geographies do not extend beyond the refugee colonies and the families settled over there. But it cannot be denied that the “Partition” and “refugee” side of the story has been narrated well but the “city”, its newly evolving culture and its citizens’ lives per se have mostly been left mute.

A few government publications mostly based on the research and data compilation by current or ex-bureaucrats have however tried to study and tell the city’s side of this story through administrative, land usage and urban development perspectives but these studies cannot comprehend the human and the cultural dimensions. Each existential aspect of this city of Delhi was tremendously transformed by the arrival of new population because of Partition. From its physicality to its psyche and language to the core of its cultural soul, everything had to go through some sort of metamorphosis during the decades following the Partition. The feeling of being the capital of India had perhaps not sunk in well in around one and a half decades since the transfer of capital from Calcutta to the city when Partition knocked on its door and took away a large proportion of the people who supposedly formed the core of its cultural whole. But ‘the last conquerors of this city’ were not hordes of those who had come to loot and destroy and stamp their reign and rule on its coins but were those who had been on the run themselves—from violence in Pakistan to the lack of opportunities elsewhere in India from where they finally arrived in Delhi. What they were looking for was more than a mere shelter and hearth. They were seeking ladders to rise up and securely. They found some and they created many.

When the Partition refugees arrived they had their own cultural baggage but they did not associate the romance of nostalgia with it. Refugees changed the social profile of Delhi after 1947. The reason that most of the refugees did well and succeeded in rising up the socioeconomic ladder of status and prosperity, despite having started from scratch is that as they were left with no option but to succeed in their endeavours, no matter how much and what it cost them in terms of initial struggle so they persevered and did all that they could to succeed.

In 1947, Delhi was woefully under developed and unexpanded and geographically and spatially too sparsely settled to fit into the mould of the national capital of a newly independent country, as populous as India. Even if refugees would not have arrived to settle in Delhi, the city had to expand and grow. The earliest ‘planning’ of the city were carried out basically for two main purposes—for settling those who had arrived and for creating an infrastructure that any national capital would need. These efforts at planning had to contend with too many pulls and pressure and concerns and challenges from different quarters.

A very important point that seems to mostly go unnoticed is that the lament and mourning for the loss of ‘real’ culture of Delhi tends to overlook the simple logic that the onus of preserving it did not and does not rest on those who came from outside but on those who chose to lament and mourn its supposed fading away rather than preserving, living and passing it on to the future generations. And those who choose to do the latter do not see anything to lament for. The old, persianized, classical, ‘real’ culture of Delhi never had to compete or fight with the new arrivals. It existed and still exists in the lives and geographies of the people who want to live it and this will continue to remain so. Post-Independence Delhi did not need a predominant culture to define itself as there were not one but many cultures that came to seek a place for themselves but ironically some of the observers tend to see none of these cultures so as to buttress their point of this city having no culture. 

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