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10. The Country and the City

Our understanding of the category ‘culture’ is often fed by the spaces within which the notion of culture is performed. Even in the most commonsensical exploration of what culture has come to mean—culture as practice, process, performance, or representation—the sense of space is always present. This section tries to chart out how culture is embedded in a spatial analysis and how an inquiry into the spaces around us can lead to a better understanding of what culture can come to mean. While this section focuses on the creation of city spaces and the notion of urban cultures as we can observe them in our contemporary and immediate environments, it will also try to take into account the notion of the rural and how it is produced, shaped, and defined by the changing contours of the urban.




Placing the Space






One of the first steps to take is to look upon the differences between the notions of Space and Place. In lay terms, space and place often mean the same thing and stand in for each other. However, it is necessary to distinguish between these two categories to get a better idea of how the category of culture can be explored at different levels.
Let us take an everyday example and see if we can tease out the differences that we will hold on to. Take the sentence ‘There was no place in the room to fit any more people.’ It is very obvious that the Place that we are talking about is a physical place. It can be identified, mapped, traced and documented, with relative ease. A place would have boundaries that can be easily distinguished. Place, then, is a physical category that can be represented through various techniques of representation.

Contrast that sentence with the utterance ‘I need my own space to grow.’ It is very clear that the Space we are talking about is not interchangeable with Place in the earlier example. The demand here is not for a physical bounded place but for an imaginary construct of a space. Space then, is not a given in any context but is constructed through various processes, of which representation is one of the chief techniques.

The recognition of space as a construct allows us to think of space as a category not created ex nihilo (out of nothing) but through specific socio-political and economic forces. Space as a construct is independent of geographical boundaries and locations and can be posited at an imaginary level. Thus, while it is difficult to think of a universal place, for instance, the notion of universal space is more easily accessible. Prevalent terms like mindspace and cyberspace also indicate the differences between the two terms.

If Space is indeed a construct, it also gives a sense of agency to the people who construct it. While it is easy to think of Place and define it without taking into account the people it houses—take the example of a school for instance, which is created prior to the students who use it, the idea of space is definitely linked with the notion of the people who occupy it. One way of exploring Space is by looking at who has occupied it, who owns/belongs to it, and who is expected to occupy it.
One of the examples through which we can make this distinction clearer is by looking at a busy city road.

The roads, the lifelines of a city that allow for navigation and exploration, are an interesting phenomenon. While the planning of the road involves taking into consideration the uses it would be put to and the approximate number of people who would occupy it at any given point of time, it is possible to understand the place—the road, as a geographical category without actually investigating the people or traffic that occupies the road.

However, the place of the road can often house a political-cultural space. The context within which the road is explored, allows for the understanding of how spaces are created.


Images of the road in ahmedabad





These two images of a road in Ahmedabad, give an idea of how space is constructed on the place.


In Fig A. we see a shot of the road during the Modi Gaurav Yatra during the elections in Gujarat.

Fig. B. is the shot of the same road during the curfew hours after the communal riots in the post Godhra carnage in Ahmedabad. The contexts of both the events posit a certain idea of the road as a space—a space that is constructed by different agents. While in Fig. A. it is the presence of the spectators and the performers dressed in a particular ‘traditional’ dress, that defines the space of the road, in Fig. B. it is the conspicuous absence of crowds and the overpowering figure of the policeman—a representative of the law and order machinery, that defines it in a different way. It is also only with the contexts laid out that the spaces can be explored as political spaces or cultural spaces. The same place can, when pitched against different contexts, house different spaces. A space is contextual and hence often also ephemeral, thus making the processes of documentation and representation of spaces, more difficult. The place serves as a point of entry into investigating the cultural debates, concerns and issues that are inevitably linked with spaces.

The city and the village





Keeping in mind the discussions we have had around the notions of Space and Place, we can look at the city as belonging to dual categories. On the one hand, it is a geographical entity, bound in political and civic boundaries—it can be identified as a specific place on a map and can be represented through geographical boundaries. However, the city can also be recognised as a space upon which many different categories like modernity, progress, urbanity, citizenship and technology are inscribed.

There is a possibility that exploring a single notion of space might lead to isolationist arguments or understandings of that space and the issues that revolve around it. It is necessary to understand that the space we talk about is related to several other spaces that might not be obviously implicated.

If we are to focus on the city as a space, then we need to look into how the city also creates a binary opposition. In the case of the city, especially with industrialisation, the village is the most obvious binary. The rhetoric of development and modernity also posits the village as a binary to the city. In exploring the city as a space, we need to be aware that the representations of the city are in constant tension with notions of the village, and also of the slippages between the two.



Activity 1






1. Try to identify which one is a representation of a rural state and which is a representation of urbanity.

2. What is it about the sounds used that gave you the cues to identifying the two tracks as urban-rural?

3. What are the spaces within which these songs proliferate? Do you get a sense of ‘high culture’ and ‘low culture’ by looking at the spaces that would house these two tracks?

4. In spite of the fact that both the tracks deal with the same content—folk songs—they both aim at a different audience and space. Think of another such example where this phenomenon can be noted.

These two audio clips are a good illustration of the city-village binary that can be identified at an extra-textual level. Both the audio pieces deal with a certain repackaging of ‘folk’ music. Remo’s music is a re-mix of the folk music with new sounds of the Asian underground and urban lounge music added to the original song. Ghosh’s track on the other hand is an attempt to re-create the ‘original’ and ‘authentic’ sounds of the folk song.

We can slowly then tease out that spaces are not mutually exclusive as places can be. For instance, the house that you live in can be specifically identified as your private place and there are boundaries, which separate the private from the public.

Similarly, the city and the village, though often blurred by the suburbs and highway development projects, are still exclusively identified as the city and the village. However, when we start talking about the village and the city as spaces we realise that the binary is not as clear as it seems. We can perform a small activity to illustrate this point.


Activity 2





In the table given below, is an exercise in free association that was conducted with a class of undergraduate students. In the first column they listed out the immediate responses to the word ‘City.’ We make a list of ten attributes that are commonly used to describe the city. A similar exercise was performed with the word ‘Village.’ Can you think of a few attributes to add to these lists? Now look at the list that we have created and in the column marked ‘Common’, list out the common attributes—attributes that cannot be used exclusively to describe either the City or the Village. Ask yourself if a particular attribute is used to describe only the one category i.e. does the attribute define exclusively ‘Village’ or ‘City’ or does it allow us to talk of both of them in different ways?

Shopping complexes Malls
Large roads
Progress and modernity

Greenery and fields
No congestion
Lack of telecommunications
bad education
lack of hygiene
slow lifestyles
less materialism
culture and tradition
domestic animals and farming

City Village

Common Attributes:

It is possible, at the end of the exercise, to realise that there is an overlapping between these two categories. It is possible to identify notions or attributes of the city in a village and vice-versa.

Take for example the notions of pollution that we carry with ourselves in the understanding of the City as a space. We immediately associate pollution with industrialisation, vehicle emissions, littering etc. However, a quick thought tells us that while there might be different kinds of pollutants in the villages—industrial waste, chemical fertilisers, etc., pollution also happens in the villages.

Similarly, a negative description of villages would be through poverty and lack of hygiene. However, those of us living in the cities can easily recognise that both of these exist in cities as well. Don’t we see people begging on the streets and sleeping on the pavements in the cities? Haven’t we held our noses and rushed past open drains, large garbage piles and open urinals? Haven’t we already identified slums as a way of describing the city? These are questions that force us to rethink our ideas of the city and the village as two exclusive categories.





A spatial analysis of these problematic areas—the village in the city, for instance, would help us in understanding what aspects are rendered more visible. Questioning why these certain aspects are visible in the definition of a category would help in looking at what is being suppressed and what is at stake in this process. If we identify the categories of ‘City’ and ‘Village’ as constructs, it would be very useful to ask the questions:


1. Who constructs these categories?





Many different forces affect the constructs of a space.
Governing bodies, ruling agencies, researchers, market forces, foreign forces, media, etc often create these categories. Each body constructs these categories towards a certain goal. This is why space becomes such an interesting concept—it is not neutral but political in nature and is represented and constructed differently in order to reach a desired aim.




2. What are the processes by which they are constructed?






One of the chief techniques of creating these categories is representation. Representations let us believe that what we see is real and unmediated and often come to stand in for the whole. Hence, instead of looking at the larger picture, we identify the space through its representations. We also need to understand that these processes construct certain kinds of spaces only in certain ways. This is because the motives behind the representations guide and shape their production.



3. Are there legitimate and illegitimate ways of representing a space?




Certain authorities are designated as legitimate producers of representations. The State for example, produces several representative icons to represent the nation—the national flag, the national anthem, the national emblem, etc. Apart from the nation, the market is another influential creator of representations. However, these representations—take an advertisement, for instance—do not carry the same weight or authority as the representations produced by the state. Obviously by the same token there are also ‘subversive’ representations, by marginalised groups for instance, that are designated as illegitimate.


4. Who are the expected consumers/occupants of that space?





Let us carry out an exercise to see if we can indeed anticipate the kind of people who would occupy or inhabit a space and thus define it through different ways.



Activity 3




It is possible to anticipate whom the space caters to by playing with the notions fashioned by several representative techniques.

Take a look at the pictures given below and try to imagine the kind of people who would occupy these spaces. In the spaces given below the pictures, try to note the following attributes of the people you think would inhabit these spaces: their age, education, economic class, the language they would speak, the clothes they would wear, and whether they are urban or rural.



Picture 1



Picture 2



5. Where are these representations circulated? Do these representations themselves come to affect or manipulate the original categories that they represent?




We realise that these representations are not the same. In spite of the fact that the represented space might be the same, these representations are aimed at a specific audience and hence also move in different spaces.

Take the example of how The Lonely Planet describes India in its pages and try to imagine the intended consumer of that particular representation of space. Do you think that this consumer believes that this is the ‘real’ picture of India? Keep in mind that viewing is also a political activity guided by different motivations and that very often representations are designed with this in mind. Do we indulge in similar practices where we recognise cities and villages through representations that we encounter?

So far, we have posited the following ideas:




1.Space is a construct that is created through different processes and can be analysed using different categories.

2. Space needs to be always understood in the context of its production and thus is strongly embedded in the socio-cultural environment within which it is produced.

3. The binary of City-Village is not very rigid and the boundaries between these categories are often blurred.

4. The modes of representation of spaces are influenced by the forces that deploy the modes.

5. Representations are necessarily aimed at a particular goal and hence they use different techniques in order to evoke or construct a space differently.





We shall approach the two articles prescribed for this section with these ideas in mind, looking at how the changing faces of cities and villages are represented, analysed and discussed in the context of globalisation and modernity in India. However, before that we need to deal with the pervasive dichotomy of Utopia-Dystopia.

One of the grids within which City and Village have been understood and represented as spaces has been that of Utopia and Dystopia.

Utopia, in a general sense, is a space of harmony and synthesis. What, in India is often nostalgically referred to as Ram Rajya—the feeling that we are in the best of all possible worlds.

The sense of Utopia is very strongly associated with the idea of a space. Utopias—be they Plato’s ideal Republic or J.M. Barrie’s Neverland, are idealised spaces that house certain ideologies, principles and world-views in a happy synergy.

It is necessary to understand that utopias exist either in the past or the future and are invoked in order to throw light on what the author of the utopia feels is wrong with the present. Utopias are political categories—political not in the very narrow electorate terms but political as pertaining to the identity of a space or a being—and are created with strong ideologies in mind. They are abstractions that often describe the state of things, as they should be according to the author. Thus, utopias need to be understood as representations from a particular standpoint and unravelling them will lead us to identifying the author’s own commitment and concerns.

The chief techniques used in the creation of literary utopias are parody and allusion. Hence, utopias are generally contextual and best understood in the contexts within which they are produced. What led to the production of the utopia is also an interesting inquiry. It usually reveals a discontent within a particular region and the failure of governance at certain levels.

A dystopia is the exact opposite of a utopia. W.B. Yeats, in his poem, ‘The Second Coming’, says, ‘the centre cannot hold, mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.’ This would be more or less the perfect description of a dystopia.

A dystopia is a strong reaction to a state of anarchy and chaos within a particular region. The notion of dystopia is invoked in order to register a strong protest against the way things are in the contemporary situation.

A dystopia works through irony, parody, references and topical allusions to strongly critique an existing system from within. While it might not be possible to directly talk about a contemporary problem, it is easier to fictionalise it into a dystopia and thus deliver the message more effectively. A dystopic vision is strongly political in nature and is embedded within the ideologies and convictions of the creators. Some of the most popular visions of dystopia in literature have been George Orwell’s Animal Farm and 1984, as well as Samuel Butler’s Erewhon and T.S. Eliot’s The Wasteland. In Hindi cinema in the 1960s, the strain of realism that was introduced in movie making also created visions of dystopia for the cinematic audience. Movies like Bombay in the later years, also invoked the city as a space of dystopia where ruin and despair are set loose in the way the city unfolds.

Both, utopia and dystopia, often deal with the same kind of topics and visions. It is possible that a single incident might have inspired different creators to create visions of utopia and dystopia for different reasons. We have to understand that the difference between utopia and dystopia is not that of kind but of method. Invoking a space as utopia or dystopia is a political move geared towards providing a critique of the same space. Visions of the village as a utopian space are many. A lot of 18th century poetry in English works at creating the vision of the village as the nostalgic past that we have lost with modernity and industrialisation. In Bollywood, the village has often been shown as the house of culture, tradition, harmony and fraternity, where lives are comfortable and the people are honest. Even within commercial cinema, the country bumpkin and his uncouth ways are generally glorified in the hero who performs these roles.

Hollywood science-fiction movies have contributed a lot to the making of the city in different modes. While movies like The Matrix trilogy might aim at creating a utopian vision of synergy between human beings and technology—between meat and machines, by exploring the possibilities of technology and human capacity; other movies like I, Robot present to us a dystopian vision of a world that is increasingly being overrun by technology that thinks for itself. Urban Legends like The Ring, also present a concern about the heavy dependence and proliferation of technology that surrounds us.

To take up the case of The Ring, for example, the urban legend about a borrowed video, which, when seen, kills you in seven days, is so resoundingly scary because the supernatural and the technological have morphed into one in order to kill the human. The fact that the ghost of the little girl Samara kills her victims through a television screen and warns them through a telephone call is what gives us the notion of a city as a space of crises. It is interesting to know that both utopia and dystopia are generally products of crises.


Activity 4


Let us see if we can identify a few utopian and dystopian visions by looking at a few urban legends. Given below are a few samples of Utopia/Dystopia in different forms. Identify whether the given excerpt is an example of utopia or dystopia. Try to analyse the markers that allow you to make the identification. See if you can spot the ‘moral behind the story’ and analyse what these visions might be critiquing.


Sample # 1





“... Panting in sweltering summers,
Shivering in winter nights, drenched in monsoon rains,
I turned poorer.
But you were tireless; you came again.
‘Poverty is a meaningless term ...
You have suffered deprivation all your life ...’
My suffering was endless...
But you did not forget me;
This time, hand knotted into a fist, you said in a rousing voice,
‘Wake up, wake up, you the dispossessed of the world ...’
... Many years passed, by now you were cleverer. ...
You brought a blackboard and carefully chalked a neat, long line on it;
Your strain showed; wiping sweat from your forehead, you said,
‘This line you see, below it, much below it you live.’
Fabulous! ...
Thank you for my poverty, deprivation, dispossession...
Above all, thank you for the neat, long line, that luminous gift.
... My profound well wisher, thank you many times over.”

–From Tarapada Roy, ‘The Poverty Line’

Sample # 2





#1. You might have realised that often it is not very easy to identify whether the vision of a space provided to us is dystopian or utopian in nature. In the first example, the poem that begins the Ashis Nandy article is clearly a vision of a dystopia. The poem talks about the ‘invention’ of the poverty line as a myth to keep the poor happy and criticises the development model that the Indian Government has adopted as an answer to the poverty problems in India. Nandy’s essay deals with this problem in more detail and we will talk about it soon.

#2. However, in the second instance, the website can be a tricky thing. On the one hand, it can be, and is indeed intended to be read, as a strong resistance to feminism and the way the city, the family, the life and the lifestyle in the urban areas is changing with feminism on the rise. While the screen shot of the webpage might be read as an ironic commentary on the male backlash to feminist ideologies, an exploring of the site reveals that this is indeed a vision of a Utopia free of feminists and women demanding equality.



The Unintended City





Jai Sen’s essay, ‘The unintended City’ starts by looking at physical manifestations of the blurring of the rural and the urban, the village and the city, in the city of Calcutta. He makes a claim that while ‘Calcutta isn’t actually a village…it certainly has many rural aspects to it.’

This is a curious statement to make. On the one hand, it seems to dissolve the binary between the city and the village; on the other, it retains the binary to invoke a certain vision of the space of Calcutta. He justifies this claim by looking at how ‘a majority of Calcutta citizens have strong rural connections of one type or another—from the rural migrant with the only and real home in the village, to the middle class bhadralok family which yearns for its ancestral country home and life.’

The village, for Sen, is a utopia of the past—something that he and the citizens of Calcutta invoke in a nostalgic fashion as a world that was better than it is now.

He further goes on to make the connection between economic class and the rural. Sen suggests that while the poor constitute a large part of the city’s population, they are necessarily rural in their lives and only cater to the needs and demands of the urban city to make it function. His argument seems to propose that just like the spaces in the city, there are a few visible citizens in a city and a few who are rendered invisible as the city develops and unfolds largely to cater to the visible few. The urban rich elite of Calcutta are the visible faces of what the city has come to mean and the poor rural migrant labourers in the city are not easily brought to the fore.

They are rendered invisible by many means. Spatially, they are herded together in the very interiors or on the outskirts of the city. As he notes in the beginning of the essay, the poor "people sleep, eat and live next to and above cattle in khatals, shed structures within bustees. Social planners consider this relationship to be ‘curious’, abnormal, and a health hazard, and propose to move the khatals out to the edges of the city to resolve health and inner-city space problem." The rural poor citizens of the city are always looked upon as problems to be relocated or hidden under different guises and the city unfolds only for the cars and the urban houses, shunting the poor away from development and progress. Legally, the rural poor are identified as ‘problems’ of health, of hygiene, of population, etc. and thus the spaces that they are identified with are often labelled as hazardous or illegal, thus pushing them outside of the logic of the city.

Sen looks at the logic of the City-Village binary to realise that the rural element in the city is indispensable to the development and progress of the city because the people in this category are the ones who provide services to the middle class and the wealthy. The city is indeed more dependent on them than they are on the city. And this city is a dystopia because ‘it is not made so as to enable the poor to improve their condition but rather to serve the wealthy and to allow them to enjoy and increase their advantage.’ He further goes on to locate this dystopia in the Indian context as he suggests that the cities in the third world are not the industrial pockets of luxury and wealth that the cities in the West are. He proposes that a ‘great deal of evidence suggests that a new type of city is emerging, in many ways a rural city.’ It is this rural-city that Sen hopes to explore in his essay. He claims that an inability to look at the emergence of this rural-city is what creates the dystopian conditions in most Indian cities.

In the later part of the essay, Sen will suggest that he looks upon the city as a space in transition and not fixed. He talks about how the City and the Village, the Urban and the Rural have to be identified as inscribed in the daily mechanics of survival for the people in these spaces. The essay forwards the idea that there is an emergence of an urban village and a rural city as the rates of migration and exchange of people between the two spaces is very high.

He looks upon the dichotomy of The City and The Village as established by the development policies in India, as very harmful because these categories seem blind to the development of the new hybrid societies that are coming into being and hence fail in their efforts at ‘development’ and ‘uplift.’ For Sen, the ‘unintended’ nature of the city is understood in three terms:

1. The dependence of the city on the people who are not its visible citizens—the poor and the rural. This, he suggests, is the result of poor planning and the policies made under the aegis of development.

2. The networks of information and of livelihood that the poor within the city form, as well as the quick dissemination of this information within the village circuits, works collectively against the exploitation of the wealthy and thus leads to the formation of a certain independence from the city.

3. The gradual, unintended emergence of a hybrid society and a city of the poor, slums, in suburbs and in clusters in and around the city.

Sen, in the rest of the essay, looks upon how under the name of development, the labourers and the workers in the city are exploited legally, socially, politically and economically, and forced to live in poverty and apathy. He questions the methods by which the rural and the urban seem to be produced in the imaginations of the Indian policy makers and looks upon development as a tool that creates dystopian conditions of living for the invisible or the unintended people in the city. It is interesting to note that the essay is as much about the unintended people as the unintended city.

Activity 5






Here is a paragraph from his essay.

See if you can realise the critique of the contemporary and how he manages to establish the city as a space of discrimination and unfairness.

‘Yet, planners and policy-makers still draw their lessons from those cities, criticize the new cities and try to remake them in those terms. In fact, what is demanded is a new view of cities and a reappraisal of what development should be, for whom and how. The failure of formal development suggests that the theories and assumptions of the essentially urban planners are inadequate; this essay suggests that it is the rural-minded poor who are creating the new cities and that it is with them that the real experience and lessons of development lie—certainly in terms of development that is relevant to their lives. It is the thesis of this essay that the poor are evolving within the existing city-village situation, a society, a hybrid rural-urban society with appropriate social structures and institutions which allows them to be part of both city and village. It argues that this formation of a hybrid society is a process which is currently taking place, shaped by the two forces of rejection and affinity: rejection as exclusion and exploitation by the urban centre, and the affinity of strong ancestral traditions and of familiar associations such as language and caste maintained through direct linkage.’

Ask of this paragraph, the following questions:

1. How does Sen identify the space he is talking about? Is it through practices, through policies, or through the people occupying these spaces?

2. Who, according to Sen are the victims of this dystopia? Who are the creators of this dystopian space? What actions led to the creation of this space?

3. What is the notion of the city and the village that Sen seems to carry with him, as a part of his argument?

Poverty and the City




Another dystopian view of the city, employing facts, figures, empirical data and a critique of development, is in Ashis Nandy’s essay, ‘The Beautiful, Expanding Future of Poverty.’Sen’s essay talked about the hybridization of the city and the village and the subsequent changes that occur in the notion of the urban and poor. Nandy looks upon globalisation and development to see how the poor in the nation are made invisible by a constant redefinition of poverty and understanding of the development agenda. For Nandy, the village is a nostalgic past that has been severely distorted by the new policies.

Nandy begins his essay with a very interesting suggestion. He compares the cities in the third world and other developing countries with the cities in America and the West to give a new notion of the urban and the rural. In a globalised world, the cities in the third world, when compared with the cities in the first world, appear rural and poor.

However, Nandy begins by looking at how poverty is not just the prerogative of the developing nations. He gives facts and figures to identify that poverty in the United States of America is an equally huge problem and that the poor are constantly swept under the carpet of progress and technology and hence not often made visible to the public eye. The relationship between the rich and the poor, according to Nandy, all around the world is the same. He looks upon the excessive wealth that people in America have and the state of deprivation and poverty that the rest of the world seems to live in. He cites many examples: ‘The three richest persons in the world have wealth, the UN Human Development Report of 1998 tells us, that exceeds the combined gross domestic product of the 48 least developed countries. One of them is Indian and instead of grimly talking of poverty all the while, many Indians have diffidently begun to celebrate such national achievements. The UN report incidentally also tells us that the Americans and Europeans spend US $17 billion per year on pet food, four billion more than the additional funds needed to provide basic health and nutrition for everyone in the world.’

However, he goes back to asserting that in spite of this, there are poor people in America. The problem is that the notion of poverty is very contextual and hence the nature of poverty in the USA is different from the sub-Saharan poverty in Africa or the poverty in India. We need to understand that even within the same geographical area—the idea of poverty changes with time. In India, the notion of poverty has undergone severe changes that need to be noted.

Nandy makes the distinction between poverty and destitution. It is within this distinction that he shows how the notion of poverty and that of the city have changed drastically in the 50 something years of Indian independence. He looks suspiciously at economists who draw their utopias from statistical data of growth in the GDP or the increase in the foreign investment in the nation. He critiques the fact that the ideas of progress and the betterment of the nation seem to revolve around the idea of the poverty line.

Various bodies have talked about how increasingly less and less people are living under the poverty line, thus reassuring us that we are indeed on our way to progress and improving our lifestyles. This reassurance however, fails to take account of the paradoxes and discrepancies in the way nations behave. As Nandy points out, ‘In 1995, the same year Das wrote of his utopia, others claim that roughly 200 million Indians did not have enough to eat. They also claim that during the same year, 5 million metric tons of foodgrains, including rice and wheat worth nearly US $ 2 billion were exported. There is no controversy over the fact that, with that money, we did not buy cheaper grains for the poor, but consumer goods and military hardware.16 The suicide of farmers, which in recent years has reached almost epidemic proportions in India, almost never takes place in underdeveloped, ill-governed states like Bihar, but in India’s most prosperous, economic-reforms-minded states. This is not an exception; 78 per cent of the world’s malnourished children come from countries that have food surpluses.’

In the second section of his essay, Nandy makes the distinction between poverty and destitution in order to understand how the faces of the urban and the rural are created. He claims that poverty is a category that is created by a certain dominant thought process that seems to think that all systems of livelihood that do not conform to the model of developmental economics are poor and hence, by implication, destitute. It is necessary to realize that there are many systems outside development where people might not have the parameters by which ‘good standards of living’ are measured. Nevertheless they have enough established modes of engagement to allow them to live above the poverty line and have the basic necessities in life. The development agenda is blind to such a possibility and uses this as a way of defining what is rural and what is urban. This definition helps it to concentrate efforts on the rural sectors to develop them, in effect destroying the local modes of production and exchange and creating destitution of a certain kind.

He looks back to the past in order to analyse the present and hint at how the idea of underdevelopment needs to be redefined in various third world nations. For Nandy, the logic of development does not result in any cure for poverty or destitution but only in making these categories invisible.

Development thus becomes an influential role player in the shaping of our notions of both the city and the village.

Activity 6


This is an excerpt from Ashis Nandy’s essay. Read it carefully and then answer the questions given after it to examine the excerpt.

For more than 50 years, one of the main activities of the development enterprise has been to assess, analyse and make prescriptions to meet the needs (basic or otherwise) of those considered ‘poor.’… Attention has been focused on countries’ deficiencies and needs; at the same time, the strengths, gifts and successful strategies of the ‘poor’ diminished in importance. …These semi-nomadic communities had tremendous but non-monetary wealth; indigenous knowledge cultivated over centuries of living in harmony with the land, a rich cultural heritage and highly-evolved adaptive strategies, which enabled them to cope with shocks and stresses to the systems that provided their livelihoods.

Such arguments immediately provoke accusations of romanticisation of the past. Almost invariably by those complicit in the new slave trade of our times—exporting living, contemporary communities and human beings to the past in the name of progress and rationality. I have been for some time speaking of a form of proletarianisation new to the modern world, but known to students of Hellenic democracies.

The proletariat in ancient Greece were those who existed but were not counted. In this century, we too have mastered the art of looking at large sections of humanity as obsolete and redundant. These sections seem to us to be anachronistically sleepwalking through our times, when they should be safely ensconced in the pages of history. Such communities certainly should not trouble us morally, we believe, by pretending to be a part of the contemporary world and relevant to human futures. It is as an important part of that belief that the idea of underdevelopment has redefined many communities as only collections of the poor and the oppressed. We talk of indigenous peoples, tribes or dalits as if they had no pasts, no myths, legends and no transmittable systems of knowledge; as if their grandparents never told them any stories nor their parents sang them any lullabies. We steal their pasts paradoxically to push them into the past. To speak on behalf of the poor and the oppressed has become a major ego defence against hearing their voices and taking into account their ideas about their own suffering.

1. Does Nandy have a clear sense where his utopia exists? Does his dystopian vision of cities and villages under development make clear what he is positing his dystopia against?

2. What is the notion of the urban and the rural that Nandy seems to carry with him while talking of development?

3. What is the relation between the past and the present that Nandy seems to be talking about when discussing the paradoxes of development and how it deals with the poor?

4. Would you agree that the model of economic development is a strong player in our understanding of the changing faces of the city and the country?

5. How do you think the new poor and the destitute are being made invisible by the way things are?

6. Nandy ends his essay with a facetious claim that if the things proceed the way they are, we will soon have eradicated poverty, but not the poor. He adds ‘that poverty is not the problem, our idea of prosperity is.’ Write a small paragraph on this view, keeping in mind Nandy’s arguments in his essay.





We have now looked at how the city and the village as spaces can be studied differently and variously. We have seen how representations of these spaces are crucial to our understanding of them. However, we have learnt not to take representations as neutral but as guided by political ideologies and commitments of several kinds. By looking at the City-Village binary in the grid of Utopia-Dystopia, we have seen how spaces can lead us to more complex and richer understandings of the things around us. We have also seen that spaces are contextual in their construction and hence need to be understood along with the socio-cultural milieu that surrounds them. More definitely we have seen how the definitions of spaces are guided by various social, cultural, political and economic parameters and that a simple understanding of ‘City-Village’ or ‘Urban-Rural’ can be misleading and that both categories need to be seen as embedded in our daily cultural practices. We can also see that these categories are historically formed and are changed continually to fit the dominant ideologies of the contemporary governing bodies.


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