Coming to the City


As a species, human beings are about 500,000 years old. As a cultural phenomenon, cities are about 4,000 years old. Which is why coming to the city is still not an easy thing. We haven’t had enough time, evolutionarily speaking, to cope with the city.

I am a city boy myself but I know what the poet Imtiaz Dharker feels like when she talks about how the city collides with her each morning. I understand why popular anthropologist Desmond Morris says that no enlightened zookeeper would house his animals in the manner we choose to live in cities.

And yet, for most middle class people who arrive in the city, it will only be intimidating. Like the young man in Cocoon (a translation of Bhalchandra Nemade’s Marathi novel Kosla), it will be a sense of personal inadequacy that worries us rather than an actual threat.

He is perfectly cocky until he sees the college.

Having been overawed by its appearance, my chest began to heave. I shall be nowhere in this place. Besides, great persons and politicians and literary writers, so many have been through this college. I mean to say its tradition is certainly very luminous. Here I can acquire all the gear required for the ship of life.

But as the queue slipped forward I began to feel increasingly disappointed. There were pretty, pretty girls in the queue too. Having seen their transparent clothes, etc, I began to feel scared. I thought – this clearly means that they have come here with better marks than me. My clothes are, after all, only the creations of Natu, our country tailor. Besides, already I have started to miss things about my home. (Translation by Sudhakar Marathe, Cocoon, Macmillan India, 1997)

But there are other encounters, which are more terrifying. These are hinted in Santosh Thorat’s observations of the tribals on the bus coming to Mumbai.

In putting this selection of articles and stories together, I have tried to present a range of registers as well as a range of attitudes. Dileep Cherian finds his assumptions about the city girl challenged and A Vennila finds that the city of Chennai has no place for her.

Actually, it might well be that the city has no place for any of us. It was not conceived with people in mind but as a result of commerce. The megacity will always attract us but it is designed to crush us, to flatten us out. In the process, it does break down barriers of caste and creed and religion but as events have proved over and over again, it has not done its work well enough.

© Copyright 2008 Jerry Pinto