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.