4 Feb 2008

Cities of Outsiders

Raj Thackeray has kicked off the age old debate on who is an outsider in a city. The argument goes something like this - Our city used to be so good, now it is overcrowded and there is no space. It is these outsiders who have brought it to this state. They need to leave our city.

In this case the ire was directed at the Chatt Puja that is celebrated by Biharis. Raj Thackeray has called the puja a drama drawing a response from political leaders from Bihar. Yesterday, supporters of Raj Thackeray went on a rampage attacking among other things a cinema hall showing a Bhojpuri film.

Who is an outsider? And who is the original resident of any place? Delhi's population doubled overnight after the Partition after most of the refugees decided to settle in this town that was never fully developed by the British. In fact the construction of the New Capital finished only in 1931.

My parents came to the city in 1970 while most of my friends have migrated from places elsewhere in the 80's or 90's. So who among all these is the original dilliwalah? Is it the families who owned large tracts of land that were converted into colonies in the 60s and 70s? But they recognise only the village they live in - Chirag Dilli,for example - and do not talk about Delhi.

Ranjana Sengupta has argued in her book about Delhi that colonies that originally housed different communities Kalkaji & Rajinder Nagar (Refugees from Pakistan, mostly Punjabis), Chittaranjan Park (Bengalis) and Karol Bagh (Tamilians and Malayalees) have become more homogenised over the years. This may have happened more as a process of buying their own house (therefore moving to a new locality) or moving closer to work.

In that sense has Delhi become cosmopolitan? I do not think for once that cultural or religious aspect have become homogenized. There are larger and larger Mata ka Jagarans and Durga Puja Pandals but it may also be true that people from other communities might be joining them. But there is still a tendency to fall back to our regional cultural symbols whenever we feel insecure. Or attack something in another person's culture that we do not understand.

Having grown up with hardly any Malayalee friends, I rarely feel the need to go back to my "roots" since Karol Bagh will be large part of my roots. Kerala is where my parents come from and I love the place but I am not sure whether it is my "home town". And what about my language? Malayalam, English or Hindi? I am confused.

A city can only be cosmopolitan when it confidently absorbs other cultures and its residents do not identify completely with any one of them. Somewhat like children whose parents had a traveling job and ended up absorbing many cultures. I guess to become cosmopolitan one has to travel well. That is the contradiction. Most of us in the cities do not travel much and even when we do, it is in a touristy kind of a way. When we are forced to live with other cultures that is when we appreciate them.

My folks did that that four decades ago and I am continuing that tradition. Enjoying kababs and chole bhature in winter !

Also: Gautam attacks the root of the problem...

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Came to Kerala (after 36 years in Delhi)searching for roots....only to realise that over the years I had grown roots in Delhi.....