Smell and the City I

In the Foreword to Alain Corbin’s The Foul and the Fragrant: French Social Imagination (1986),[1] Roy Porter writes that ‘Today’s history comes deodorized. Thanks to experts in art, architecture, and artifacts, our eyes have been opened to what the past looked like; and all who have immersed themselves in diaries, novels, and letters will have their… Continue reading Smell and the City I

Et tu, brutalism: of anxious rooms and modernist architecture

Grafting utopias The annual festival of Delhi’s oldest architecture school is called Utopia. When I ask the students why it is called so and if they know what it means, they look confused. One exclaims, ‘Utopia is what we will create... it’s the perfect place, the perfect city...’ So I ask them, ‘But does it… Continue reading Et tu, brutalism: of anxious rooms and modernist architecture

But does their form have an essence: on actually existing modernism

When photographing modernist buildings, I would move back and forward and sideways in an effort to frame them without the cars parked all around. I was trying to capture them a little removed from the city to which they now belong. I love modernist buildings for their defined edges and their utopian social ambition. But… Continue reading But does their form have an essence: on actually existing modernism

The city extended: Growing in and with Surat

‘A person does not end with the limits of his physical body or with the area to which his physical activity is immediately confined but embraces, rather, the totality of meaningful effects which emanates from him temporally and spatially. In the same way the city exists only in the totality of the effects which transcend… Continue reading The city extended: Growing in and with Surat

There’s something about the street

‘I? I walk alone; The midnight street Spins itself from under my feet; When my eyes shut These dreaming houses all snuff out; Through a whim of mine Over gables the moon's celestial onion Hangs high.’ —‘Soliloquy of the Solipsist’, Sylvia Plath, 1956 ‘I do not know which of us has written this page.’ —Jorge… Continue reading There’s something about the street

Red is not a colour

‘Color clings more, not necessarily to the object, but to territoriality...’ —Deleuze and Guattari[1] ‘sab qatl hoke tere muqabil se aaye hain, hum log surkh-ru hain ki manzil se aaye hain’ (After being ambushed, we have returned to you, Unabashed we have come back home) —Faiz Ahmed Faiz[2] Red is not a colour[3] but a… Continue reading Red is not a colour

Walking in circles

‘Part of what makes roads, trails, and paths so unique as built structures is that they cannot be perceived as a whole all at once by a sedentary onlooker. They unfold in time as one travels along them...’—Rebecca Solnit Streets come alive, bit by bit, step by step, as we trace our routes along them.… Continue reading Walking in circles

This City, Other Cities

This is the first piece commissioned by Chiragh Dilli, hopefully there will be more, to open up conversations with others who write on and engage with cities in intimate ways. I wanted Sailen to write this piece, even as he was unsure how it would fit into the framework of our blog, for various reasons.… Continue reading This City, Other Cities

Love in the time of the monumental

‘The black, pensive, dense/domes of the mausoleums/suddenly shot birds/into the unanimous blue.’ —‘In the Lodi Gardens’, Octavio Paz ‘Yeh kahan aa gaye hum, yunhi saath chalte chalte...’ —Silsila (1981) As an anthropologist of space, place and architecture, I have always wondered about the monument. Moving back to Delhi, the city of monuments, a cryptographic ensemble of… Continue reading Love in the time of the monumental

City on the move, in fragments

Paintings by Ritika Sharma from the series Journey in Chaos. ‘Out of the way It’s a busy day I’ve got things on my mind’—Us and Them, Pink Floyd Prologue A long serpentine queue at the metro security check. The baggage machine is ‘out of order’, a cardboard notice informs passengers. Bodies nudging, fidgeting, sighing, muttering.… Continue reading City on the move, in fragments

A topography of survival: mnemonics and the making of a street in Delhi

This piece was originally published in The Funambulist 12 (July–August 2017) Racialized Incarcerations as part of the ‘Political Walks’. ‘Never forget 1984.’ —Poster in Bhogal Chowk, Delhi, 2017 ‘Story telling reveals meaning without committing the error of defining it’ —Hannah Arendt, 1962 The idea behind this essay goes back to a conversation in a classroom… Continue reading A topography of survival: mnemonics and the making of a street in Delhi

Of my shahar and its stories, or how to love an ‘unloved’ city

‘When the Stranger says: “What is the meaning of this city? / Do you huddle close together because you love each other?” / What will you answer? “We all dwell together / To make money from each other”? or “This is a community”?’ — T.S. Eliot Recently, while travelling in a DTC bus in the… Continue reading Of my shahar and its stories, or how to love an ‘unloved’ city