I have a certain discomfort with the realization that the literature on walking, whether in the form of narratives, fiction, histories, or manifestos, is overwhelming from a Western context. Moreover, this body of literature often conceptualizes walking as intrinsically subversive, desirable, special, and/or worthy of emulation. This discomfort has led me to seek out books on walking in non-Western contexts, especially South Asian. The idea behind this is not to uncover more ‘authentic’ modes of walking but rather to understand the situatedness of walking in particular kinds of places, people, and practices. It is instead to draw attention to and learn from ways of walking that don’t neatly fall into the categories most overrepresented in the literature on walking: flâneuring, loitering, leisure, an art form, an experiment. This listicle of six books, written in two parts, is a tiny fragment from my archive of books on walking in various Indian contexts.
Far from disappearing, pedlars have a pervasive presence in cities—around busy intersections such as traffic signals, metro stations, tourist spots, bus terminals, railway stations, religious places, public parks and monuments; within residential localities, neighbourhood markets and industrial areas; outside office complexes, educational institutions, hospitals, shopping centres and even malls and supermarkets. They ply an entire gamut of trades from knife-sharpening, shoe polishing, miracle cures and ear-cleaning to providing chai and snacks, as also a wide range of commodities. This essay is a response to the images captured by Gopal in his city Mumbai, from the location of my interest as an anthropologist in forms of walking in the city as well as the associational life of streets around the locus of economic activities.
The future in Delhi’s present
Different parts of the city hold different meanings for those who come to live in it. The footpath to a bus stop in East Delhi, the view of Purana Qila from a mudrika, the first ice cream at India Gate, a market, a park, a housing colony, a route or a stop accumulate to make the city for us, and in strange and invisible ways also make us. Yet, we continue to exist in ourselves and in cities in this constant play of the visible and ever-changing present, jousting constantly with our memories and our present navigating through a place.
‘So you want to know who Maya is?’ he breaks the awkward silence. Trying not to look frightened, she clears her throat and manages to mumble a ‘Yes’. ‘The problem with you youngsters is that you don’t know the stories that rule this city. Never mind … you’re probably the only one of these people dying to meet me who’s not interested in some quick-fix solution for health, prosperity or love. You may not be aware, but you’ve come searching for a story … and I’d love to tell it … it’s been such a long while since I've told a story. But I have a condition.’ ‘What?’ she asks. ‘You cannot interrupt my storytelling and you cannot ask any questions after I’m done.’
Homing and unhoming: taxonomies of living
‘Perhaps home is not a place but simply an irrevocable condition.’ —James Baldwin, Giovanni’s Room What is a home? Is it a feeling, a habit, a set of relationships or a combination of materials and floor plans? The idea of this essay was triggered three months back, when I was asked to shift from the… Continue reading Homing and unhoming: taxonomies of living
The hour from night to day. The hour from side to side. The hour for those past thirty. The hour swept clean to the crowing of cocks. The hour when earth betrays us. The hour when wind blows from extinguished stars. The hour of and-what-if-nothing-remains-after-us. The hollow hour. Blank, empty. The very pit of all… Continue reading Corona Diaries
If on a winter’s night, azadi…
They’re selling postcards of the hanging They’re painting the passports brown The beauty parlor is filled with sailors The circus is in town Here comes the blind commissioner They’ve got him in a trance One hand is tied to the tight-rope walker The other is in his pants And the riot squad, they’re restless They… Continue reading If on a winter’s night, azadi…
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
Letters from Karachi
ab toh yahaan ke mausam mujhse aisi umeedein rakhte hain jaise hamesha se main yahin hoon Gangaji aur Jamunaji Amrohe mein Baan nadi ke paas jo ladka rehta tha ab woh kahan hai? Main toh wahin hoon Gangaji aur Jamunaji [Now even the seasons here have such expectations of me as if I have always been here, Gangaji and… Continue reading Letters from Karachi
I want to ride my bicycle bicycle bicycle…
I was gifted a cycle last year by a ‘cyclist’ friend but have used it only a couple of times, sometimes in a large park a few kilometres away from my house and a few times to buy vegetables and groceries closer home. Even as I had been warned by friends—part of a tiny minority… Continue reading I want to ride my bicycle bicycle bicycle…
When a Dilliwali Rides a Cycle in Ahmedabad
As our blog evolves into a growing archive on writing the city, we are keen have people write for us on their very personal experiences of cities and unique ways of seeing cities. As an anthropologist interested in the realm of the quotidian, I am fascinated by stories of ordinary city dwellers, which is why… Continue reading When a Dilliwali Rides a Cycle in Ahmedabad
What she thinks when she thinks about walking
Since we’re not young, weeks have to do time for years of missing each other. Yet only this odd warp in time tells me we’re not young. Did I ever walk the morning streets at twenty, my limbs streaming with a purer joy? did I lean from any window over the city listening for the… Continue reading What she thinks when she thinks about walking