Jyot Hosagrahar. Indigenous Modernities: Negotiating Architecture and Urbanism. New York: Routledge, 2005. xiii + 234 pp. Illustrations, notes, index. $43.95 (paper), ISBN 978-0-415-32376-5.
Reviewed by: Amita Sinha, Department of Landscape Architecture, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Published by: H-Urban (February, 2007) ... Copyright © 2007 by H-Net, all rights reserved. H-Net permits the redistribution and reprinting of this work for nonprofit, educational purposes
Sunday, January 20, 2008
One of the few books written on the urban history of South Asia, Indigenous Modernities is ambitious in its effort to demonstrate that the momentous changes in the social and physical environment of Delhi, taking place between 1857 and 1947, exemplified "indigenous modernities." Reviews Home
Hosagrahar sets out to read this cultural landscape in the window of time that ushered in modernity. In five chapters she traces the fragmentation of the domestic spaces of havelis (mansions); the withdrawal of the community from the public realm; the breakdown of traditional health and sanitary systems; privatization; and the commodification of community property. Modernization extracted a terrible price, combining as it did urban reform with profit-seeking motives. The stresses generated by these imposed social changes were enormous and had the potential to destroy the social fabric. That, however, did not happen. The colonized inhabitants proved resilient and appropriated modernity in ways they saw fit, ensuring their survival and furthering their lot in life. Delhi survived the departure of feudalism, the birth of nationalism, and the attainment of independence, all in less than a century. Hosagrahar's study illuminates the price the city paid and its ill-gotten gains in private and public spheres. In the aftermath of the Mutiny/First War of Independence (1857), havelis, residences of landowning gentry, suffered from neglect and were converted into warehouses and smaller residential units. These large houses had been the mainstay of neighborhoods, because the occupants supported artisans and their trades. At the same time, the rising entrepreneurial classes sought to live in hybrid versions of courtyard housing and European-style bungalows. Although the courtyards shrank and extended families fragmented, older lifestyles did not disappear entirely. Attempts to produce public spaces as a public good were contested vehemently, accustomed as the residents were to using available land for their own purposes. Enforcement of bylaws and other regulations met with considerable resistance since matters concerning property rights and territorial encroachments had previously been resolved within the community or arbitrated by the elders. New urban spaces generated by the building of institutions such as the town hall became the venues for nationalist demonstrations, so a kind of civic realm, independent of religious or royal associations, did emerge, even though it had a conflict-ridden genesis. New medical systems of knowledge and the practice of their technologies produced spaces and built forms--hospitals and dispensaries--that did not entirely displace the shops of hakims and vaids, practitioners of unani and ayurvedic systems of traditional medicine. Similarly municipal services including piped-water supply, sewage systems, and trash collection did not result in the banishment of sweepers. Hosagrahar draws upon municipal archives and her own interviews with Delhi residents to write an urban narrative that is handsomely illustrated with historic maps and photographs. The earlier chapters on havelis, streets, and geographies of health make for more interesting reading than the last two chapters on land development and new housing projects meant to create a "modern" citizen. I would have liked to know more about the influence of changing housing typology on gender roles, children's socialization, family structure, and social networks or why certain sections of the domestic sphere, such as the kitchen and bath, resisted change more than others and were transplanted into the bungalow. One also wishes that other types of public spaces, not just the street and square, were discussed. For example, what was the role of greenery in ameliorating the effects of urban congestion?