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Pierre Lachaier (École Française d’Extrême-Orient) has undertaken a translation of a rare Gujarati study of Ahmadabad by Ashok Patel. Written at the turn of the 20th-21st century by the social anthropology student the thesis remains unpublished.

Taking the form of a research essay, the work is organised into seven chapters. Patel historically places the walled city of Ahmadabad before describing the social and collective life of the society including professional activities and festivals. Patel analyses this data to comprehend the changes that have occurred over the last thirty years and cite potential motives. Patel’s work concludes with a discussion of the research obstacles and future lines of enquiry.

Plan du Moti Hamam Pol, Extrait du cadastre: Survey Sheet no.35, 1910

Lachaier draws attention to the complexities involved in the translation due to the social denominations of the place which do not conceptually match accepted sociological terms. For example, the Gujarati term ‘pol’ is not an urban village or neighbourhood but is a well closed site principally inhabited by members of a defined caste.

The translation highlights the importance that must be accorded to the work of Ashok Patel and the rare information he documents. The research provides insight into a highly original city of meandering streets, grand walls and small doors.

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Friday 13th September 2013

The ETIC research group at University of Liverpool was thrilled to be a part of Centre for Port and Maritime History Annual Conference on ‘The “Otherness” of Port Cities’. Held at Blackburne House, a former shipowner’s mansion, the group comprising Dr Ian Magedera, Professor Nandini Das, Dr Iain Jackson and Cleo Roberts, held a roundtable discussion from 10.45am-12.15pm. The focus of the roundtable was ‘Envisioning the Indian Port City as a Space for Colonial Encounter’. The session showcased the cities of Goa, Pondicherry and Kolkata.

Hosted by the Centre for Port and Maritime History, the day commenced with a welcome address from Professor Andrew Popp. The Thursday 12th September had been a fruitful day with an array of papers given by Paul van de Laar, Sheryllynne Haggerty and Derek Janes amongst others. The presentations had created interesting exchanges, which were to be continued throughout day two.

Dr Kirsty Hooper (University of Warwick) opened with her paper, ‘Otherness on Display: Traces of Hispanic Presence in Liverpool’s Museums’. The work analysed the Global City gallery in the Museum of Liverpool and its role in presentations of otherness. Framed by the notion of ‘global’, Hooper explored the artefacts as having a duplicity of locations: coded as being both Hispanic and global. The paper scrutinised the role of the museum and curatorial prerogative. Dr Hooper questioned how the different stakeholders involved, such as Barclay’s Wealth, affect curatorial agency? Which objects get privileged and how do these weave a narrative of imperialism? The paper concluded that the Museum articulated a binary conception of the Hispanic presence in Liverpool, providing no space for the entangled histories to become apparent.

Dr Guadalupe Garcia, (Tulane University) presented on the port city of Havana, ‘Havana in the Early Spanish Empire’. Her paper discussed the changing nature of walls in the city and their relationship to the production of urban space. Given the porous nature of ports rendering them pervious to colonial attack, Dr Garcia spoke of walls as structures of fear. Built to fortify the city against the dangers of the port, the presence of these physical boundaries was symbolic of anxiety in the pre-colonial era. Their subsequent decimation by the Spanish in 1863 was read as a metaphor for the colonial project.

Dr John Schofield (University of York) detailed his research on Strait Street (‘The Gut’) in Malta. His photographs and collected stories from the site intended to showcase the rich heritage of this isolated street that remains omitted from tourist maps and literature. The discomfort associated with its past excesses has created a dead space without flow, a stasis of peeling paint and faded signage. Dr Schofield spoke of his recent publication and the desire to excavate the memories and rejuvenate the headiness and exuberant past life.

A buoyant Q&A followed. Questions of responsible curation and preservation were amongst the topics discussed. The critique of display by museums moved into discussions about their purpose. Attention was drawn to pragmatic considerations involved in presenting objects and interpretations for a diverse demographic.

The ETIC roundtable was met with considerable enthusiasm and interest. Professor Popp introduced the project and expressed thanks for being included in the inaugural Liverpool reading group.  Dr Ian Magedera (University of Liverpool) introduced the speakers and spoke of the joint nature of the work with Jadavpur University across the four cities.

Professor Nandini Das (University of Liverpool) presented her research on Portuguese Goa in the late 16th and early 17th centuries. She introduced her work by speaking of the arrival and subsequent arresting of a group of Englishmen in Goa in 1583. Their bail by Padre Estavam and Jan van Linschoten allowed for the start of formal contact between England and India. This research demonstrated the transitional nature of loyalties in these fluid port cities making them a unique urban space and site of great interest for the ETIC project.

Plan de Goa, Jacques-Nicolas Bellin c.1750

Through a series of projected slides, Professor Das introduced a number of images charting the fortification of Goa’s identity as Portuguese. The visual representations of Goa and administrative policies aligned the city with Portuguese counterparts such as Lisbon and Malacca. She emphasised that her research was making evident the memories of elsewhere that become embedded in the port-city. Reading an extract from Italo Calvino’s ‘Invisible Cities’ (1972), she concluded that tracking networks of memories combined with flows of global traffic might provide an entry point to the ‘otherness’ of the port city.

Dr Iain Jackson (University of Liverpool) presented his work on ‘Calcutta: The growth of an Indian Port City as depicted by British visitors from 18th-20th century’. Using the collections of the British Library and British Museum, Dr Jackson demonstrated a particular envisioning of the port city. Presenting a slideshow, he spoke about UK perceptions of Calcutta mitigated through engravings, lithograph and photography.

Engraving by James Moffat, 1789

Dr Jackson drew attention to the dismissal of the ports, river and docks in early visual sources hypothesising these would have been deemed too vulgar and commonplace for the imagined city the East India Company wished to export. He spoke of the gradual emergence of the river in paintings and etchings towards the end of the 18th century. Introducing engravings by James Moffat,  he commented on the stylisation of the river as a sleepy backwater lapping at the banks of mansions and palaces.

Coloured Lithograph, Charles D'Oyly, 1848

The lack of local presence in these images prior to 1840 was notable. Dr Jackson went on to show a painting by Charles D’Oyly (1848) depicting the Hooghly river as an activated space. He commented on the customs house replacing the Fort as the principle threshold and the flows of people and goods represented below the overexpansive skies. Other renderings of the time enforce the conception of the city growing out of the river. Dr Jackson concluded with a series of future research themes including cultural and artisitic timelags in the city’s representation and exploring the different genres of image making.

Dr Ian Magedera spoke on ‘’Portless’ Pondicherry 1899, a Contrarian Approach to the Port City in India’. Excerpts from Pierre Loti’s, ‘L’Inde (sans les Anglais)’ (1899-1901) were utilised to discuss the city’s isolation due to the absence of a port. Dr Magedera commented on Loti’s characteristation of the city as, ‘An old little town which lasts on account of tradition’.  The discussion of the rich text focused on the contrasts built between the French colony and British India. Loti’s representation was said to situate Pondicherry as a slow, antiquated city; a chasm of melancholic nostalgia against the fast optimism of British India. The absence of sailing ships juxtaposed the statuesque steamships in the Calcutta Dock images from Dr Jackson. Dr Magedera spoke of the extended metaphor of ships to describe the columns of the Statue de Dupleix and the city overall as an old sailing ship. He discerned that this sense of slowness remains citing the current Tourist Office slogan, ‘Pondicherry. Give time a break’.

Pierre Loti, L'Inde (sans les Anglais), Paris: Calmann-Levy, 1903

Cleo Roberts concluded with her work on ‘Waterscapes and Urbanism: visual representations of blue gold in Indian cities’. Approaching the city from the perspective of the water she spoke about the power relations that texture and are textured by this body as discussed by Professor Erik Swyngedouw (2004). Showcasing her initial research, Roberts used three images featuring waterscapes created by European males to discuss the recording of the port city of Calcutta.

Sallis's Dioramic Game of the Overland Route to India, 1852-1863

The array of images were said to be revealing of a cultural attitude. Presenting an extract and photograph from Eric Newby’s ‘Slowly Down the Ganges’ (1966) against an image and instruction text from William Sallis’s Dioramic Game of the Overland Route to India (1852-1863), Roberts commented on the continuity of representation of Calcutta through the flows of water. The apotheosis of the East India Company in the painting, ‘The East offering its riches to Britannia’ (1778), was of interest for the lack of geographical marker. Roberts spoke about the duplicity of water flowing from the urn of Father Thames and sitting thickly between the figures.

The East Offering it Riches to Britannia, Spiridione Roma, 1778

Following the presentation there was interest in the subject of flows of information between the Indian and Liverpool research teams. It was noted that over the course of the conference there had been little emphasis placed on port cities from the perspective of water. The audience were keen to hear about the progress of the project and the collaboration across the network.

Housing in Chandigarh

 Nostalgia – (coined in 1668 by Johannes Hefer), from Greek algos, “pain, grief, distress + nostos, homecoming

Part I

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Photo 1. The Red Brick House, Sector 9. 

  Let me welcome you to gaze/or intrusively look into a house in Sector 9, one of the first original sectors of Chandigarh’s master plan. Its design consists of stark horizontal lines, flat, single story roof, the entrance protected from the sun by a white cover.  The red paint or brick is marked by black water dribble marks at the end. Two small windows are visible and a narrow entrance door seems hidden in the shadows.  The gate sags at the hinges.  The low red brick wall exposes the house to the gaze of passers by like me on the road.  Typically, a few distinct shrubs frame the driveway, while we can also catch a shadow of a small palm tree.   Unpretentious, simple lines, a bare bones aesthetic concept of a house with windows and a door, this is the spirit of the early decades of Chandigarh.   The house could be dated to the 1970s, possibly a bit earlier, not likely after the early1980s, which marked a watershed in the emergence of ‘new money’ in the city.

Sector 9 has been the home of our extended family since the mid 1960s when my grandparents built a similar 1-story, utilitarian house, as we anecdotally hear, depending more on the contractors, who had the house built than on an architect with a distinct aesthetic vision.  The house, on which a second unit was added in the 1970s, included a room created out of a front porch and an extra room added on the ground floor.  Some of these additions were made by my parents for their family in the mid 1970s.  The house is still drafty and cold in winter, with pinched, narrow windows that make it somewhat stifling in summer.  At some point it will be demolished and sold, as part of the family will.  In its place will arise a new, grandiose structure, since Sector 9 is one of the most affluent areas.

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Photo 2. Family Home, Sector 9 Front garden

What is stunning however in our somewhat faded family house, and typical of all of the Chandigarh aesthetic, especially in the old, original sectors, is the garden in any season, with profusions of potted flowers, a small vegetable garden, with bougainvillea on the ledges, though the fruit trees, lychees, lemons, mangoes seem to have had their day.  See photo 2 of front lawn of the house.  Other houses in sector 9 of the same vintage (roughly) depict a similar aesthetic, straight lines, some second story rooms, an open terrace upstairs (called kotha) where through the 1970s families may have slept out doors in an era when air conditioning was not commonplace. See photo 3.

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Photo 3. Another house -probably 1970s (sector-9)

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Photo 4. Same vintage, with the 2nd floor probably an add-on

Aesthetic effects, or refreshing vistas were found in the greenery, shrubs, trees, and flowers that graced the whole sector 9. A common practice that persists even today is to plant flowers or greenery outside the boundary wall of your house. See photos 5 and 6.  Petunias, sweet peas straggling along the wall and a bougainvillea drooping from the other side.  Another feature that continues as a part of the original plan is a green space between inner streets. Here is a lovely long space with a bench close to our family home (photo 5). Sometimes kids play cricket here or people sit on benches. In the pre-television era (or shall I say pre-cable era till the mid 1980s) one saw more kids out doors; all of India draws kids to TV and other electronic screens now.

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Photo 5. A lovely green space, mini park inside a square –all in sector 9. Facing another house 1970s
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Photo 6 A classic Chandigarh garden aesthetic,especially in the older sectors, some floral landscaping outside the house wall (all homes have clearly demarcated walls) here petunias, sweet peas, with bougainvillea flowing over the hedge

Why am I praising these somewhat non-descript functional houses that dot Sector 9?  Starkly simple, utilitarian, undecorated homes dominated this sector until the mid 1980s at least.   Is it because these old houses and the childhood world I recall, evokes in me a nostalgia, even somewhat forced, not for some idyll, but for the stark simplicity of Chandigarh life in the original sectors.   Nostalgia implies a combined feeling of homecoming and loss and perhaps that is what Sector 9 stirs in me, especially as given the trend, the older vintage (1970s and before) of homes will be gone completely in a few years.  As prices are determined by the location of the land, older homes are inevitably demolished as new owners take them over.  However, ironically many of the new elaborately decorated and stylized houses commodify a nostalgia for cultural images of the past, often opulent, randomly evoked from coats of arms or haveli style balconies.  A vivid example of one such house in Chandigarh Sector 9 is the “House of Lions” or as all the Punjabi denizens call it, “Sheran Wala Ghar.”

II

The House of Lions

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Photo 7. The House of Lions: New Housing in Chandigarh

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Photo 8. The House of Lions: New Housing in Chandigarh

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Photo 9. The House of Lions, boundary wall.

This house is difficult to miss (see photos)!  It has an ornate black gate with a golden coat of arms emblem on each gate, the color palette is black on the gate and boundary wall, and a nice cornflower yellow colours the walls of the house.   On the gateposts two concrete statues of Lions strike a bold note. The name of the owner is followed by the word, “Niwas,” which means habitation and evokes a class-inflected dignity. It is not simply a house, “ghar.”  The house itself behind the self-aggrandizing gate certainly has a kind of elegance, one rounded balcony reminiscent of similar facades old “havelis” and nice symmetry of rounded arches, one in mottled black marble, and matching angular roofs, a range of varied lines, angles,  textures, and materials that make up this house.  If you walk around, small concrete peacocks are perched on the side walls.  Overall though, the house is not garish or overwrought like many other “Punjabi Baroque” styles in the newly moneyed sections of Chandigarh.  However, one can’t help think of the usage of self-minted family “arms” on the gate as a kind of commodified nostalgia for some aristocratic antecedents.

On asking around among other old families of the neighborhood (all the old families of sector 9 know each other) no one seems to know the owners of the Lion House, though from the last name they could assume some Punjabi landowning family, and otherwise possibly NRI money made in Canada or UK.  (Wealthy Punjabi immigrants from these two countries have come back home all over Punjab and invested in fancy homes).  That sense of anonymity or mystery seems to be typical of most of the homeowners of the houses built in the past two decades; some of them seem to be absentee denizens of Sector 9.  See other Punjabi baroque houses photos 10-11 similar circular balconies (“jharoka style of the old havelis) shut high gates, palm trees, and decorative trim, evoking some kind of emblem or arms.

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Photo 10. Recent Balcony evokes “Jharoka” from India Haveli style 

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Photo 11. Recent housing — another Balcony, Gold trim, “Punjabi Baroque”

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Photo 12. Housing in Chandigarh from 1990s

One house (photo 12) of more recent years is quite striking, red brick, straight lines, reminiscent of the Corbusier aesthetic, with a modernist brick motif (in the style of the Chandigarh logo of the hand).  What is also noticeable in this photo are the number of expensive looking cars parked in the drive-way.  It is also a signal of new money, but with some restrained individualistic taste.

Cars proliferate in Sector 9 in all the houses, it seems, but what seems to distinguish the old and new are the high gates, walls, and sense of closed-in space, surrounded by high trees, and often security guards (excluded in the photos).  So what may seem like signs of affluence and progress that are breathing new vitality into Sector 9 –and into the whole of Chandigarh with its growth into the Tri-City, new hotels, restaurants, a big shopping Malls, colleges, etc. also mark the end of a culture prior to consumerist-driven lifestyles of today. The world of the 1970s through the 1980s was caught up in India’s controlled, earlier pseudo-socialist economy, where a dependence on State funding was central to our lives.  So in that era Chandigarh was a city of civil servants, educators, a few businesses, restricted access to consumer goods, even for the wealthy, and few “choices” in consumption of any kind.  Bicycles proliferated as even the upper class kids biked everywhere.   Few restaurant options were available, but there was a decent public library in Sector 9, with a wonderful Children’s section.  The Rose Garden was the big attraction for city dwellers, and blooming gardens in the leisure valley and the University Campus were topics of conversation. The three movie theatres offered crude comforts, very weak air-conditioning if any, sometimes damaged film stock, inexpert screenings, and a selection of latest and re-run Bombay films (as they were called then). On weekends, we went to see the Hollywood offerings, often few years old.

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Photo 13. Masterplan of Chandigarh is cast into the manhole covers

Somehow despite familiar critiques of the Corbusier plan’s divisions into class-based sectors and on the bureaucratic atmosphere of the Chandigarh, what I remember are the associations between a stark, pragmatic architectural style, both of the Corbusier master plan and of the red house with a sagging gate in Sector 9.   (See photo of the Corbusier Master plan cast onto the manhole covers in photo 13.) We never felt the “presence” of money until houses like the one with Lions appeared!  Our consciousness as citizens and subjects of India was somewhat nationalistic but cynical about a government that did not seem to be moving India progressively ahead. However, what I value most of my years in Chandigarh is remembering a city of clean lines, gardens, trees, outdoor life on bicycles and walks, or motorbike rides, and little aspiration that endless wealth and consumer goods would make lives happier…

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Photo 14. A Lovely Lady of Sector 9 with her garden as a backdrop in one of the older houses — “the trees are now quite a jungle” she observes

Professor Jyotsna G. Singh, Department of English
Michigan State University

jsingh@msu.edu