Spaces of Encounter Workshop, Jadavpur University: Day 1 Report

Envisioning the Indian City: Spaces of Encounter, UGC-UKIERI Project, University of Liverpool and Jadavpur University International Workshop

9-11 January 2014,  HL Roy Memorial Hall

Day 1: Thursday 9th January 2014

The inaugural international workshop for the ETIC project was opened on Thursday 9th January 2014 by Professor Ananda Lal (Coordinator, CAS programme) and Professor Prodosh Bhattacharya (Head of Department of English, Jadavpur University).  Professor Supriya Chaudhuri introduced the three day workshop, thanking Professor Nandini Das for leading the investigation into considering Indian cities in different ways. The Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Calcutta,  the British Library and the extended network of organisers from Jadavpur University and the University of Liverpool were thanked for their support.

The day opened with Professor Sukanta Chaudhuri (Jadavpur University/All Souls College, Oxford) presenting ‘Post-Independence Kolkata: Vision and Reality’. The paper addressed the urban development of Kolkata, drawing attention to the plans of the Calcutta Municipality Development Authority (CMD) and Calcutta Improvement Trust (CIT) throughout the twentieth century. The Burgess Model was cited as a model erroneously applied in the CMD development plan in 1996. The River Hooghly was discussed by Professor Chaudhuri as a barrier which flanked the business and residential zones of Calcutta, leading to the development of Calcutta along the Eastern bank, contesting the circular development proposed by Burgess.

The influx and patterns of migration from East Pakistan in 1946-1970 and 1981 were considered as an important factor in the endless melting-pot politics of the city. The impact of migration was said to have given a unique character to the metropolitan city. Movement into the previously dormant suburbs of Calcutta since the eighties has opened up the city and put pressure on infrastructure. The new technology hubs and global consumerism of the middle classes have made the Burgess model less relevant and compounded the complexity of Calcutta’s development, independent of vision or plan. Professor Chaudhuri urged that the radical expansion of the city be rethought and physical infrastructure be addressed.

The second session of the morning focused on Patrick Geddes’ work and the bazars of Calcutta. Dr Partho Datta (Zakir Husain Evening College, University of Delhi) spoke on Geddes’ ideas and the report made for the CIT in 1919 on the Barrabazar area, North Calcutta. His two-pronged methodology; diagnostic survey and conservative surgery was demonstrative of the notion of the city as a body in need of surgical remedy. Professor Datta detailed the Geddes’ recommendations for the area and the stakeholders he had to negotiate between. Following his conservative surgery approach, influenced by Darwinian thought, Geddes considered the minimum destruction for the maximum improvement through 46 small cuts into the web of streets that comprised the bazar area. The incisions were intended to create social spaces that would retain and preserve the lanes and create a ‘peaceful path to social reform’ as described by Ebenezer Howard.

Patrick Geddes, Conservative Surgery

Patrick Geddes, Conservative Surgery

Following a presentation by Shri Arunendu Bandyopadhyay (Designer and Engineer) on the close relationship between Geddes and Tagore, Sujaan Mukherjee (ETIC Project Fellow) introduced his research, ‘Ordering Bazars: Two Case Studies in Context’. Working on the New Market and Chhatu Babu-Latu Babu’s Market, the paper presented Mukherjee’s initial investigations into the colonial influence in the areas during the late eighteenth century. Predicated on the paranoia of sanitation, the bazar was understood as a space of sickness associated with lepers, vagrants and rogues. The methodology approached the areas from an archival and contemporary perspective. Mukherjee spoke of his intention to understand changes in consumer patterns in the area through site-specific interviews.

Following the opening sessions, participants were invited to lunch at Suparba, a Bamboo house designed by Dr. Madhumita Roy (Head of the Department of Architecture, Jadavpur University). The afternoon then opened with Dr Keya Dasgupta’s (formerly CSSS Calcutta) presentation on ‘Alternative Cartographies: Neighbourhoods, Identities and their Maps in Colonial Calcutta’. Speaking on the interests represented by mapping in colonial Calcutta, Dr Dasgupta introduced ‘vernacular endeavours’. The 1884 ‘Bengali Hand Map of Calcutta’ created by Romanauth Dass represented a departure from the English model. The directory, in the Bengali language, detailed roads and lanes along with the sites ascribed to doctors, lawyers and residences of affluent persons. Together with an imagined map of Calcutta from a 1920s children’s journal by Abanindranath Thakur and Sukumar Ray, the paper illustrated how maps could function as text to reveal counter representations of the city.

Professor Nilanjana Gupta and Dr Nandini Saha (School of Media, Communication and Culture, Jadavpur University) concluded with an account of their ongoing work, ‘Salt Lake City: Caught between two worlds’. The investigative project is producing research on the distinct living patterns in the district. Looking at the site from its planning in 1964 by the Yugoslavian Dobrivoje Toskovic the work is interested in the effectiveness of this manufactured ‘neighbourhood’. Professor Gupta provided images of the grid plan and the six types of road designed by the architect. The sociological ideology of the space was detailed and exemplified by the legal restrictions that prohibit the transferring of leaseholds. Dr Saha commented on the distinct role of newspapers in creating Benedict Anderson’s notion of an ‘imagined community’. The presentation generated much discussion amongst participants on the illegal and informal dynamic of the area. The disorderly potentials were said to have been realized in parts of Sector 5 inhabited by street sellers and unauthorized guest houses. The day closed with a screening of ‘Sthaaniya Sambaad/Spring in the Colony’ preceded by a video-interview with its director, Moinak Biswas.

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