Transplanting the Urban Aesthetic in a Resettlement Colony in Delhi


http://bawanais.blogspot.com/

Abstract:

Bio: Kaushiki Rao has a MA in Social Science, with a focus on Anthropology and Political Theory, from the University of Chicago. She writes on issues of social justice, policy and governance. She currently works at Pratham — an NGO that works in the area of primary education – and lives in New Delhi.

email: kaushiki.rao @ gmail.com
blog: Bawana Is

Colonies where people are resettled from the center of an urban space to the margins of a city seem to import a variety of physical and social spaces from urban centers. My project will explore how, aesthetically, a space comes to be defined as urban rather than sub-urban or rural?

My work will be based largely in Bawana, an urban resettlement colony in west Delhi. This colony is located at the edge of NCR, in what can be called the middle-of-nowhere. Although good roads lead to the colony, it takes about 40 minutes to drive there from Rohini. All around is fallow land, seemingly put to no use, seemingly owned by no private individual or company. Yet, Bawana has narrow streets, and small houses constructed along narrow gullies. It is extremely commercial and has many dhabas and shops set up close to each other. Its flavour is reminiscent of the urban pockets of Bhagwan Nagar and Trilokpuri in eastern Delhi. Most buildings look like they’ve been built to go higher rather than wider, even though it seems like there is enough space for them to sprawl. And unlike the village, of which its pastoral setting reminds you, Bawana comes alive at night. Even Bawana village, closer to the city though it is, does not remind you as much of the city as does Bawana colony. Through my project, I will explore how and which urban traits are retained in resettlement colonies. I want to learn what hybrids are formed between an urban center and an urban periphery. I will explore the constraints that determine these hybrids. Most people carry with them an idea of what an inhabitable place should be like; in urban resettlement colonies, this idea is very often similar to an idea of what a city is. It loosely imitates what a city looks, feels and smells like. It is on this similarity that I want to focus.

1/14/06

Hi all,
Here’s my input for the month: just a brief description of my project. I’ve been trained in anthropology and political science, and although much of my interest lies in governance, policy and social justice, a chance visit to Bawana, an urban resettlement colony in west Delhi sparked my interest in the aesthetic of such colonies. Through looking at resettlement colonies, I will explore how, aesthetically, a space can come to be defined as urban rather than sub-urban or rural. Bawana is located at the edge of NCR, in what can be called the middle-of-nowhere. Although good roads lead to the colony, it takes about 40 minutes to drive there from Rohini. All around is fallow land, seemingly put to no use, seemingly owned by no private individual or company. Yet, Bawana has narrow streets, and small houses constructed along narrow gullies. It is extremely commercial and has many dhabas and shops set up close to each other. Its flavour is reminiscent of the urban pockets of Bhagwan Nagar and Trilokpuri in eastern Delhi. Most buildings look like they’ve been built to go higher rather than wider, even though it seems like there is enough space for them to sprawl. And unlike the village, of which its pastoral setting reminds you, Bawana comes alive at night. Even Bawana village, closer to the city though it is, does not remind you as much of the city as does Bawana colony.

Colonies where people are resettled from the center of an urban space to the margins of a city seem to import a variety of physical and social spaces from urban centers. I will explore how and which urban traits are retained. I want to learn what hybrids – between an urban center and an urban periphery – are formed. I will explore the constraints that determine these hybrids. Most people carry with them an idea of what an inhabitable place should be like; in urban resettlement colonies, this idea is very often similar to an idea of what a city is. It loosely imitates what a city looks, feels and smells like. It is on this imitation that I want to focus.

There are several resettlement colonies I’d like to compare with Bawana. These are: an older colony named Dindoshi in Mumbai, the resettlement of several jhuggis in Jaipur, and tsunami-relief resettlement colony in Pondicherry. If anyone knows of other colonies that might be interesting, please let me know!

Kaushiki

2/23/06

I’m really sorry to be so late with my posting. I’ve been trying to set up a blog and scan pictures for a while now, and have only just figured out how. (My blog is more horribly pink than I planned and the pictures are kind of mini-sized. Still.)

a FEW observations:

Getting to know Bawana has been really fun. Every time I drive in I get a little jolted. I cannot get over the sudden transformation from wide, empty, open spaces to congested, narrow gullies and three storey buildings. Although it is physically quite small – maybe about 3 km sq. – it contains a great deal. Eight thousand families live here! Besides that, there are electronic stores, tailoring shops, dhabas, schools, and cinema shacks.

Look on the blog I just set up ( www.bawanais.blogspot.com ). It has
pictures of 1 ½ year old Bawana taken from the terrace of a building. Compare it with the pictures of the 20 year old Sarvapriya Vihar colony, also taken from an elevated angle. They’re shockingly similar.

Just today I was in Kondli, in East Delhi. This place used to be a village around which the city has grown. Walk away from the main road, and it still feels not quite part of a city. Each house is surrounded by a relatively large plot of land, buffaloes walk the streets munching their lunch, and it’s truly quiet. It’s hard to believe that this place is only 10 minutes from the very busy, very urban Laxminagar.

Getting to know people in Bawana has been interesting too. Many people in their early 20s are free during the day, and talking to them has been great. Many have discontinued college because it is so far away and they cannot get to it in time for class. Instead, they’ve set up several youth organizations – Yuva Kendra Munch, and a theatre group for example – and they use these as a means to spread what they term “social awareness” about cleanliness, AIDS and other issues they consider important.

Beauty and Sanju, two such youth, were telling me that because the government did not distinguish between castes or between ethnic backgrounds while distributing plots, people of different castes and ethnicities now live next to each other. Where in the Yamuna Pushta there used to a be a Bengali block, a Punjabi block, a Rajasthani block, a Jat block and even a Madarasi block, here in Bawana everyone lives all mixed up. When I asked if they or anyone else they know find that strange, they said that it was a bit disconcerting at first – different cooking smells, different foods, different languages, different ideas of neighbourliness. People didn’t know how much to trust each other anymore. But now, they say, people enjoy it.

Neighbours exchange recipes and languages. Planned urban design is the base from which people seem to rebuild their lives. The size of a plot, where it is located, how permanently it belongs to the resettled resident – these all form a part of the base from which people settle into a space. So, over the next month or so, I plan to research Delhi’s resettlement and urban planning policies.

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