Influence of the English on urban patterns in India - Excerpt from lecture by Girish Karnad

On Sunday, I attended a lecture by renowed theatre and film personality Girish Karnad. He was speaking on the subject of 'Colonial Influences on Art forms of India' as a part of a programme organized in the memory of Master composer and musician Bhaskar Chandavarkar on Sunday 25 July 2010 in Pune.As an Architect-Planner, I was thrilled to hear Girish Karnad make references to the formation of cities in India by the British, which in turn was a major turning point for all visual and performing arts in India. He brought out the fact that before the three British cities namely, Bombay, Madras and Calcutta, were established, the Indian cities like Pune, Lucknow, Kolhapur and many others were more contiguous with its hinterlands. So while these urban pockets were primarily 'urban' in character, the lifestyles of people and economic wealth was closely linked and similar to those in the rural fringes and the hinterlands. When the three British cities were established, these were primarily established to develop an enclosed British area that was necessarily different and disconnected from the surrounding hinterlands. As these cities were soon populated by the Indians, the Indians had to take up British ways and lifestyles, at least in the public life, to be able to live and thrive. This further created a divide between the public life of Indian city dwellers and their Indian families living in the hinterlands. While Girish Karnad went on to speak how this affected the art forms, separating 'the British city college educated artists' from the traditional artisans who were the initial proponents of art forms in India, I was taken in by his references of cities, the direct and indirect impacts of the British on Indian social life, particularly in cities.I felt, that since that time when the three 'mother' cities were established by the British to keep away unwanted Indians, are we yet following the same models of urban development, keeping out and creating a divide between an 'urban Indian' and a 'rural Indian'? While the urban Indian is 'westernizing' in thought and lifestyles, the rural Indian is aspiring to becoming urban. In the quest towards 'westernization', just like we lost art forms and artisans during Colonialism, are we losing our inherent urban development principles, based on which cities like Pune had thrived before the British came?Girish Karnad also spoke about architecture as an art form and how traditional architects and builders were slowly edged out by the British educated Indian architects. He went on to say that once we had lost these traditional architecture and building technologies, Indians were and even today, are left grappling with a sense of identity loss in architecture. And this, he claims, has been further exacerbated by the fast growing divide between rural and urban India.In my opinion, taking the line of thought further, while Mumbai, Madras and Calcutta boast of Colonial precedence and as being 'The Cities' , Indian hinterlands are now pushing and demanding something different from Indian cities today than the conventional British-prescribed orderly spaces, planned roads for vehicles and western adapted lifestyles. They are bringing culture and religion on the roads and traditional bazaars are redefining themselves as hawking and vending markets on roads.What is resulting is that Cities are representing this collision of demands of the Indian westernized middle class and Indian migrants from the hinterlands, each one trying to seek an identity from the place they inhabit . In British India, the rural India was successfully kept out, while today the rural aspirants have no choice but to flock to the cities. In my opinion, India's struggle continues, first it was for Independence and now it is for Identity! And this is best evident in Indian Cities!


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