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Indian takeaway.


By Jyoti Hosagrahar. Abingdon: Routledge. 2005. [pounds sterling]24.99

This is a short but nonetheless intelligent, well-organised, and well-illustrated investigation into some of the aspects of conflict between the British-led municipal authorities and the rest of the population of the city of Delhi, from the Indian Mutiny until India's eventual independence.

It is an account of a great historic tragedy. British control began in earnest with the sack of the city and the razing or mutilation of its famed havelis, the urban mansions of its aristocrats and well-to-do. The new municipal authorities then tried for decades to introduce novelties from home, in particular the idea of property as a marketable commodity that stimulates the urban economy, and the enforcement of slum-clearance schemes and sewage and sanitary works.

Although they were aided in their quest for demographic information by street sweepers, who were able to make their way into every household, the British were eventually defeated by the force of local tradition; and this in turn was reinforced by the rapid growth of the population, and by the fact that most of the urban schemes underestimated the complexities of the local economy.

The conclusion is, therefore, that Western modernity arrived in the city at a superficial level only: a neat white building here and there, rather than a reorganisation of city life along the lines of Paris or London. And New Delhi, of course, was a foreign body that did little or nothing for the precious fabric of the ancient capital.

My English teacher used to say that one should erase the first and last paragraph of every essay before handing it in; and, substituting 'chapter' for 'paragraph', that's advice that Routledge authors really ought to take on board.

Although identifying with Delhi's natives in their struggles against the British, Hosagrahar does mainly steer clear of whingeing Saidian claptraps; but her jargon-strewn top and tail add nothing to the book. It's the usual stuff about 'paradoxical modernities', 'dominant discourses' and 'universal paradigms'. Surely a book's narrative should suffice to make its point, instead of relying on this self-indulgent twaddle? And why isn't the book simply called 'Urban Conflict in Delhi, 1857-1947', instead of the idiotic title chosen?
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Author:Brittain-Catlin, Timothy
Publication:The Architectural Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Oct 1, 2005
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