The prestige of a system

On 25 februari 2016, in water, by Zef Hemel

Read in ‘Capital. The Eruption of Delhi’ (2015) of Rana Dasgupta:

What is happening in Haryana, India, at this very moment, is quite alarming. You should read the last chapter of Dasgupta’s great book on Delhi. I’ll explain. The farmers in this Indian state are revolting, the riots of the Jat community are political and very dangerous indeed. Cause: extreme drought, thirst, hunger, like in Syria, where the farmers also were forced to leave the countryside and moved to Dasmascus and Aleppo. And you know what came out of that! So their actions are against the capital city, Delhi, their mighty neighbour. And maybe you know that Delhi is growing very fast. It has more than 20 million inhabitants and soon it will be the biggest city in the world. Due to the protests, at least 10 million people in Delhi suffer because the farmers in Haryana are sabotaging the canal that transports the water to the metropolis.  They want jobs and opportunities for studying at public universities, in short, they claim their rights. They are desperate. In the end they might migrate to the megacity. Dasgupta gives valuable background information.

Dasgupta writes about Anumpam Mishra who is one of the citizens of Delhi who transcends the general self-involvement and sees the planetary extension in the adjacent and particular. His walk with him through the city leads both men to the river. Anumpam tells him how the continuous and sophisticated water system of Delhi, built on a rich underground supply, evolved through the ages and how everything changed when the British came. The old philosophy was: if you take, you must put back. They stored the water and every monsoon they gave back. But the colonial power broke this 1.000 years of water knowledge. The British were only interested in the river. They even started damming the Yamuna river and ran pipelines into the city. They made people dependent on the system they introduced. Worse even, Delhi people no longer had to think about their water. Anumpam: “It is the prestige of a system that directs you to conserve it and honour it; if that prestige disappears people cease to care.” Of the seventeen rivers and 800 water bodies, hardly any are left. According to Anumpam it is a complete disaster. Add to that the boycott of the Haryani farmers and you understand the seriousness of what is happening. Delhi should revitalize its old system and prepare itself for new waves of poor migrants.

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A city to be made

On 11 januari 2016, in boeken, by Zef Hemel

Read in ‘Capital. The Eruption of Delhi’ (2014) of Rana Dasgupta:

Great portrait of Delhi, India, that I’m reading. The writer is Rana Dasgupta, originally from New York, but now living in the Indian capital. It’s his first nonfiction book, but sometimes I’m not sure. At least it’s a personal quest for the soul of a city. Dasgupta immediately loved Delhi, he writes, and after he arrived he met so many people, so by writing down all their stories he learned about the real life in the fast growing metropolitan region. At that very moment the vast country had gone through a decade of the changes resulting from the liberalisation of the economy after 1991. Then the urban fabric still looked the old. But one year later the tearing-down began. “I had fallen, by pure chance, into one of the great churns of the age and, without ever planning to do so, I stayed.”  So he writes about the removal of hundreds of thousands of homes of the poor, the building of shopping malls and apartment blocks, “this enormous transfer of wealth and resources from the city’s poorest to its richest citizens,” the destroying of so many businesses in the name of aesthetic order, the maximizing of floor area and sale prices, the coming of restaurants and bars, coffee shops even. It left him and many others with the feeling that what was happening here, would change the entire world.

Dasgupta resolved to start with the torrent of Delhi’s inner life, “and to seek there the rhythm, the history, the mesh, from which a city’s lineaments might emerge.” While most people around him were convinced the city is losing its soul, he started to think there was a city to be made. I could not stop reading. I’m still in the middle of it. Modern Delhi, Dasgupta writes, was born out of the catastrophe of india’s partition. The city is the pioneer of India’s private townships. Gurgaon is the largest such township in Asia, and has imitators now all over the country. On the rush of Indian business process outsourcing to the enormous brushland zone of high-tech real estate in this new suburb of Gurgaon, close to the airport in the neighboring state of Haryana, triggered by the coming of General Electric in 1996, he discovered a new Delhi.  And then all those young Indians coming to the capital, working hard, earning money, possessed with great energy and talent, taking over the old city of bureaucrats, turning it into twenty-first century India’s cultural centre. The new generation looks up to them with respect and adoration. It’s a revolution. When did I visit Delhi the last time? That was 1988. I should go back and see it. But first read the whole book. 

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