ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Cracking the Urban Code of Delhi and Gurgaon

Entangled Urbanism: Slum, Gated Community, and Shopping Mall in Delhi and Gurgaon by Sanjay Srivastava; New Delhi: OUP, 2015; pp 368, 855. 

Book covers are often chosen at the last moment, and sit oddly on the book, like an unnecessary add-on. The cover of Entangled Urbanism engages the reader even before opening the work. It shows electric cables spun between the orderly façade of a fortress-like high-rise apartment building and what looks like a pyramid of match boxes, piled upon each other, ready to collapse any minute. The cables hang loose and in bundles, like yarns of wool fallen on the ground and hastily picked up and stuck back on the knitting needle, the electric pole. Two forms of housing and urban experiences, divided, and yet entangled parallel worlds.

The sketch is an ideal emblem of the 11 chapters assorted in three parts, as all of them, with different foci, speak of the complex embraided worlds of high-speed urbanisation in the National Capital Region, India’s largest metropolitan assemblage. Each chapter is a microcosm of carefully, and sometimes humorously observed and analysed excursus. There is no hierarchisation nor dichotomisation of urban spaces, as Srivastava unfolds his map of excursions, clearly resisting the seductive temptation to classify the city’s dynamics according to binary oppositions such as “developed” and “backward,” “modern” or “traditional,” “global” and “local,” “Indian” and “foreign.” By doing so, he follows a challenging approach of urban studies scholars like Jennifer Robinson (2006) or Ananya Roy (2011) who critique the common view of the “megacity” or “global city” of the global South as apocalyptic and hopeless, demanding different perspectives from the periphery, from the ground of everyday life. Taking the city as a contact zone for globally circulating notions of progress, world class, but also phenomena such as gated communities and shopping malls, the book raises questions that affect not only the citizens of Delhi but other urban dwellers. It pushes a “planetary urbanism” (Brenner and Schmid 2015) that questions methodological nationalism without rendering national identity and the nation state impotent, questioning clear-cut boundaries between the urban and the rural, the here and elsewhere. This does not mean that by transgressing these boundaries, all becomes blurred and one. But the book follows a critical revision of concepts. This makes the book relevant for any scholar interested in the cultural and social life of non-Western cities.

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