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Tuesday, April 13, 2021

The City is Political

A conference in Delhi explored different facets and challenges of urban writing

Written by Paromita Chakrabarti |
Updated: March 16, 2018 12:16:17 am
Manoranjan Byapari (right) and his translator Sipra Mukherjee (Express Photo by Abhinav Saha) 

Who fixes the narrative of a city? Is it the multitudes it holds, those who have grown up in it or those who have come to call it home? Or, is the narrative preordained, fixed by lawmakers and politicians, even before one enters the conversation, even before one is fully aware of one’s rights as its inhabitant? Does that make writing about it and representing it an act of revolution? At City Scripts, an event that ran from March 9-11 at the Goethe-Institut/Max Mueller Bhavan, and was curated by the Bangalore-based Indian Institute for Human Settlements (IIHS), writers, journalists, architects, poets and artists came together to debate over how the city is represented in different forms of writing.

On day one, German illustrator and cartoonist Fabian Stoltz and writer Jaideep Unudurti conducted a workshop on representing the city in a graphic novel through their work-in-progress, The Cities Beneath, a recreation of the lives of Indian soldiers in the British Army during WWI, and how a secret labyrinth supposedly existed underneath Secunderabad, one of the largest military bases of the British Empire. These tunnels were said to be the last resort of the desperate deserters who wanted to escape a war that was not their own. The opening day also saw a series of readings by Akhil Katyal, Samina Mishra and others, in the Max Mueller Bhavan courtyard, followed by a lively conversation moderated by Gautam Bhan, activist and faculty member at IIHS, on what is every migrant’s nightmare in a new city — renting.

In a conversation with journalist Elizabeth Kuruvilla, Santhal writer Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar, whose short story collection, The Adivasi Will Not Dance, was banned in Jharkhand in August 2017 and has since been cleared, spoke of negotiating cultural identity through his experiences in the many cities in Jharkhand he has lived and worked in. Having grown up between Ghatshila and Jamshedpur in a privileged household, his posting in Pakur in 2012 as a medical officer at the government hospital would throw into sharp focus the inequalities in Santhal life that he would go on to document in his book. In a region where festival dates and languages change with topography, he spoke of how division within the community also impacted their fight for rights. “When intra-tribal marriages are not accepted, how can any other intra-tribal conversations take place?” he said.

Dalit writer Manoranjan Byapari, who was inspired by writer Mahasweta Devi to write, spoke of how the city has been a site of pain for the poor and for the refugees from a “lower caste” who came in to Bengal after Partition in the hope of finding a new life and, instead, found the humiliation and the suffering that is the especial lot of the disenfranchised.

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