Category: Comment

Desire Named Urbanisation

Why is urbanisation so desired by so many people in India? How is this desire made, translated and why does it take the form it does? Such big questions of course have complex answers. One of the aspects that we know little about is the role played by the news media.
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With this in mind it was with great pleasure that I spoke with Sahana Udupa for New Books in South Asian Studies a few days back about her amazing new book Making News in Global India: Media, Publics, Politics. A bi-lingual journalist turned anthropologist, she trained her ethnographic eye on the private news cultures of Bangalore, exploring, among other things, the ways a certain type of urban aspiration has come to characterise some news outlets and how they have come to shape urban transformation.

There’s much more to the book than questions of desire, and you can listen to the whole interview here and here:

The book was also a real inspiration for a new project I’ve been working on with Swetha Rao Dhananka – whom I met at the Indian Institute of Human Settlements – and who does fascinating work on both Bangalore’s slums and its peri-urban development.

Brochure

Our research project – Urbanisation Advertised – analyses how the urban future is made (grand sounding, I know!). Using Karnataka’s 2016 Global Investors Meet as our point of departure, we’re looking into how advertising Karnataka for development places this particularly ‘business friendly’ state on an increasingly narrow yet endlessly promise-laden urban trajectory. Aside from participant observation at the investors meet (which was a lot of fun as most people thought of me as an investor) we’re undertaking a content analysis of promotional material and legal and policy documents. We hope we’ll be able to uncover the role advertising plays in facilitating the type of speculative urbanisation which India and other countries are currently experiencing.

where to invest
(As an anthropologist) I’m drawn towards thinking about the material produced for Global Investors Meets as cultural artifacts — about what sort of messages they convey about cultures of desire, aspiration and urbanisation. We’re not quite sure where we’ll end up with all this material, but there’s certainly still a lot more we all need to understand about how the news media, promotional materials and other images and materials shape India’s urban transformation!

What’s in a name? Mangalore, Mangaluru, Kudla…

Juliet may have said to her lover Romeo,

What’s in a name? that which we call a rose/ By any other name would smell as sweet

but the love affair between the state of Karnataka and its cities is not so accommodating.

Eight years back Karnataka proposed changing the name of 12 cities. This renaming finally took place on November the 1st, the state’s Rajyothsava Day. As dignitaries celebrated the moment in 1956 when the linguistically defined state came into being,  Mangalore become Mangaluru, Bangalore became Bengaluru, Shimoga became Shivamogga, Mysore became Mysuru and so on, with the aim of better reflecting how these places are called in Kannada, the official language of the state.

The door of a laundrette in Mangalore
The door of a laundrette in Mangalore

Whilst this might seem like a long overdue redressing bad colonial-era naming, things are slightly more complicated for the smaller coastal city Mangaluru (previously Mangalore). Mangaluru derives its name from the deity Mangladevi, who is worshipped in one of the oldest Hindu temples in the city. However in Mangaluru most people’s mother tongue is not Kannada, but variously Tulu, Konkani, Beary, Malayalam (or Kannada).

In Tulu, the most widely spoken language, the city is called Kudla (which derives from the word for junction, as the city lies at the confluence of two rivers and the Arabian sea).

In Konkani, the language spoken by most Catholics, Gowda Saraswat Brahmins and Kudubis (amongst others) – all of whom were pushed down from Goa by Portuguese colonialists – the city is known as Kodiyal, which is also the name of a central part of the city in all languages.

The largest Muslim community, the Bearys, who speak a language of the same name, refer to the city as Maikala.

The numerous students and ‘medical tourists’ from the neighbouring state of Kerela speak Malayalam and refer to the city as Mangalapuram.

Finally, on ancient maps the city was marked as Bunder, from the Persian word for port, and the old port area of the city is still called Bunder to this day.

If this was not complicated enough, the district in which Mangaluru lies is also awkwardly named. Officially, Mangalore is the administrative centre of the district Dakshina Kannada. This name derives from the colonial name for the region, Canara. Canara is a corruption of Kannada, and was a name assigned to the coastal region of modern day Karnataka by colonialists who believed everyone to be speaking Kannada.

Colonial Map
Colonial Map

Once Canara came completely under British rule following the defeat of Tippu Sultan, it was attached to the Madras Presidency, unlike much of the rest of what is the southern part of present day Karnataka which went to princely Mysore. However, as detailed by Srinivas Havanur 1 , Canara was split into north Canara and south Canara in 1862 because cotton traders – whose profits were hit by the American Civil War – wanted a new port so they could avoid the expenses associated with Bombay.

Carwar (now spelt Karwar)  was selected as the site for the new port.  Carwar was in Canara, and the Madras Presidency were not so keen to pay for the building of port, thus Canara was bifurcated and northern part was passed over to the Bombay Presidency. However the American Civil war ended, cotton started flowing and Bombay traders put pressure on the government not to build the port. There was no new port, but there was now a North Canara and South Canara (sometimes spelt Kanara).

The two Canaras were unsurprisingly signalled out for a name change quite early after independence, but rather than give new administrative disctricts names that reflected how the regions had been locally known, they were instead transliterated and de-corrupted into Dakshina Kannada and Uttara Kannada (South and North respectively). Many businesses however, including the famous Canara Bank, keep the colonial-era name.

In 1997 the state bifurcated Dakshina (south) Kannada, with the northern part of the district renamed Udupi, after the largest town there. More recently, there have been some murmurings from certain politicians about a desire to rename the district Mangalore, which would now be Mangaluru, though it looks unlikely to happen.

Mangalore into the dustbin of history
Mangalore into the dustbin of history

In a third and final layer of naming complexity, Mangalore (or rather in this context Kudla) lies within the cultural region of Tulu Nadu.

Tulu Nadu refers to the land of the Tuluvas – the region in which people speak Tulu and follow unique Tulu cultural practices such as bhuta kola (spirit worship), kambala (buffalo racing), Yakshagana (night-long folk drama) or korikatta (cock fighting). Though this region has often been part of larger empires, local rulers – such as the Alupas – wielded considerable autonomy within these larger bodies.

Tulu Nadu stretches across Dakshinna Kannada, parts of Udupi district and parts of Kasaragod district in Kerala. There has been an active movement to declare Tulu Nadu its own state since at least the 1940s, but it is not as well supported as state movements in other parts of the country (e.g. Telangana).

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The Power of Naming?

Kannada is widely spoken in the city. It’s one of the two main languages of education (the other being English); it’s the language of administration, with non-Tulu speaking civil servants regularly transferred here; and it’s the language of local news. Moreover, there is a strong Kannada literary tradition in the region 2 and even the first Kannada-English dictionary was produced here (by a German colonial-era missionary no less 3). The city was and will remain Mangaluru for many.

But that is not really the point. A lot of Tuluvas were of course angry or upset by the change, as it probably buries hopes of the city officially becoming Kudla any time soon and, more importantly, reaffirms Karnataka’s claim to the region. But aside from this, in an city with many names (in a district with many names), the official changing of one name for another seems like a waste of everyone’s time. Indeed it was “waste”, an English import widely used in Mangalore’s languages, that came up most when chatting with people about the change.

Whether or not maps read Mangalore or Mangaluru makes little to no difference in the lives of most people and they can see the move for what it is, a crude attempt at political populism masked as anti-colonial patriotism. In the everyday times and spaces of the of the city, linguistic plurality will continue to be reflected, no matter whether the city’s official name ends in an -ore or an -uru.

  1. Havanur, Srinivas. 1999. Bifurcation in 1862: A strange reality, in POLI – A commemorative volume for Canara 200 Edited by Sri M. Mukunda Prabhu et al.
  2. e.g. Mahakavi Muddana (1870 – 1901) the Kannada poet and writer.
  3. Reverend Ferdinand Kittel (1832 – 1903).

Planning the Smaller Indian City

Smaller cities in India should, but more often than not do not, follow the same planning processes as larger cities. This is explored in an interesting piece on smaller Indian cities and planning over on The City Fix by Rejeet Mathews and Tintu Sebastian – Must a city of 8 thousand follow the same planning processes as one of 8 million?

Decentralised powers granted by the 73rd and 74th Constitutional Amendment Acts, central guidelines issued by Ministry of Urban Development and weak Town and Country Planning Acts at the state-level, intermingle to create a legal framework that requires cities of all size to follow similar planning processes in regards to the production of master plans.

The authors argue that smaller cities should not have the same planning requirements/demands as larger cities.

Small towns should not be treated as scaled-down cities, and this blanket approach is an obstacle to effective urban planning. ‘Rightsizing’ can alleviate this by recognizing these important differences in size and complexity in policy, enabling more effective urban planning processes

I’m really happy to see an article on smaller urban centres – there’s not enough attention paid to smaller cities in India. However, I would add that size is relational (not only based on numbers) and smaller cities might have greater (or lesser) local importance than their size suggests. Mangalore, the city I know best, has one of the county’s busiest ports, an international airport, large SEZs and a slew of education and medical institutions. But it’s official size (population just under half a million) means it appears as a ‘small city’ in state and central planners eyes.

The authors discuss the problem of size in relation to Karnataka state and produce a wonderful visualization of the differently-sized cities that fall under the same planning mandate (see below). I’ve been into district planning offices and seen the plans for some of the urban centres featured – the plans for some of the smaller towns were tucked away in a cupboard and the local officials had no role in their creation (outsourcing the job to a private company who had the required town planning training). However, I think the problems of smaller city planning go further than lack of technical training or human resources.

The reliance on outside help can lead to town/city plans produced by those with strong vested interests their contents. This is certainly the case in Mangalore, where locals complained that the latest master plan was written by (and for) powerful real estate developers who were close to (or even were) politicians.

Graphic by Rejeet Mathews and Tintu Sebastian/EMBARQ India

As way of a solution Mathews and Sebastian suggest a tentative framework for planning different sized cites.

Large urban centres: that have more than 8 million people and contribute significantly to the state and national GDP – like Bangalore – should be accorded a special status. They should follow a richer planning process and be required to prepare connected and complementary spatial, economic, and transport plans that better suit the city’s needs, complexities, and aspirations.

Medium urban centers: The complexity of planning processes should be proportionate to the city government’s ability to pay for itself without relying on financial bailouts from centralized agencies. Medium-sized cities should follow a lighter planning process that is more responsive to both dynamism and decline, instead of being forced into a planning overdose.

Small urban centers: Small cities and towns that do not face the complexities of larger and mid-sized cities should focus on the provision of basic infrastructure and amenities to improve quality of life and foster a good trade and business environment. These would be more achievable within the resources and capacity that these towns already have.

Although I can see the case for differentiated planning processes, the schemata they suggest reveals some underlying assumptions about the current role and future plans of cities.

Aside from the problems of using numerical size as a frame,  I think it’s dangerous to tie anything to a “city government’s ability to pay”.  This affords preferential treatment to the more successful (often larger) cities. Decentralisation of power has taken place alongside increased inter-urban competition. In this context, the demands for poorer, smaller cities to raise their own resources naturally leads to increased uneven development. I think the central state can play an important role in evening out the unevenness.

India’s smaller cities, as the authors argue, do not need to be over-burdened by planning requirements, but likewise they should not be left to fend for themselves.

Read their full article here