Podcast: Reengineering India by Carol Upadhya

How is India’s burgeoning IT industry reshaping the country? What types of capital is IT attracting and what formations does it take? How are software engineers managed? What are their goals and aspirations? How are they perceived by their foreign clients? In her new book, Reengineering India: Work, Capital, and Class in an Offshore Economy (Oxford University Press, 2016), Carol Upadhya tackles these questions and many more. Based on extensive research in Bangalore – the large southern Indian metropolis that has led the IT buzz – the book explores the way capital, work and class are remade within the “new India.” Combining deep, rich and detailed accounts of life within “software factories” with a theoretical eclecticism and clear writing style, the book is a truly wonderful anthropological account of an offshore economy.

 

I spoke with Carol for New Books in South Asian Studies, you can listen to this interview and many more at the truly amazing NBN website or listen directly here:


Carol Upadhya is Professor in the School of Social Sciences, National Institute of Advanced Studies (NIAS), Bengaluru, India.

Time to Csángó

Time to Csángó, a creative short documentary by Hadas Bar, Anette Dujisin and myself, explores the popularity of the táncház (dance house) movement in Budapest, Hungary, especially csángó music and dance. Csángó people are a Hungarian speaking minority residing in the Romanian region Moldavia, especially Bacău County.

We filmed it during an excellent Summer University at the Central European University in Budapest, Hungary during July 2011.

 

 

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.
51C-ER5ovtL._SL160_

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!

Mediators who Move the City – When Relations Become Property

In both academic and common parlance there’s plenty of movement-based metaphors surrounding housing and land in India – capital ‘flows’, housing ‘booms’, land is ‘grabbed’ and so on. However, what is usually missing in analyses is an understanding of who or what makes things flow, boom or move. This is especially true in regards to the ‘lower rungs’ of the market. We know very little about the sort of people who bring small pieces of land or property into the market, or help move it from one party to another.

With this in mind I wrote an article for a special issue on property in urban India in the Journal for South Asian Development about land and housing brokers in Mangaluru (formerly Mangalore). Brokers are those individuals who bring two parties together and make a profit on any deal which comes about afterwards. They not only search out deals, but also mediate characteristics such as class, gender, age, religious community and jati (caste). They share many common traits with those middle-men (it is usually always men) who can be found in many different contexts in India – promising college places, driving licenses or marriage partners.

Inland Windsor

To my mind, not only are such people key for understanding how the land and housing market operates, but they are also truly fascinating individuals. Accordingly, the article – available here and here – details the everyday lives and life stories of two brokers, whom I call Mr. Pai and Saleem, as their fortunes rise and fall as they move through their lives and through the city linking parties together.

As I discovered whilst researching amongst these and other brokers, the links brokers have to buyers/tenants or sellers/landlords function as a sort of property themselves. The link’s value is predicated on the worth of the piece of land or housing (as broker’s commission was set by the price), and these links can also be divided amongst two or more brokers – for instance if a broker only knew a seller but not a buyer and another seller they would come together and divide the commission.

From Yekkur to the Ccty

Moreover, these links have a certain rhythm. Often, especially in the rental market, they had to be ‘cashed in’ quickly. There are uncountable brokers – or potential brokers – who would step in if one broker failed to find something for a buyer or renter. This pushed the brokers, but they also had to keep good relations with sellers and landlords, often whom came from their own jati or neighbourhood. Negotiating this asynchrony was an important yet difficult part of the job.

I often wondered if the housing or land markets would function without such individuals. The increasing use of the internet will certainly cut them out to a certain degree, but they offer a service beyond just their ability to forge links. They also traverse the tricky demands people have in regards to jati, religion, gender or age – the sort of demands people often don’t like to put down on paper (or online), but that are there nonetheless. Brokers not only help parties navigate such social categories in the market, but in doing so they also help uphold them – after all the existence of these categories is, in part, what justifies their role.

Court Hill

Capital flows, housing booms and the market moves, but it does not do so without the labour of people working in different ways and in various contexts. Brokers are crucial, if often unnoticed, players in the continued commodification of land and housing in India – a category of people whose labour and lives I hope the article sheds some light on.

Podcast: Entangled Urbanism by Sanjay Srivastava

I really enjoyed speaking with Sanjay Srivastava the other day about his amazing new book Entangled Urbanism: Slum, Gated Community and Shopping Mall in Delhi and Gurgaon (Oxford University Press, 2015). It’s a really beautiful piece of urban anthropology, with such rich, fascinating and occasionally very sad stories from various people in different parts of the National Capital Region.

You can listen to the interview here or here:

 

Changing Landscapes

India’s urban – and rural-soon-to-be-urban – landscape is changing fast. So fast, it’s hard to get a grip on the changes.

This is why I was really excited to see Sleepy Backwaters to Real Estate Haven appear over at Economic and Political Weekly last month. S Ananth will be posting a series of photo essays from the periphery of Vijayawada, Andhra Pradesh’s new state capital .

As he writes,

A visit to these villages seems to indicate that real estate and ancillary service industries are the only business that interests people – at least, those willing to venture into a business. Everything seemingly revolves around land: people are either keen to buy land, sell land, mediate between the buyers and sellers or offer some service to those trying to fix a deal. The attempt to make a quick buck from real-estate speculation seems to encompass all classes, castes and overshadows everything else. The urgency to close a deal is indicative of the thinking that the good times are unlikely to last long.

I’m looking forward to the future essays so that we get some sort of visual documentation of the changes, as it’s something that I think is often hard to capture in writing, with people often using same old clichéd phrases.

I lived for nine months at the edge of a (cliché alert) rapidly expanding city. I stayed in a newly built block of flats next to a building site, and had the idea to document the new building as it rose next door. Every morning at 7 I’d put the camera in the same spot and take a photo. Sadly I got too busy with other things, and often I’d already left home before the sun came up.

Nevertheless, here are the photos I took (you can see a wall slowly getting bigger)!

Good morning MangaloreGood morning MangaloreGood morning MangaloreGood morning Mangalore Good morning Mangalore   Good morning MangaloreGood morning MangaloreGood morning Mangalore

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The City Uploaded: Urban Intersections of Film and New Media

This summer school looks great.  (I know it’s not strictly urban India, but definitely ‘urban’ and I’m sure filmmakers working in and on the region are interested).

Apply here!

Info
The city has long fascinated documentary filmmakers and social theorists alike. From city symphonies to dystopic visions, the cinematic representation of the urban stands for modernity and its discontents. Pushing the boundaries of filmmaking towards new media and collaborative ventures, this course aims to reclaim the creative impulse filmmakers found in the city and put it to work in participants’ projects. Urban space constitutes a privileged site for such experiments, not only due to its constant transformation, contestation and discovery, but also as a laboratory for aesthetic, collaborative and interdisciplinary explorations. Through its powerful social aesthetics film provides ideal tools to engage with the city, while the new media offer a space for new forms of documentary, storytelling and cross-media ventures to emerge. Together, they inspire innovative narrative forms that recreate the urban experience through open, collective modes of participation and interaction.

 


This course proposes an intensive, research-focused program for the creative development and experimentation with new forms of expression, engagement and collaboration in and of the city. For this it invites a number of selected projects and matches them with leading professionals in the field, who successfully combine film, multimedia practice and urban interventions in their own work. It offers theoretical and practical input and provides the space for urban researchers, filmmakers and multimedia artists to interact and collaborate towards accomplishing their own projects.

Building Castles in the Air

Building Castles in the Air, a photo essay on advertising boards for new housing, has just been published in the open access anthropology journal The Unfamiliar. It’s more interesting than I make it sound here (I hope).

You Call it Home
You can access the article here!

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).

***

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).

Podcast: The Politics of Economic Restructuring in India by Loraine Kennedy

Last week I was thrilled to speak with Loraine Kennedy about her brilliant book The Politics of Economic Restructuring in India: Economic Governance and State Spatial Rescaling.

At this year’s European Association of South Asian Studies in Zurich I was talking with another doctoral student who works on urban India, and we were saying to each other that someone needs to write a book that takes the ideas of state spacial rescaling as proposed by Neil Brenner and others and theorise it in the Indian context. Thankfully Loraine Kennedy had the same idea and I came across this book a couple of weeks later. I think it’ll be of great interest to anyone working on cities in contemporary India.

You can listen here and here: