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:

CfP Cities of the forking paths: intercommunal (dis)harmony and the rhythms of everyday life

CfP: Cities of the forking paths: intercommunal (dis)harmony and the rhythms of everyday life

SIEF2015, Zagreb, 21-25 June 2015

Global cities are variously represented as utopian multiethnic, interreligious celebrations of cosmopolitan difference, or conversely as dark hives of ethnic and class conflict. Against this split narrative, smaller cities that exhibit ethnic or religious tensions are often portrayed as lacking, provincial or backwards. In light of recent developments — including the supposed demise of multiculturalism in Europe’s cities, the rise of urban Hindu nationalism in India and a surge of violence in towns across the Middle East — we seek to complicate narratives of communal disharmony with a specific focus on those semi-peripheral smaller cities that are often overlooked by urban scholars.

Thinking through these ideas rhythmically (temporally and spatially) allows ethnographers and historians to explore the everyday realities of how community is performed and circulated in smaller cities. It is our contention that inhabitants of plural cities exhibit creative marginality in the face of contrived coexistence, that the heteronomous spaces and times of cities produce contradictory logics that undermine ethnonationalist state goals, and that the mundane cycles of everyday life can destabilise seemingly hegemonic projects.

We welcome contributions from a range of geographic settings, historical periods and methodological approaches that address the problem of alterity and its discontents in unsettled urban times and spaces.

Ian M. Cook (Central European University) & Daniel Monterescu (Central European University)

Deadline January 14th 2015

Propose a paper here:
http://nomadit.co.uk/sief/sief2015/panels.php5?PanelID=3507

Informal questions or queries to panel conveners:
Ian Cook cook_ian@ceu-budapest.edu
Daniel Monterescu monterescud@ceu.hu

Podcast: The Illegal City by Ayona Datta

I had the pleasure of speaking with Ayona Datta about her wonderful book The Illegal City: Space, Law and Gender in a Delhi Squatter Settlement for New Books in South Asian Studies.

You can listen here or here:

I had a complete nightmare with the mic, and my voice sounds like a chipmunk (I use ubuntu as my OS, skype hates FOSS, and the latest update seemed to mess with how it reads the frequency. Nevertheless Ayona is wonderfully eloquent and makes up for my squeaky voice!

Podcast: Dalits and Adivasis in India’s Business Economy by Barbara Harriss-White

Yesterday I had the pleasure of speaking with Barbara Harriss-White about her new co-authored book Dalits and Adivasis in India’s Business Economy: Three Essays and an Atlas,  published by Three Essay Collective.

The book explores the ways in which economic liberalisation interacts with caste, specifically in reference to scheduled castes and scheduled tribes and was written along with Elisabetta Basile, Anita Dixit, Pinaki Joddar, Aseem Prakash and Kaushal Vidyarthee.

All parts of the book touch on urban issues – with the second essay dealing explicitly with a small town in Tamil Nadu.

If’ you’re interested, then you can listen to the interview here!

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

Podcast: Sacred Modernity by Tariq Jazeel

Here’s k the interview I made with Tariq Jazeel about his brilliant book Sacred Modernity: Nature, Environment, and the Postcolonial Geographies of Sri Lankan Nationhood  for a podcast over at New Books in South Asian Studies.

The podcast is available here!I’m posting it on this site as I think his discussion on the architectural style  ‘tropical modernism’ will be of a lot of interest to many who are interested on urban issues in the region.

Enjoy!

Podcast: Prostitution and the Ends of Empire by Stephen Legg

I interviewed Steven Legg about his awesome new book Prostitution and the Ends of Empire: Scale, Governmentalities, and Interwar India for a podcast over at New Books in South Asian Studies.

You can find the interview here!

The book will be of a lot of interest to urbanists, especially those who work on the colonial period.

about

Hi there!

Thanks for arriving to this website. I set it up to bring together all the different strands of research, papers, podcasts, videos and photos I’ve done over the last decade or so and will do in the future.

I’m now a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Centre for Media Data and Society, located within the School of Public Policy at the Central European University (CEU). I’m very lucky to be working within the amazingly exciting project – Sound Relations: Transgressions, Disruptions, Transformations. The project will have teaching, researching and outputs all related to sound.

Before this I completed a doctorate in Sociology and Social Anthropology (CEU, 2016). You can read the dissertation here.

Broadly I have an interest in time and space, South Asian studies, visual anthropology and urban studies – the writing, videos, photos and podcasts found here all reflect this. Nearly always they deal with Mangaluru (India) and Budapest (Hungary), my two homes and/or research sites.

I’m fascinated by research questions relating to urbanisation, morality, rhythm, informal economies, modes of learning, housing, land use, development, migration, infrastructure and intercommunity relationships.

Before I became a father I looked like this:

Me!

Please feel to free to get in touch, comment or follow me via the various social links dotted around this site.