A space of Eclectic Creativity
The theme of un/belonging, which we explored during this excursion, is very dear to my own personal and academic experience about placemaking and everyday life. During the last years, I have been engaging with such topics as the right to the city, the neighbourhood, and bottom-up initiatives to transform how we live and engage with/within the city, therefore I was really curious to find out how we would approach the excursion’s ideological framework on the ground. Through the collaboration with the students from different disciplines, I learnt how to listen to what the built and the social fabric of the city can tell us about long-lived and more recent processes of transformation, about diversity of personal histories, aspirations, and claims to place. I could familiarized myself with methods used in urban design and architecture, such as mapping and sketching, to visualize information coming from direct observation and interviews with people on the streets. The experience of focused fieldwork, immersing ourselves into the fabric of a particular area of the urban village of Kishangarh, has been intriguing and enriching. I loved to see how people engage with our questions, and how many even approached us themselves after seeing us for several days in the field. This has been the first properly structured anthropological fieldwork for me, and I feel I have gained more confidence and curiosity in methods that I was unfamiliar with. The notion of ‘homing’, and the plurality of approaches to it, has also been a really interesting standpoint from which to research how space transforms and develops in time.
A visual journey through New Delhi’s urban village
For one week I roamed through the streets and alleys of the urban village of Kishangarh together with my peers, in order to research on the lived reality of its inhabitants and their relationship with the built space. We learnt before that urban villages are their own kind of ‘urban habitat’, because of the rapid (and unregulated) urbanization that they are undergoing since the 1960s, and due to an abundant population of migrant workers who find here cheaper rents. Our task was a demanding one: to find out how Kishangarh’s residents make sense of their living space, how do they use it, and what kinds of attachment they have towards it, and to each other.
The following is my personal take on our observations and findings in Kishangarh.
In Kishangarh, I faced a built environment which I found at first utterly confusing and inconsequential: new, sleek apartment buildings right next to really old, small brick houses; side alleys where the sky was hidden by the protruding floors, reaching out for as much additional space as possible; luxury apartments not so far away from an illegal dumpster; and not a single building built in a style that resembles the others.
In this lively enthrophy of shapes and forms, people made their home and share the public space with neighbours and strangers, humans and animals.
The Double Face of Authority and Regulation
The area within the village does not abide to building (nor safety) regulations by the city of Delhi, but the DDA has enclosed some land on the margins to be developed for gated communities.
Caught in between
The remains of the older village houses, their permanence seems already threatened by the towering apartment buildings that sandwhich them.
A space of Eclectic Creativity
Many residents are people who migrated to Delhi from other regions of India or neighbouring countries to work. They created small communities among themselves, but most of them report that they do not ‘feel at home’ in Kishangarh, and that they would like to go back to their homes someday. It appears that few people have connections with the past of the village.
To conclude, Kishangarh, akin to other urban realities, is a place in continuous transformation. The rapid pace of thistransformation leaves a distinct imprint on the material and on the social fabric, and the buildings appear as numerousand disparate in type as the people who came to inhabitthem. Rapid change brings with it contrasts and contestation, but also new and exhuberant forms of urban living.
Corinna Mascherin is a graduate student of the M.A. Transcultural Studies at
Heidelberg University. During her undergraduate education in Japanese studies at
Ca’ Foscari University she lived in Venice, where she appreciated a lively
multicultural environment, and experienced the benefits of a human-sized urban
landscape which promotes a life in harmony with nature. In Heidelberg, numerous
seminars coordinated by the Chair of Visual and Media Anthropology have nurtured
her academic interest in how we can live together in cities in more sustainable,
community-oriented, and engaged ways. She is currently researching on intentional
communities, ecovillages and bottom-up counter-hegemonic modes of living.