Internet, Society and Space in Indian City: First Report

Posted by Prasad Krishna at Jul 21, 2010 12:55 PM |
This is the first report on the progress of the research on Internet, Society and Space in Indian City. The post is a collection of some of the initial focus of these studies. I have started simultaneously exploring and testing various arguments and have listed some key observations from the ones that are nearing completion.

City Poster 10

The idea of the relationship of Internet with space throws interesting challenges from the perspective of both the theoretical premises and actual research methods followed to tease out the issue. I have been exploring the following line of inquiry in the first month and a half of the research:

  1. To understand the broad patterns of representation of cities in Indian from both a historical (classical) traditions and contemporary popular practices
  2. To derive the key hypothesis for the narrative research of the different persons leading to rendering of characteristics of the target group to be interviewed
  3. To develop the method for researching issues of spacial transformations as related to mobility and change in land-use patterns

Notes from Field Studies

Representation of space in various mediums was of special interest to me, as it reveals a lot about our cities, both in terms of what physically exists and is imagined. The aim was to capture the ideas of such representations both in popular as well as formal/ classical mediums. The search started with the old part of Ahmedabad, which is the centre of trade and commerce for not only the city but also the region at large. A wholesale seller of books on medicine, the Navneet school textbook, the Anchor electrical switches, the Tullu pump motor and the Taparia screwdriver are all here in the old city. This part of the city is the heart, which supports life way beyond its own space.

The book wholesalers were of special interest to me as I was looking for the front page of the notebooks that kids use in schools. Unlike the time when I studied, the long notebooks these days are full of illustrations in the front and back cover. The bullet trains of Japan superimposed on the Eiffel tower of Paris, the natural environment and the deer chewing grass in strange oblivion, the view of the skyscraper of Singapore or a globe with a tree on top are all seemingly inconsequential images on textbooks these days. I was particularly interested in the ones that make a statement on the city and its parts or rather literally had a whiff of 'space'.

  City Poster 7

 The wall posters that are sold on the streets were also analyzed for the content and focus. The cheaply printed bright coloured posters are a wonderful reflection of our society and by virtue of their content, have a pan-Indian appeal. Salman Khan soaked in blood, Katrina Kaif with pouted lips, the solitary rural lady sitting below a pine tree with her head down and singing “When will you come back my love”, a idyllic rural street with bullock carts or the view of fort area of Mumbai are some such illustrations on these posters.

This particular study of popular modes of representation raises interesting questions from the point of view of perception of space both in terms of the actual lived in experience and the meanings attached to the same.

City Poster 1

The Nature and the Cities

The yearning for nature or rather an apparent moral quest for some kind of a harmony seems to be a prevailing attitude in lot of the popular representation that I studied. The intensity of development is often proportionate to the 'prestineness' of the nature that surrounds it. Development is seen as a clean activity in the lap of nature! But on further examination one observes a consistent effort to juxtapose nature and city life in a binary relationship. Even though mixed up together to suggest a kind of romantic co-existence, the treatment makes it obviously as two different realms.

 City Poster 6

The imagination of cities and nature as two different realms is an important concept and will be explored further.

City Poster 11

I will return to it while describing similar city representation patterns in the historical classical traditions such as Miniature paintings.

The Made-Up Context

The range of representation needs further examination from the point of view of the perception of cities and its spaces. Large numbers of posters were actually an interesting collage that somehow brought together picturesque images of iconic building from around the world in a kind of new juxtapositions. 

City Poster 9

Authenticity does not matter, nor does context as long as it is reflective of the ‘developed’ countries. Iconic buildings like the Eiffel Tower, Sydney Opera House or Mumbai VT terminal capture the imagination of the people as symbols of human habitation. But what is more important is the fact that these symbols almost purposefully are far removed from the context in which they are produced and consumed. This is interesting as by the virtue of its cultural, spatial and contextual differences, the representations have a dream or unreal aspects to its existence. This feeling of disconnect and the unreal is important in this form of representation as it floats as an imagination that should never ever come anywhere close to reality; A space which is so fictitious that it hardy needs to connect at all with the physical world. Similarly, many posters tried to portray the romance of the rural life of India.

City Poster 8

City Poster 4

The lady waiting for her lover, the village hut and the bullock cart drawn not as a reality but as symbols, juxtaposed to remind its viewers the virtues of the rural living. The caricatured symbols of rural life that are shown in these illustrations elevate the production into a fictional and surreal space that is far removed from cities where it is consumed and also very different from the vast hinterland of the country that they pretend to represent. This hyper and almost mythical representation of space is a very important condition to all these illustrations leading to interesting questions of how our city spaces are imagined. It seems that this fiction or rather the surrealist attitude is very important aspect in popular imagination of space in the Indian context.

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Prasad Krishna

Prasad Krishna previously worked in a newspaper and some reputed publications. He is MA in English, PGD in Journalism and LLB from the University of Delhi.