Sunday, December 26, 2021

Rashmi Sadana's "The Moving City"

Rashmi Sadana is Associate Professor of Anthropology at George Mason University and author of English Heart, Hindi Heartland: The Political Life of Literature in India.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, The Moving City: Scenes from the Delhi Metro and the Social Life of Infrastructure, and reported the following:
I think readers would get a fairly good idea of The Moving City by flipping (or scrolling) to page 99, which is a little less than halfway through the book. Page 99 does reveal the book’s style (accessible, first-person narrative), its main themes (metro/subway systems, the everyday life of city-dwellers, the impact of infrastructure on the urban landscape), and the “quality of the whole” (to quote Ford Madox Ford). Page 99 takes the reader into the home of Delhi’s former Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit, who was in office during the building of the first three phases of the Delhi Metro (the first multiline metro system in South Asia). She gives a view from above about the political wrangling involved in the project and the need the city had for this kind of transport. Yet this page also contains an intimate look at a politician at the end of her career, surrounded by aides and suffering from various forms of loss.

What page 99 does not show readers is how The Moving City is mostly about the people who ride the Metro and how the system has affected their daily itineraries, their sense of place, and their broader aspirations in life. It’s mostly a book about different forms and intersections of social mobility through the prism of transport. My interview with Sheila Dikshit on page 99 reflects the parts of the book where I talk to politicians, urban planners, and architects in order to understand their involvement with the making of the Metro and their ideas about the city and its development. It’s a key part of the book, but not the only part. What readers also might miss by only reading page 99 is that the book is told as a series of ethnographic vignettes, very short stories or scenes, each ranging from a paragraph to a few pages in length. The 75 vignettes that make up the book are interlinked, but I tell readers in the introduction that they could read them in or out of order. The Moving City is a set of narratives, but the book also questions the linear narratives of stories, lives, ideas of progress, and the meaning of Delhi’s Metro. The form of the book mimics the starts and stops of the Metro itself. Readers get taken on a ride, in a sense!
Learn more about The Moving City at the University of California Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue