Free Press Journal

Ahmedabad: History, Memories and The Mega City Dreams


Ahmedabad: From Royal City to Megacity

Author: Achyut Yagnik and Suchitra Sheth

Published: 2016

ISBN No: 98-0-14-341578-7

Pages: 348

Price: 499

Publisher: Penguin Books

Ahmedabad : The City with a Past

Author : Esther David

Published: 2016

ISBN No: 978-93-5029797-1

Pages: 141

Price: 275

Publisher: Harper Collins Publishers India

Ahmedabad: A Society in Transition (1818-1914)

Translated: Kunjlata Shah

Published: 2016

ISBN N0 : 978-81-7991-867-8


Price: 250

Publisher: Popular Prakashan

The books aim at describing Ahmedabad from a historical perspective. They analyse the city through its complex cultural, political, economic and historical transformations by examining its physical and non-physical public spaces. The books analyse who its agents are and the ability of the city to accommodate varying functions of different groups that inhabit it and make it an urban space.

The authors of Ahmedabad: From Royal City to Megacity, term it as a biography of the city, as they fascinatingly view the city as a living entity shaped by its people. True to its claim the book captures the prosperous nature and prominent position that the city has enjoyed through the centuries. It also explains its challenges, confrontations and alludes to its continuing impact in contemporary society. From English and Gujarati translations of the early Persian and Arabic literature to autobiographical and personal diary accounts of people like Maganlal Vakhatchand and Ratnamanirao Jote the book aims at reconstructing the city from social, cultural and literary perspectives. Evolved through a complex history, the book makes a case for the cosmopolitan nature that the city acquired in the first five hundred years of its foundation. Factors such as political expansion, stability, economic prosperity attracted scholars, soldiers and merchants, its incorporation into the Mughal empire, Maratha empire, entry of East India company, its integration into Bombay presidency (to mention a few) opened up newer avenues. The Muslim rulers of the city always adopted a liberal approach, thus it encouraged Bhakti, Sufi traditions and new religious orders among the Hindu, Muslim and Jain sections of the city. The city also became a hub of the textile industry and with Gandhi’s activism, it became a center of the freedom struggle against British. Ahmedabad : A Society in Transition (1818-1914) is interesting in this respect as it details the transition of the city from a Moghul state to a colony and its struggle against the oppressive powers. Becoming Gandhi’s chosen site for independence struggle and swadeshi ideology, the book takes us through the journey of the idealism of freedom, right to dissent and fighting injustice yet keeping intact the interests of the middle class and businessmen by exhibiting a spirit of cooperation even with British masters. Though the book lacks much critical engagement, its approach is interesting. It makes a case for the spirit of Ahmedabad (in 1818- 1914); as rational, considerate, tolerant and enduring and an ideal ground for Gandhi’s political activism. Such a reminder may prove useful in understanding ways to negotiate with counter current forces of intolerance.

Yet, Ahmedabad: From Royal City to Megacity is a more rigorous engagement as the book details the flourishing of the city with multiple religious and political impulses. Migration brought with it newer forms of religious sects, worship and practices that brought much prosperity and vibrancy. The book also emphasizes on the visual unity provided by the urban landscapes like homes(pol-parabdi), mosques, churches, step wells, water inlets, mill chimneys, challis that exhibits a visual unity and a cultural fusion that seems to transcends that socio, political and cultural friction that the city has frequently experienced in modern times. The book uniquely revisits Ahmedabad through its reformist phase and its imaginations in artworks like miniature paintings, English romantic landscapes and photographs. It presents an intriguing journey that moves beyond the challenges of natural and human calamities that it has become closely associated with in contemporary times.  Likewise, Ahmedabad: The City with a Past too adopts a non-linear historical perspective and recreates the plural space, it once was. The book’s strength lies in effortlessly exploring the scope for understanding plurality and heterogeneity in contemporary homogenised spaces of the city. Through the first person narrative and light-hearted illustrations, it reconstructs the city’s glory, prosperity, opulence, style and legacy through memories and lived experiences. The author describes the city that she grew up in, the physical, yet fictional walls of lanes lined with homes, celebrations of new year, kite festivals, mills, marketplaces, summertime food goodies to women engaged in making sev and chickpea frying snacks and hospitality of the snack vendors. The nostalgic journey of Sultan Ahmed’s Ahmedabad (visited through surviving architecture) to its significance in independence struggle and its current avatar as a megacity facing challenges natural and communal violence; the author connects the new and the old city only to find out that the latter only stays in memory. She rightly describes it as a city of contrasts! The book begins with her experience of Zen, abode of a rich industrialist and is contrasted with memories of her own humble home. The new Ahmedabad represented through characters like Malav, a computer engineer who feels disconnected with the “old city” (that is “walled without walls”, the durgahs, havelis, templeswith intricate wood carving) and its changed landscape with high rise apartments, glass malls, multiplexes, flyovers, ring roads, BRTS, restaurants and multiplexes. In a light-hearted way, the author describes the city driven by multiple and often contradictory impulses through a rickshaw journey also symbolic of the daily negotiations of an Ahmedavadi.

These books are relevant and urgent to understand the changed cultural, religious, linguistic, ethnic, ecological and architectural spaces that make the city a victim of communalism, corporatisation and violence. Explorations of Ahmedabad as the divided city with its history of communal violence, caste divisions, political and economic interest in religious mobilizations, events of 2002 and bridging the communal divide do find a mention, yet, the idea is to see beyond these events to explore the “imagined city” of Ahmedabad with its challenges and uncertainties. Though they may seem like historical accounts and nostalgia, the books overcome these impulses as they present an emancipatory experience for understanding the paradoxes and contradictions that make the city what it is. It explains the urgent need to engage with them; to resist violent practices of homogenization and protect the democratic urban space of Ahmedabad.