Comfortably Numb

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Published on: 11/10/15 12:47 PM

Book review: Ahmedabad, A City in the World by Amrita Shah

This is more a brief take than a review.

Ahmedabad, a City in the World by Amrita Shah (Bloomsbury).Gandhi`s chosen city. Ahmed Shah`s domain. Commercial stronghold. Textile treasure-house. Crucible for the diamond industry. Land of the Sabarmati. Home to the prestigious IIM-A. Hindu revivalist lab.

A city brought to heel by a flamboyant strongman who served many years as Chief Minister. A city that always had the kindling ready for communal unrest, that saw conflagration after conflagration from 1969,  the year the first episode of communal violence exploded. And now, a ghettoised city.

Amrita Shah delves into the Ahmedabad that was, the Ahmedabad that is, in a cool dry manner. At times, you feel the story of the city is being told to you in a low sombre tone.

We meet Meraj a tailor out of work, as also driven out of his old home after the 2002 riots, and see the city, his city, through his eyes. We listen appalled, to Mohan who rants without provocation about just how much he `can`t bear` the other community. “All of us in the pols feel this way,“  he states firmly.  We watch as a socialite  briefly lets her acquired sophistication down to yes, rant about the Others. We attend a book launch with the author where the chief guest is the then chief minister Narendra Modi,  and see for ourselves how he has people in complete thrall to him.

The fact of severance and more importantly, the reason for the severance had been there all along, says Shah, who visits all the places that have burned themselves into public consciousness: Gulbarg Society, Naroda Patiya and the squalid Bombay Hotel which is where scores of diplaced Muslims now live.

Shah says that in her conversations with ordinary middle-class, non-Muslims who had not participated in the violence of 2002, she found a proclivity towards  paranoia and selective callousness. This actually could go for a large section of the majority community across India today but I haven`t read a sadder statement about the people of a city.

Shah does a slow wheel around this principal city and presents to us a select set of milieus. Perhaps that is Ahmedabad under the  miscroscope today. Whatever the city goes on to become in the future, it can never escape the  blot of 2002.

That blot as bloodied the waters, muddied the tenements, and caused an already existing rift to widen into an unbridgeable chasm. And that is the leitmotif that gives a touch of melancholia to this monograph on Ahmedabad.

2002 Gujarat riotsAhmedabadAhmedabad A City In The WorldAmrita Shah

Sheila Kumar • November 10, 2015

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