‘Writing the City and Indian English Fiction: Planning, Violence and Aesthetics’

Tickell, Alex (2018). ‘Writing the City and Indian English Fiction: Planning, Violence and Aesthetics’. In: Boehmer, Elleke and Davies, Dominic eds. Planned Violence: Post/colonial Urban Infrastructure, Literature & Culture. Cham: Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 195–211.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-91388-9


This chapter reviews current Indian fiction in English, and asks how rapid changes in Indian cities after economic liberalization in 1991 have modified and challenged the ‘civic aesthetics’, of the Indian Anglophone novel. My summary literary readings, covering novels by a range of writers including Arundhati Roy and Aravind Adiga, are contextualised against the longer history of a public and governmental response to the city in independent India. I discuss Jawaharlal Nehru’s ambivalence towards the colonial city as a site of national modernity and reflect on the later emergence of an ideal of ‘World-Class City’ in ideas about urban planning and economic development. Central to these public discourses of the city, I argue, is the residential space of the ‘colony’ or ‘society’, and my analysis compares commercial representations of this space (in the gated development) with literary representations of the low-rise apartment block as a repeatedly evoked imaginative space for Indian fiction in English. Throughout, I balance the developing urban aesthetics of the novel with the rise of a form of governance by aesthetics, theorized in the work of D. Asher Ghertner. The ‘planned’ violence of the city, I suggest, is expressed as much in the struggle over its aesthetic meaning as in its material transformation.

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