Seduction of Cities

3 Dec

Long before there was Sex and the City, urban landscapes unleashed their siren calls to populations, who, glazed-eyed and entranced, followed trails of grit and dust toward the lure of money, a life of relative anonymity and the opportunity to reconstruct their history. Cities, those giant sprawls of architecture, social alchemy and the human narrative, were levelers and dividers in equal measure; entities that made humans offer their sweat and spirit in return for bestowing on them the gratitude of belonging. Cities were power centers, hubs of every cog in the wheel of humanity, save perhaps, agriculture and animal husbandry, and legions of our race responded willingly, increasingly, and near-slavishly to the piper’s call, as the 19th century played host to this giant global phenomenon—the rise of the heterogeneous, indifferent-to-differences metropolis, where you were as worthy as your last contribution.

The world over, cities became shrines to human endeavor. To dreams, to plans, to architects of destiny.  Throbbing, expanded versions of village squares and coffee houses, they became repositories of social dialogue, justice movements, and battlegrounds for human rights. As decades hurtled forward, they turned into hubs of industry, agents of rewritten reality, organic farms of political thought and social sub-institutions. Cities, these nuclei of power and vibrancy, were only as strong as their denizens, and it is here that the human spirit rose to meet the challenge of morphing a maze of streets into megapolises of learning, expansion and culture.

Developing at different paces, cities found their niche. Their size and demand based on what they had to offer, cities became the textbook examples of macroeconomics and cultural anthropology. A majority of them operate in a blinding vortex of speed and urgency and the Next Big Thing. They pulse with things to do and targets to achieve. Entertainment is measured, pre-slotted, with chunks of time dispensed toward preserving sanity, lest existential angst get out of hand and run amok amidst our overloaded mental circuitry.

And yet, few complain. For the City is a charmer. A seductress. A deceiver. And we willingly succumb to its wiles for what it throws our way. In eliminating our uniqueness and personal history, the City invites us to belong. In disregarding our past and turning a blind eye to social strata, it allows us to blend in. It acts as Provider. Protector. Benefactor. With a dark and ugly side that we choose to take in our stride. It smiles non-committally when you call it Home. It shares its bounty ungrudgingly. To the winner go the spoils, and someday that might even be you. You can partake of its history and cloak it as your own. You believe in its script and mouth its lines earnestly. You are of its culture. Of its space. Of its zeitgeist. You give and receive and don’t keep score. You may be among its earliest settlers, or a train dropped you off  just yesterday, in a city, a sliver of space can always be yours, simply because you become that space, one of the headcount, you are, you exist, and living is not denied.

Without its montage, I cannot see my own existence, identify the entity that is me. Some may consider it a curse, but it is a trade-off I am extremely comfortable making. Without the City, I am contextless. Without the City, I am half a soul. Being born into the City and born of it, we are forged. For better or worse, richer or poorer, Home or half-spaces, without the City, there is no me. Cities distort the concept of Home. Wring it and hang it out to dry. You find it in yourself to belong to another. Fully in some, half-heartedly in others. Cities make your identity easy to whore. Today, it’s this one; tomorrow, another. Even amidst their extreme difference, you find yourself able to negotiate space and identity, and that is the ultimate gift of being of the City.

9 Responses to “Seduction of Cities”

  1. Null Pointer December 5, 2012 at 6:39 am #

    Amen. I am nothing if not a walking ghost-town abandoned in peripheries of her City. I would question existential angst being muffled in the City though — in that moment when the sticky sweetness of street vendor Nuts for Nuts is overpowered by central park dung, no where can you feel as insignificant, alone and temporary as a bustling City.

    Ok, never mind me — I still giggle every time I hear “animal husbandry”.

  2. Orange Jammies December 7, 2012 at 5:37 pm #

    Null Pointer: Oh but cities actually cultivate angst, farm it, and then leave us with too much to do to pay it any mind. Kindness, never one of its strengths.

  3. Aunty G. December 10, 2012 at 10:33 pm #

    Can’t think of anything to say
    Each city holds it’s own sway
    But i understand your feeling
    Secunderabad sets ME reeling
    Oh! So there! Ultimately, i did bray!

  4. Orange Jammies December 11, 2012 at 5:34 pm #

    Aunty G: Tell us more about your city
    Is it small? Is it pretty?
    Whatever you say
    And whichever way
    It’s bound to be pithy

  5. Aunty G. December 12, 2012 at 1:24 am #

    The Twin Cities are vast
    With Cantonments from the past
    Hyderabad has history
    Secunderabad mystery
    And both have MNC-ITs and a University stone-cast!

  6. Orange Jammies December 18, 2012 at 8:43 pm #

    Aunty G: Now I must see,
    Each glorious city,
    Both sound good,
    Especially the food,
    And you got me at history!

  7. dipali55 January 18, 2013 at 12:30 am #

    I’ve lived in cities, big and small.
    And also in a very small town
    So very small
    that I felt I couldn’t fit into it
    despite all the space and fields around
    my soul craved a city…..
    Any city, I’ll befriend it,
    survive happily,
    with or without language skills,
    I’ll manage.
    Green spaces within a city
    total bliss!

  8. Orange Jammies January 21, 2013 at 12:14 pm #

    dipali55: 🙂 Then you must love the Maidan! I know I did. Especially with the stunning Victoria Memorial at one end of it.

  9. dipali55 January 23, 2013 at 6:15 am #

    Oh yes, oh yes! It’s a magical space within my city!

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