Tag Archives: world

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.