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A City and its Characters

Uma Mahadevan Dasgupta on dualities of action.

If you ‘question’, you don’t understand.
If you ‘understand’, you’ve been co-opted.
If you ‘talk’, you’re sanctimonious.
If you ‘don’t talk’, you’re frivolous.
If you’re ‘in the field’, you’re too involved.
If you’re not ‘in the field’, you have no business talking about it.
If you ‘ask why’, you’re stupid.
If you ask ‘why not’, you’re very stupid.
If you ‘qualify’, you’re equivocating.
If you ‘don’t qualify’, you’re making sweeping generalisations.
If you ‘care’, you’re sentimentalising.
If you ‘don’t care’, you’re heartless and cruel.
If you ‘critique’, you need to cut them some slack.
If you don’t ‘critique’, you’re cutting them too much slack.
If you ‘believe’, you’re naive.
If you ‘don’t believe’, you’re cynical.
If you ‘do’, you’re damned.
If you ‘don’t’, then you’re damned, too.

Also: Uma has a great piece about how a city (Mumbai) can be described by the literature it breeds:

Over the years, I have found the city not only in its streets and bylanes, but also in the thousands of pages that have been written about Bombay. The city has been reimagined in a series of quintessentially Bombay moments, sometimes sprawlingly, in Shantaram and Maximum City; or in vignettes: the Andheri local of Arundhati Subramaniam’s poem; the 106 bus that the young boy in Amit Chaudhuri’s poem takes, shunning the family’s Mercedes Benz, pretending to be poor; and from Shantaram’s Caf Leopold to the table at Sea Lounge where Banker’s Jay Mehta feels a sense of vertigo. Every Bombay book offers a fleeting glimpse into this constantly churning urban reality, this shifting series of narratives, allegories, performances. The city is centre and periphery, order and chaos, progress and anti-progress, utopia and dystopia. West and East, Lanka and Ayodhya. Everything is Bombay, as Rushdie exclaims in The Moor’s Last Sigh: “Bombay was central, had been so from the moment of its creation: the bastard child of a Portuguese-English wedding, and yet the most Indian of Indian cities. In Bombay all Indias met and merged. In Bombay, too, all-India met what-was-not-India, what came across the black water to flow into our veinsBombay was central; all rivers flowed into its human sea. It was an ocean of stories; we were all its narrators, and everybody talked at once.”

I react to the essay under the fold:….
Another fine essay (and thanks for reminding me of a few authors–like Rushdie–I need to return to). Besides reminding people about why a city is special, writing about a city can bring the intangibles of a city to those who will never be able to visit.

One of my novellas is taking place in Venice (a place I have never visited). My hope is that by writing about such a city (and doing my best to fake it), I will be motivated to visit the place eventually. Certain cities have a legendary/mythical quality, if only because of their age and size.

It is liberating living in a city (Houston, Texas) that no one has really written about yet, that belongs to no literary landscape. I would argue that the details of the place are not as important as the type of characters who reside there. In the US up until about 10 years ago all the films and TV shows were about three or four cities only: New York, LA, Washington DC and maybe two or three others (Chicago, Los Vegas, Miami). This happened for commercial reasons–bigger market for their TV shows. Over the last 10 years however, TV shows take place in far smaller places, and the characters are more unique, less cookie-cutter.

Ponder this for a moment. Videogames are already excellent at simulating virtual cities. I’m sure someone if they wanted to could probably put a videogame in Mumbai (and I’d play it! I guarantee it!). It’s conceivable that some of the more memorable characters from the city’s fiction could be programmed within the game environment as well. Wouldn’t that be grand? If I had superhuman programming skills and an abundance of time and resources, I’d probably pick Paris in the 1920s as the subject for my first game. Of course, I’m sure the al queda terrorists would also probably find these city simulation games to be useful.

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