Ode to Ahmedabad

Lead Review

Ode to Ahmedabad

A comprehensive and much-awaited chronicle of Gujarat’s leading city since the 18th century, Ahmedabad can be seen as a tribute by authors Achyut Yagnik and Suchitra Sheth that commemorates 600 years of the founding of the city.

The book provides an up-to-date perspective on the city that held nationwide importance by becoming one of the central points as Mahatma Gandhi’s karmabhumi during India’s freedom movement. 

From Royal City to Megacity: The introductory chapters elaborate on Ahmedabad’s royal past history that began with its founding in 1411 by Sultan Ahmed Shah and progresses into the significant literary and religious influences and political swings it was subject to.

We also get a fair idea of the everyday life and the natural calamities that affected it, time and again. The authors scrutinise the momentous periods in Ahmedabad’s history and there is no dearth of information on each and every aspect that the book deals with.

It throws a flood of light on the development of the city’s renowned crafts and textiles, and architecture (the jalis and jharokas) which was a ‘synthesis and symbiosis’ of various influences. It is rather fascinating to learn about the modification of the simple jhoola (swing) into intricately carved and ornamented ones, which found a place in most traditional paintings and became an integral item of export.

The establishment of the distinctive pols (colonies along narrow streets) and parabdis (shelter where grain and water was kept for birds) was a truly noteworthy development. Apart from presenting a complete analysis of the structured trade association that existed in Gujarat even in the 11th century, one of the notable aspects of the book is its extensive study of the introduction of modern education in India, which received a lot of attention in the early 19th century, with the objective of restoring literature and backing up the sciences.

As the authors examine the educational development, we learn about how education had affected the different sections of the population. This analysis is particularly meaningful in the context of the turmoil which the multi-religious society and a society that was fast becoming more industrialised, was faced with. It is interesting to note the emphasis laid on education for girls, higher education and growth of the vernacular, which eventually culminated in the setting up of printing presses (1845) to print school text books and in time newspapers.

Amedabant, Amedavat, Ahmadabath, Ahmdavad, Karnavati and finally Ahmedabad — A city with several names and numerous facets, which in spite of being ‘Gandhi’s karmabhumi’ was not free of riots, disorder and religious anarchy. The city went through catastrophic transformations from the mid-19th century. Gradually, the ground for each disaster became more religious than economic.

Notwithstanding the efforts of Gandhi who persevered to exemplify that the people could live together peacefully despite religious differences, the long-established value systems were eventually undermined and by the end of the 20th century, we had a communally divided Ahmedabad.

Achyut Yagnik and Suchitra Sheth, who have also co-authored The Shaping of Modern Gujarat: Plurality, Hindutva and Beyond, have presented an adequate coverage of this illustrious city, which is attested by the extensive bibliography of the sources. Apart from being rich in information about the contours of the growth, development and the tribulations of the city, we have bits of forgotten facts in spurts which are novel and valuable, for example, the tomb of the great Urdu poet Wali Gujarati which was destroyed by a furious crowd during the communal violence of 2002.

The next day the government eradicated the site by extending the road over it. There is no doubt that the book has the potential to reach a high watermark of success, but it does show certain limitations. A vast amount of data has been put together, but there are repetitions especially in the initial part, omission of which could have cemented the book and made it comprehensive, yet concise. The overall language is lucid and articulate, but the style of narration is somewhat humdrum and rather pedagogic because of which, it does not hold the interest of the reader throughout the book.

Putting in bits of attention-grabbing trivia and incidents, could have made it a more enjoyable read. In all fairness however, it cannot be ignored that, the book belongs to the factual and historical genre, which leaves limited scope for creative ingenuity.

The preceding observations are only to suggest further possible enrichment of the book, hence, the lack of these by no means, diminish its intrinsic importance which is a prominent addition to the list of the very best biographies. It covers almost the entire spectrum of what one would want to know about the city and its journey from a royal city to a mega city.

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