The ‘Unintended’ City: A Case for Re-reading the Spatialization of a Princely City Through the 1898 Plague Epidemic

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Dhanpal, Sonali
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Cities have witnessed a surge in attention from urban scholarship in what is now referred to as the ‘urban turn’ in South Asian studies. In recent years, colonial Presidency capital cities such as Bombay, Calcutta, and Delhi and their mutually constitutive architecture and urban history, have received significant recognition. The urban history of nominally sovereign, princely states and their respective capital cities, however, have been relegated to regional histories, sustaining limited inquiry. This paper, therefore, focuses on colonial urbanism in one such understudied princely city, Bangalore, the administrative capital of the princely state of Mysore. Through the plague of 1898 and the extraordinary intervention measures it occasioned, the paper investigates spatial patterns in parts of the city that fell under British jurisdiction, during a critical period in the state, between when princely rule was reinstated in 1881 until the aftermath of the bubonic plague that struck the city in 1898. The British controlled parts of the city had been envisioned to reflect order and authority but also difference from its native counterpart. Such vision, became a means of and reason for social control in the British controlled areas, resulting in urban segregation that often overlapped with religious, ethnolinguistic and caste segregation prompting the creation of the metaphorical ‘unintended city’. By examining these unintended pockets, this paper seeks to demonstrate ways of thinking about architecture and urbanism, beyond social privilege and aesthetics of envisioned, formal, master plans. It will reveal a more complex story than that of a partitioned original settlement or Pettah, and the European ‘white city’ that colonial administrators commonly ascribed to its spatialization.1 After the plague, “improvement” projects became central to the imagination of the city, twinning as both sanitary and moral reform. But capitalist imperatives and laissez- faire economics compromised planning measures, making available such improvements to limited populations, resulting in paradoxical outcomes. Instead of focussing on these improvement schemes, this paper questions imposed paradigms in architectural history by reconstituting the object of investigation and recognizing ephemeral spaces, such as segregation camps and hospitals, both “temporary” and “permanent”. It argues that the spaces conceived from these momentary exchanges caused by disruptions such as the plague, are key to understanding space making in Bangalore city, before formal improvement schemes were introduced. There exists a lacuna of unadulterated self-representation of marginalised, non-local, migrant inhabitants. This paper, by following the plague, allows examination of their lives to some extent, through the spaces they inhabited, were limited to, and those that were excluded from, in this process. Employing a wide variety of unexamined archival sources that range from gazetteers, plague reports and sanitary regulations that have hitherto not been used for the purposes of a spatial enquiry to examine the city, it provides a rich depiction of the ‘unintended’ city and its inhabitants.
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