Those of us who reside in high-rise buildings in cities would have to be living in a bubble if we denied the segregation of spaces (albeit unofficial in many cases) on the basis of caste and religion. Growing up in a upper-class, Baniya family, there were only so many neighbourhoods in Kolkata that I visited. My school, most of my friends’ houses, restaurants we frequented: all of these were located in the more affluent neighbourhoods in the city.
When we stepped out of our buildings and went to the less affluent ones, our parents always sent us with caveats: “Be careful, it’s a very Muslim area”, or “Don’t leave the restaurant until I tell you to, it’s not safe for you to wait outside alone”. For women especially, the city is mapped out in terms of which areas are safe, and which areas aren’t (and unsurprisingly, those that were deemed unsafe were those occupied largely by the working class). Even though we might not think about it consciously, a spatially segregated map of the city lives and breathes inside all of us.
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And so, it would be naive to say that the residential complexes and buildings I speak about in my comic are causing segregation in an otherwise un-segregated landscape. What drew me to these complexes, however, was their unabashedness in their disdain for the poor. The ones that are most posh, gleam against the sky. These buildings and housing societies flaunt swimming pools, gyms, and sports complexes: they are the aspirational housing of the modern Indian cities.
This imagination of modern living, that is realised and fulfilled for many through these housing complexes, wants to have nothing to do with the poor. They separate themselves aesthetically by building a landscape of cobbled paths and foreign trees, that look nothing like the pothole filled roads and dusty trees outside.
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Everyone living in these buildings and complexes almost always belong to a specific economic class, which gives them access to similar clothes, furniture, cars; most of their children go to the same schools; they all eat at the same restaurants; holiday in similar locations; and so, residents rarely have to interact with people outside of their social class in the capacity of equals.
People from the working class must always assume a role of subservience when they enter the complex, and they can only enter if their employer approves. They are dehumanised and emasculated at every step: they must wait in long queues until they are allowed to enter, they must use separate entrances to these buildings, and leave as soon as their work is done (God forbid they be seen loitering around the lawns that they just mowed).
The only role for the poor in our imagination of the modern is subservience.
Purvi is a freelance writer and illustrator, with a degree in Literary and Cultural Studies from FLAME University, Pune. You can reach out to her by emailing her at firstname.lastname@example.org
All images as illustrated and provided by the author, Purvi Rajpuria.