The on-going construction of the Delhi Metro is a reminder that even twelve years on, the city is in a suspended state of transformation. This great unearthing, as we currently witness on the Ring Road, is also a continual reckoning with our very urban space. In contrast to Marc Augé’s classic meditation on the Paris Metro as an evocation of things past, here in Delhi the Metro represents a quintessential present and a referencing of the future.
The Delhi Metro is an exceptional project in every respect – for its costliness most of all but also for the way it was built and the kind of support it has received in the agencies that matter most. It is the ultimate top-down approach to city planning and one that cements middle-class interests from the city’s centres to its peripheries. The Metro also invites a wide swathe of society into the ambit of middle-class desire. This paper explores the visions at play, working to further urbanise the city. How are the city’s futures – in terms of traffic and pollution, safety and surveillance, status and inequality – being articulated? Drawing on interviews with urban planners, architects, and bureaucrats from the DMRC, DDA, UTTIPEC, and elsewhere, as well as empirical data from observations and interactions on trains and around stations, my paper offers a short, recent history of the Metro’s present in order to delve into its possible futures.
Rashmi Sadana is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at George Mason University in the Washington DC metro area. Her current project considers new forms of sociality, development of urban spaces, and politics of planning and design, through the prism of Delhi’s Metro. Her first book, English Heart, Hindi Heartland: The Political Life of Literature in India (University of California Press, 2012), is an ethnography of Delhi’s literary sphere and its multi-layered politics of cultural authenticity. She is co-editor of The Cambridge Companion to Modern Indian Culture and writes a regular column for DNA. She holds a Ph.D. in Anthropology from U.C. Berkeley, an M.A. in South Asia Studies from SOAS, University of London, and a B.A. in English from U.C. Berkeley. She was a National Science Foundation-funded postdoctoral fellow in Anthropology and in the Committee on Global Thought at Columbia University and has taught as visiting faculty at IIT Delhi and IIT Madras.