[Reader-list] 1st Posting.... Colours of Surat

Rutul Joshi joshirutul at yahoo.co.in
Tue Jan 27 16:57:12 IST 2004

Dear Everyone,
Let me introduce myself. I am Rutul Joshi. I am Lecturer at Faculty of Architecture, SCET, Surat. I am an Architect- Urban Planner (completed from CEPT, Ahmedabad in 2003). The following is my research proposal for the fellowship program 2004. 
Working Title"Composition of Surat: A Study in urban cultural confluence and conflicts"
Conceptual Premises – City as an archive of cultural confluence

The flows of diverse streams of culture have enriched various facets of the public life such as music, literature, architecture and social relations. Various ethnic groups coming by the sea route or by the land route in Gujarat have interacted and contributed to the art and public culture over the centuries. The aspects of confluence of culture have not only influenced the society at the elemental level but it has however touched upon the ‘deep structures’. 

Cities document history through its form and functioning. Various layers of Social and spatial composition of the city gives possibilities to explore narratives of the past that represents these confluence. It is necessary to unravel some of these narratives to understand the public culture of the cities. This kind of search and bringing it out in the public domain is very much relevant in the context of emerging situations of communal segregation in the cities of Gujarat. 

Context – The City of Surat

The city of Surat in south Gujarat has played an important role in economic activities and cultural exchanges, as it is one of the oldest mercantile centers in Gujarat. Surat is located on the banks of river Tapi (Tapti) in the South Gujarat Region. It has witnessed a long history of trade-commerce and subsequent cultural imports since the early decades of the 17th century. However, from such a prominence during this period it fell to the position of a sub-regional urban center by the end of the eighteenth century. It did not take a long time for a section of the local traders to find avenues of capital employment especially in small-scale industries within and around the region. 

Surat is emerging as a very ‘strong’ economy that is based on textile, diamond cutting-polishing, pharmaceuticals and agricultural products. It is one of the fasted growing urban area in the country with its population count reaching up to 3 millions by the end of 2003, now being known as the second largest city in Gujarat (12th largest in the country). The city has grown immensely in the last decade resulted by the continuous male migration from the various parts of the country. This has lead to the rise in the slum population of the city and sharp reduction in the sex ratio between 1991-2001. A study by Bishwaroop Das[1] reveals that in ever increasing slum population of the city, about 80 percentage of the population consists migrants from various parts of the country. Industrial ghettos created by continuing rural-urban migration and increasing disparity within the city are another facet of the city which known for its prosperity, pomp and glitter. 

Today, Surat urban agglomeration is an amalgamation of the ‘original’ suratis – Khatris, Ghanchis, Bohra Muslims, Kolis, Macchis and the ‘outsiders’ like tribal from the immediate sub region, kathiawadis from Saurastra, Marwadis from Rajasthan, Jaunpuriyas from the Eastern UP, Udiya, Bihari and many other groups. These ‘outsiders’ have located themselves in the different parts of Surat and the city is composed by the dominance of a particular community or regional groups in the various parts of the city.

Focus – Narratives of confluences and conflicts

Every city develops its own culture in the course of time. It reflects in language, literature, lifestyle, food habits and architecture. Surat has a very different cultural milieu compared to the other cities of Gujarat. Being one of the oldest mercantile hub of Gujarat and the center of activities in the South Gujarat region, it has developed its own urban public culture with cosmopolitan overtures. The city has significantly contributed to Gujarati literature especially poetry. The city has unique food culture which is reflected in the proverbs like – ‘Surat nu Jaman and Kashi nu Maran’ meaning ‘Food in Surat and Death in Kashi (secures you place in heaven). Popular food items with the strange names like locho, ghotalo etc. are not much heard about in the other parts of Gujarat. The city also has a reputation for the slangs and other such innovations being part of the local lingo. 

Gujarati Gazal as an example of confluence of cultures

Gazal is a very recent form of poetry for Gujarati literature and probably a prime example of cultural confluence in urban context. Gazals in Gujarati has clear references of Urdu literature and grammar at the same time; it has been adopted for spiritual and religious overtures with the references of Krisha-Radha. Many of the Urdu Shayars started writings Gazals in Gujarati since the pre-independence days. Surat witnessed formulation of some of the most profound Gazals in Gujarati. In fact, it is one of the few cities where the Gazal form of Gujarati poetry was prospered. The culture of mushayaras and baithaks very much existed in Surat. Areas like Zampa Bazaar, known for the non-vegetarian delicacies were also famous for the regular mushayaras for Gujarati and Urdu Gazals. This study is aimed at exploring such narratives and spaces that gives accounts of cultural confluence in the urban context. 

 The predominant ‘Surati’ Culture and the conflicts within

The recent debate of ‘Mumbai for the Mumbaikars’ was the product of exclusivist socio-political mindset, which is trying to invoke the predominant consciousness against the subjugated one. The question is ‘what is Surati about Surat?’ Is it just the food culture, different accent and lingo, commercial activities and cultural spats? This leads to larger level debates about the sustenance of the predominant local culture. 
About who belongs to the city and which predominant culture represents the city in the today’s time? 

The tribal population coming from the immediate sub region and which is part of the eastern tribal belt of Gujarat, do they really belong to the city? Or they have always been excluded from the discourse of predominant ‘Surati’ culture? Did the tribal settling down in urban areas sustain their cultural practices as a parallel culture or they merged in the predominant culture? The answers of these questions need to be explored through rigorous fieldwork and research. This study will also attempt at discovering narratives that have existed either as part of the predominant ‘Surati’ culture or as part of other ‘excluded’ sub-cultures. 


[1] Bishwaroop Das (1994): Socio-Economic study of slums in Surat city, Center for Social Studies (CSS), Surat. 


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