However, the relationship between the city and the village is crucial not just in analysis of modernism, but also for entire literary historiography and historical analysis of culture as demonstrated by Raymond Williams’ seminal book ` The Country and the City’(1973). Giving a lucid and rigorous analysis of shifting values, perceptions and associations of the opposition between the country and the city as embodied in English literary history, Williams remarks that this contrast,` is one of the major forms in which we become conscious of a central part of our experience and of the crises of our society’. (1973:289). He argues that capitalism, as a mode of production, is the basic process of most of what we know as the history of country and city. He cites Marx and Engels from the Communist Manifesto where they say, ` the bourgeoisie has subjected the country to the rule of the towns...has created enormous cities...has made barbarian and semi-barbarian countries dependent on the civilized ones.’ (1973:303).
Williams, in spite of being a Marxist, is critical of the idea implicit within Marxism and socialism, the avowed enemies of capitalism, in their perception that the city is more `advanced and progressive’ than the country because the industrial capitalism is a more progressive than the feudal capitalism. However, what is important to us in our analysis of the relationship between modernism and the city in the Indian context is Raymond Williams’ awareness of relevance of this thesis to cultures beyond the British and the western culture. He is aware of the fact that the historical process he is studying is `now effectively international, means that we have more than material for interesting comparisons. ‘(1973:292)
While it would be illuminating to examine the imagery and sensibility associated with the urban experience in the modernist Indian poetry, I would be delimiting myself to Gujarati. The meaning of the term modernism is indeed ambiguous and contested; however, I would characterize modernism as a sense of discontinuity with tradition and rebellion against established artistic and ethical norms. The earliest glimpse of modernism in Gujarati poetry can be found in Niranjan Bhagat (b.1926)’s ` Pravaal Dveep’ or The Coral Island. The poems are centred on the experience of the megapolis called Mumbai and exhibit influences of the western modernist poets like Eliot and Rilke along with Tagore. Among the famous contemporaries of Bhagat is Suresh Joshi (1921-1986). A lesser-known contemporary of Bhagat is Hasmukh Pathak (b.1930) also exhibits early modernist sensibility centred on the urban experience. In `Saherni Ghadio Ganta..’ or Keeping a count of time in the city, he uses a typical modernist metaphor:
While Mumbai has played a very significant role in formation of modernist sensibility in Gujarati and Marathi, it would extremely interesting to see how the city called ` the Manchester of the East’ Ahmedabad emerges from Gujarati modernist poetry. Ahmedabad or Ahmadabad is the largest city in Gujarat and the sixth largest city in India with a population of almost 5 million. The city is also sometimes called Karnavati , an older name and as Amdavad in colloquial Gujarati . Ahmedabad is the administrative center of Ahmedabad District, and was the former capital of Gujarat State from 1960 to 1970, when Gandhinagar replaced it.
One of the most famous poems on Ahmedabad is a ghazal written by `Adil’ Mansuri (b.1936) one of the rebellious Gujarati poets who had to leave Ahmedabad, his homeland. Mansuri was associated with the avant-garde `Rhey Math’, a group of rebellious poets based in Mumbai. He is also credited with introducing modernist sensibility to Gujarati ghazal. The ghazal in question here is romantic and looks at the city he is leaving in a sentimental fashion.
Manilal Desai (1939-1966) belongs to the later generation of modernist Gujarati poets, which include poets like Labhshanker Thaker (b.1935), Ghulam Mohammed Sheikh (b.1937), ) Ravji Patel (1939-1968), Chandrakant Sheth (b. 1938) , Chinu Modi (b.1939) and Sitanshu Yashashchandra Mehta ( b.1941). What is most important here is the experience of metropolis and urbanization pervades their works in terms of imagery and sensibility. Sheikh, for instance, has many surreal sequences based on the cities like Delhi and Mumbai.
Gandhi’s Ahmedabad is no longer the land of non-violence and peace. In a poem called ` Maru Shaher’ by Chinu Modi, we find Ahmedabad behaving in more of a Godseian way:
However, the experience of urbanization and city life is not limited to what EV Ramakrishnan (1995) in his very important study of modernism in Indian context has termed `High Modernism’ or individualistic and elitist modernism, but is also crucially present in what he calls the later avant-garde or collectivistic or subaltern modernism. The Dalit movement in Marathi was largely Mumbai based or based in the city. In Gujarati too, Dalit poetry has taken a note of the city and its discontents. One can cite a poem by Sahil Parmar, a Dalit Gujarati poet:
We can see that the modernist Gujarati poetry articulates voices of dissent and alternative notions of Gujarati culture and identity by employing the trope of city and the poetic material drawn from urban experience. The poems by Chinu Modi, Sahil Parmar and Manilal Desai protest against the established culture by voicing their anguish caused by the urban experience of Ahmedabad. The perceptions presented in the poems are critical to the predominant ideas of `culture’. The poems are rebellious and anarchic like the presiding deity of modernism, Dionysus. Modi’s poem is more direct in its Dionysian longing to return to the primitive tribal kingdom and its anti commercial stance (They measure your shadows/ Not bodies/To stitch clothes). The poems are also full of images of morbidity, darkness and decadence. Unlike Adil’s ghazal which is `pretty’, the modernist poems about Ahmedabad are often ugly (consider Chinu Modi’s metaphor of ` This city is an old man/ Groaning with constipation/ This city is/all the fancy aerobics/Of a back broken spider...). These poems interweave references to historical references like Gandhi’s Sabarmati Ashram, Ahmed Shah, Karnavati, Assapalli and the Nav Nirman Movment with legends like the rabbit that chased a dog and dense surreal metaphors of darkness, pulverised moon and surreal humour of Ahmed Shah driving a bicycle rickshaw. The images are anarchic and subterranean.
Raymond Williams notes that ` the key cultural factor of the modernist shift is the character of the metropolis. (1990:166).’ What Prof Williams says about the Modernism in the West has implications and uses for us too. The examination of urban experience is crucial for understanding the Modernism in Indian languages. This article is a concise attempt to do so and a beginning of a more elaborate research project. It reveals that The City is a crucial trope in the modernist poetry as the cities like Ahmedabad, Vadodara and Mumbai have played a formative role in moulding of modernist sensibility in Gujarati. It briefly examined the tortuous affiliation of Indian modernism to its urban context with a specific reference to a handful of modernist Gujarati poems by poets like Adil Mansuri, Chinu Modi, Manilal Desai and Salil Parmar dealing with Ahmedabad. I sought to demonstrate how these poems intricately weave history, sociology and politics into their dense fabric to articulate multiple and often dissenting perceptions of cultural history of Ahmedabad and by extension Gujarat.