On Friday morning, March 23, 2018, the director of the Centre for Policy Research, Partha Mukhopadhyay had a powerpoint slide that asserted the rural is not a collection of farms. The assertion had me juxtaposing specific urban villages in Shenzhen and Delhi to think about how macro-stories converge even as our detailed, specific and constitutive micro-stories continuously repulse each other.
Consider, for example, that Delhi and Shenzhen have both been shaped by feudal empires, British colonialism, the Third World projects of Nehru and Zhou Enlai, and containerization. These macro-processes were attached (via urbanizing prosthetics) to both regions, relentlessly reshaping landscapes to the needs of state projects. What’s more, as India’s National Capital Region and China’s Great Bay have urbanized, millions of migrants have hacked Delhi and Shenzhen, creating informal enclaves—urban villages and unauthorized colonies, where migrants and the poor find temporary shelters, raise their children, forage for wages, and jockey for urban services and social welfare. Consequently, when walking either city, there is visceral recognition—yes, we think, I’ve seen this before. In both cities, we step across wide, smooth boulevards and abruptly enter narrow and uneven alleys, shunting from standardized national languages to regional accents and dialects, from international tastes to hometown kitchens, from glossy malls and their global chains to idiosyncratic mom & pops, from sanitary bathrooms and reliable electricity to open sewers and intermittent access to the city’s grid.
And yet. The inevitable incoherence of juxtaposing the Shenzhen experience with that of Delhi arrises because each urban space is clunky and unfinished, held together not only by global logistics, but also (and more importantly) by the emplaced tenacity. Where one of us might see a moment of convergence, someone belches “yes, but…” The resistance is stilted and often incoherent. We know that the two cities have been masterplanned, but like the monster in Mary Shelley’s novel, Frankenstein the landscapes of Delhi and Shenzhen have also been constructed through scavenging and scientific thinking, unexpected moments of tenderness, cultural histories, and a brute desire to reproduce the world in our own image. (Who is “us” white man?) And these differences shake our souls.
Indeed, comparing cities becomes increasingly intolerable the closer we get to particulars because even when there should be a coherent story, we cannot seem to agree about what happened, even when we see the consequences—and that, that moment of mutual recognition seems to be what we want. Instead, we dance to vexed rhythms of call and unsatisfactory responses.
The song begins. This and. But. And. But. And, and, and BUT. And the bar line doesn’t change because the story of what happened to the taxi driver while he waited for us to finish dinner remains a jazzy riff on facts and fiction. After we had finished a full day exploring a small section of the Delhi Mumbai Industrial Corridor, we gathered in the marble halls of a high class hotel to talk with local activists about their work. While we ate, our drivers were outside, waiting. As we were preparing to leave, we received word that one of the drivers had been hit by a car. Why was he crossing an unlit expressway at night? To go to the bathroom. But there was plenty of open space where he could have safely urinated and the hotel had staff bathrooms he could have used. And he didn’t feel empowered to ask? He crossed the highway to get to a commercial area and use a restroom. But…something else, it would seem, was at play.
In the next posts, I reflect on a three-day workshop that was hosted by the Centre for Policy Research and organized through the urban equity project of the India China Institute. Participants came from Delhi, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Hong Kong, and New York. We hope that by learning from the lived stories the National Capital Region (NCR) and Pearl River Delta (PRD), we might better understand what connects our experiences, even as we craft a language in which to hold these conversations. We are thinking about techniques of governance and ideological assemblages in order to figure out what our experiences might mean to and for each other, as well as for situated agents in both regions. This was the second meeting that we have had this year. The first took place in Nantou, at the Shenzhen-Hong Kong Bi-city Biennale of Urbanism\Architecture, January 22-24, 2018.
My thoughts on the three-day workshop are provisional and easily disputed. Nevertheless, I hope that by thinking of the two cities through Frankenstein (and the odd social theory) perhaps we might be clearer about what happened. This, perhaps, is the philosopher’s tune: when I can’t figure out what happened, I turn my gaze to the conditions of human unknowing and the persistence of our shared desire for truth. I do believe that some kind of agreement about what happened will set us free. But here’s the rub: our Franken-Cities seem quasi-sentient, operating not so much according to the will of their makers, but according to the inveterate momentums that concrete and steel impose; accidents (that could only happen here, could only happen there) keep happening despite our best intentions.
Origins of the Franken-City
Friday afternoon, March 23, 2018, we walked Mehrauli. During our pre-walk briefing, Rohit Negi explained that Delhi’s urban villages were historic settlements engulfed by the expanding city; urban villages have allowed for migrants to take up residence in Delhi without receiving full municipal services. As in Shenzhen, the so-called urban village in Delhi is an artifact of legal loopholes—a space of exception that allows for flexible responses to the social problems endemic to global enclaves. Low-income housing is the most obvious fix, but Delhi urban villages also resolve such problems as food distribution, mom & pop entrepreneurialism, and medical care. As in Nantou and Shajing, Dongmen and Shenzhen’s middling enclaves on its outer district metro lines, in the urban villages of Delhi farmers have urbanized their settlements without explicit authorization by the state. In the contemporary Franken-city, the urban village exists at the whim of the government which can (in both Dehli and Shenzhen) use illegality as the excuse for expropriating land, evicting tenants, and masterplanning the city.
Writing a history of the Franken-cities of Delhi and Shenzhen is something of a scavenger hunt that can begin anywhere, but eventually returns to an urban village that was “the original city.” Mehrali, for example, is an assemblage of past and present, national fantasies and quotidian struggles, and boasts over a millennium of continuous settlement. There are in fact three Mehraulis—the enclosed Qutub Complex, the Mehrauli Archaeological Park, and Mehrauli village. The Qutub Complex is a UNESCO world heritage site and many come to the area to visit the Qutub minaret, the Quwwat-ul-Islam Mosque, and the Iron Pillar of Delhi. If the tour has scheduled enough time, these visitors may also stroll through the archaeological park, which occupies 200 acres and includes over 100 monuments that evoke the city’s Hindu, Jain, and Muslim histories. The village is the location of Phool Waalon Ki Sair, a festival which honors both the Sufi saint Hazrat Khwaja Bakhtiyar Kaki and Lord Krishna’s sister Jog Maya. Nevertheless, few tourists peak over the red stone walls to learn about the vibrant urban village, even as villagers have accessed this history through everyday actions.
Since the 1970s, Mehrauli has been urbanizing informally and the neighborhood throbs with life. Delivery boys and pedestrians navigate the clotted streets, deftly avoiding auto rickshaws, motorcycles, and cars. Shops sell bright packets of savory snacks and drinks in plastic bottles. Inside the ruins of a large castle, older men play cards, while boys play cricket. Most people live in squat housing beneath tangled telephone and electrical lines. And although there are obvious efforts to keep the main areas clean, densities of people and our plastics can be overwhelming. According to a 2016 newspaper article (https://www.hindustantimes.com/delhi-news/south-delhi-urban-sprawl-robs-mehrauli-s-charm/story-hjtvYv74Tduf88lT7Ll6VJ.html), the current population is roughly 250,000 people, who are “robbing” Mehrauli of its charm.
Our guide to Mehrauli was Mesha Murali, who curated the 2017 pop-up museum (https://scroll.in/magazine/825450/history-through-the-eyes-of-a-mehrauli-residents-not-historians) for the village. Organized by the Centre for Community Knowledge at Ambedkar University and the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage, the museum narrated the area’s cultural history from the perspective of its residents. Mesha and her team documented memories of jackals in the nearby forest and ghost stories about who lived near Hauz-i-Shamsi Lake. People moved in and out this history, redeploying heritage spaces to banal needs such as places to defecate and hang with friends, even as they recounted stories of ghost sightings and unexplained encounters. In local stories, these sites simultaneously appear more sacred and more profane than in the tourist pamphlet; in the oral histories that Mesha and her team collected, these ruins and the forest were not “ heritage,” but haunted ruins and toilets.
Like Mehrauli, Nantou in Shenzhen is simultaneously an archaeological site and an urban village. The official story has it that Nantou was settled around 331 as part of the expansion of the imperial salt monopoly. Located on the eastern banks of the Pearl River Delta, the city was a maritime gate to Guangzhou and in 736 a naval base was built nearby. In 1394, the Ming built walls around the city. It abuts the the sculpture gardens of Sun Yat-sen Park and the historic Nantou High School campus. Nestled at the western edge of the village is a two-story catholic church. Built in 1913 by Italian missionaries, the church building used to be an orphanage and its graceful arches evoke a time when proselytiation accompanied colonial expansion. Outside the city gates, villagers labored in rice paddies, cultivated oyster beds, and harvested lychees from hillside orchards. Young men often crossed Shenzhen Bay on sampans to Hong Kong, where they either found jobs on an international ship or sailed on one overseas to work, sending remittances to families who remained behind.
By the time the Special Economic Zone was established in 1980, the center of county life had shifted to Shenzhen Market, which was the first station on the Chinese side of the Kowloon-Canton Railway. Nevertheless, as millions of migrants came to the Special Economic Zone to change their lives, they moved into the villages, which during the 1980s and into the early millennium provided factory jobs, cheap housing, and low-capital investment opportunities. Nantou also urbanized informally, its alleys crowded with factory workers and construction laborers, prostitutes and hustlers. During those first decades, Nantou was unconnected to the city’s urban grid, which was also under construction. As in other villages, the alleys frequently flooded and rubbish clotted open sewers, giving rise to the stereotype that urban villages are “dirty, chaotic, and substandard.” However, in 2004, the city’s infrastructure was extended into the villages, providing basic urban services and in 2006 a citywide vice crackdown resulted in family friendly neighborhoods. Nevertheless, the villages remained the most important location of cheap housing and mom & pop investment. Today, Nantou Ancient City footprint is roughly 1.1 square kilometers with a population of 28,000 or so.
The fact that both ancient cities have become densely populated urban neighborhoods, where informal structures butt up against historic architecture begs the question of the Franken-city’s origins. What does it mean that less than fifty years ago, Mehrauli was a rural settlement and Nantou was a forgotten outpost, but recently both neighborhoods have simultaneously become the focus of heritage preservation and social improvement efforts? Inquiring minds want to know: which came first, the Mamluk dynasty or the contemporary population explosion? The salt monopoly or township and village industrial parks? Today, I’m wondering if we care about Mehrauli and Nantou precisely because the juxtaposition of monuments and informal housing highlights something about the dodgy scaffolding of globalizing souls.
In one of the early chapters of Frankenstein, the protagonist grapples with a major contradiction of modern life. The ancients, he reflects “sought immortality and power,” while in modern times, scientists “exchange[d] chimeras of boundless grandeur for realities of little worth.” The absence of noble purpose in modern life leads young Frankenstein to despair. He then attends a chemistry class where his teacher explains that modern scientists, “whose hands seem only made to dabble in dirt, and their eyes to pore over the microscope or crucible, have indeed performed miracles. They penetrate into the recesses of nature, and show how she works in her hiding places. They ascend into the heavens: they have discovered how the blood circulates, and the nature of the air we breathe. They have acquired new and almost unlimited powers; they can command the thunders of heaven, mimic the earthquake, and even mock the invisible world with its own shadows .”1 Upon hearing Professor’s Waldman’s words, young Frankenstein suddenly understood the meaning behind what Weber called the secularization of the world and Nietzsche referred to as the death of God; although human beings once aspired to greatness, modern technology meant it was no longer possible to believe in a natural order. Instead, to achieve greatness it was necessary to act in God’s place.
The same day that we headed to Mehrauli, the banner headline of India’s millenniumpost was “Cornered by world public opinion, Zuckerberg forced to say ‘sorry’.” One pictures the Facebook CEO backed into a dead end alley, tail pressed up against dank bricks, growling, fangs out, preparing to bite the public. The image seethes with popular fictions—werewolves of London and the paranormal heroes of contemporary romance novels. These stock characters are melodramatic descendants of Frankenstein and The Vampyre, which were both written into life on a cold and rainy night in Geneva, circa 1819. These transformed monsters are buff and considerate, and they take paternity leaves to care for newborns, but when trapped—and they always get trapped around chapter two or three of a Harlequin™ romance—modern heroes grow furry or grow fangs or if an android, modern heroes begin to exhibit consciousness. Our modern demons barely suppress their rage, their eyes glow with an alpha fire, and their manes are professionally groomed. They are beautiful in their primal anger and when they bite back—and they always bite back around chapter eight or nine—we find ourselves in their corner because somehow (as we learned in chapter seven) the known monster isn’t the true monster. The human epidermis is too thin to contain our true nature, which paces just beneath our ribcage. The HEA of our guilty pleasure (and who doesn’t enjoy a good ghost story?) is the conformation of a truth that Frankenstein learned through tragedy and we accept as commonsense; the real monsters are those who try and shape human nature, rather than those who express it fully, but to become Alpha, we must give ourselves over to unnatural forces.
So yes, Mehrauli is to Delhi as Nantou is to Shenzhen because their structural similarities run true to the bone. On the face of it, comparing Mehrauli to Delhi is something of an intellectual reach. The monuments at Mehrauli are world class and those at Nantou a resounding “meh.” Also, the provision of urban services in Nantou is far superior to that in Mehrauli. However, these differences comprise two-sides of the same coin. The contradiction between the moral aspirations of classical metaphysics and the amorality of modern science structures everyday life in both Mehrauli and Nantou, albeit via scientific incantations and artificially revitalized traditions. Thus, it should not surprise anyone that even in 2018 after a decade of concerted effort to transform Shenzhen’s “dirty, chaotic, and substandard (zang, luan, cha)” urban villages into middle class neighborhoods, it was still possible for homeless men to climb the pounded earth ruins of Nantou’s Ming-era city wall and defecate in relative privacy. Indeed, these are the origins of the Franken-city—the discovery of ancient grandeur in low-end neighborhoods and the agonizing realization that the the technology at hand cannot satisfy our longing to transcend the limits flesh imposes.
Stations of Development, Heroes of the Franken-City
On Saturday morning, March 24, we departed comfy rooms at India Habitat Centre after a sixth floor breakfast of dhal and yoghurt, fresh fruit and grains. Our caravan comprised three sports vehicles, each with five or six researchers and a driver. As we navigated the roundabouts of Delhi’s Diplomatic Enclave, we came upon thousands of students and teachers marching from Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) to India’s Parliament House in order to protest the suppression of sexual harassment claims against a JNU professor who was allegedly being protected from investigation by the university Vice Chancellor.
Our guide for the day Pranav Kuttaiah explained the importance of JNU and the students’ activism. For many young Indians, attending a public university is the first time that they meet people from other castes, regions, and classes. They then work together to achieve academic and personal goals, modeling alternative relationships to those dictated by tradition and inequality off campus. Consequently, public universities have been transformational spaces for Indian youth and for the country more generally. However, the Modi regime has decided to “grant autonomy” to JNU, a move which would lead to privatization of the world class institution. As in much of the world, India’s private universities have high class teachers and offer challenging curriculum, but only for the wealthy, hence the anger over the Modi regime’s decision which would simultaneously buttress unequal access to education as well as pre-empt opportunities for young people to experience social alternatives.
Our group proceeded to the Gurgaon-Manesar section of the Delhi-Mumbai industrial corridor (DMIC) (http://dmicdc.com/), itself an effort to animate the national body. According to its website, the massive project is “conceived to be developed as a Model Industrial Corridor of international standards with emphasis on expanding the manufacturing and services base and develop DMIC as the Global Manufacturing and Trading Hub”. The DMIC website’s souped up rhetoric and development strategy, the glossy pictures and vague but determined hype are reminiscent of Shenzhen and its efforts to present the Qianhai Cooperative Zone as the place where business matters (http://www.szqh.com.cn/).
That shiny future was nowhere apparent, however, when we exited our car near the Delhi-Haryana border. Instead of stepping into air-conditioned halls, we found ourselves on a vast stretch of agricultural lands and a church, where behind the barbed wire and concrete walls, the archdiocese of Delhi had installed the Stations of the Cross. Like Frankenstein, the story begins in death and ends with resurrection. At the first station Jesus is condemned to death, subsequently, he carries his cross, he falls, he meets his mother, he falls again, his clothes are taken away and he is nailed to the cross. He dies, his body is taken down, he is laid in the tomb. This mini-pilgrimage was organized around a wheat field that rustled in gentle wind. Traversing the stations allows Catholics to mediate on the intrinsic suffering of human life as well as their ultimate reunion with God.
The Resurrection, of course, is the implicit foil to Frankenstein’s project to manufacture a living creature. According to Christian mythology, when God animates Jesus, he returns him to his original divine state. In contrast, the work of the mad scientist produces abomination—“His yellow skin scarcely covered the work of muscles and arteries beneath; his hair was of a lustrous black, and flowing; his teeth of a pearly whiteness; but these luxuriances only formed a more horrid contrast with his watery eyes, that seemed almost of the same colour as the dun white sockets in which they were set, his shrivelled complexion and straight black lips.” Mary Shelley, it would seem, was interested in the affect caused by scientifically rendering soul from flesh—the consequence of immoderate science, she warns, is madness and devastation.
Outside the church several young men approached us on Hero motorcycles (https://www.heromotocorp.com/ en-in/), the name of the company once again drawing our attention to the ways that the Franken-City grafts classical prosthetics onto industrial modernity. Just as the rubbished monuments of Mehrauli have been repurposed to create a noble heritage for the nation-state, so too heroic mythology has been repurposed toward capitalist projects. In fact, a brief visit to the motorcycle company’s website shows the current CEO hobnobbing with soccer stars and professional road racers.
The story of how Heroes ended up on this expanse of road, however, is much more a story of global expansion and production chain gangs. In 1984, Hero Cycles began as a joint venture between Hero of India and Honda of Japan. By 2010, Honda decided to leave the venture and Hero became a fully Indian company, controlling almost half the national market. The Hero story is something of a prologue to recent Japanese investment in Indian infrastructure. During the 1990s, the Japanese shunted investment in India to China, taking advantage of the frontier conditions in Shenzhen specifically and the Pearl River Delta more generally. We paused at the Church gate to look across the wide fields and strangely empty road, contemplating two of the stations of modernization—zoning agricultural land for industrial manufacturing and the construction of logistics networks to link manufacturing sites to privileged cities and container ports.
We drove slowly through the next station, the Dharuhera HSIIDC, meditating on industrial pollution. Notwithstanding the location of world class companies like Amul Milk factory in the industrial park, the lack of investment in proper infrastructure is a defining feature of early modernization. Like Frankenstein, no sooner have we successfully built factories and upgraded the investment environment than we realized our plans have gone horrifically awry. The toxins seep and chemicals ooze; we turn our backs on our creation, consumed by nervous fevers.
Dharuhera was the final destination of our morning peregrination and there we pondered the contradiction between the ruthlessness of capitalist exchanges and a more human desire for connection. Consider that we peered through the homestead gates of the village’s largest landowner, but despite an invitation to visit the gardens; we did not enter because we feared being late for our next appointment more than we feared offending a local bigwig. We thanked the caretaker for his kindness and beetled across the street, dodging oncoming traffic to enter the rapidly growing commercial area. We laughed and took selfies and prepared for lunch, abruptly comforted by their willingness to engage with us despite the relentless ugliness of makeshift homes and crumbling foundations of the Franken-City.
In retrospect, I realize that the protest march we had passed in the morning framed our pilgrimage to some of the stations of the National Capital Region’s development. Just as Catholics recognize their suffering in that of Jesus and young men on motorcycles identify with professional racers, it is necessary for us to recognize our yearnings for a better world in the students’ calls for justice for victims of sexual harassment and continued access for all to the country’s best universities. The JNR students’ efforts to overcome the mess that we have given to them may or may not succeed and the persistent injustices of industrial modernization may all too easily map onto Catholic symbolism of the Via Dolorosa, but the point is clear enough: the means we are using to create a better world aren’t actually working.
That evening we learned that when the young protestors reached INA market, the police prevented them from continuing their march by firing water cannons and using batons to beat students back. The clash resulted in injuries to students and police as well as police assaults on two journalists. Subsequently, I heard comments by a well dressed professor that were even more distressing than the state’s violent response to peaceful protests. She said that the students deserved what they got because previous protests had not been successful; they hadn’t learned, she implied, from their mistakes. Her model of education and its purposes were narrower and more instrumental than Pranav’s. She went on to explain that JNU was earning a reputation as being an incubator for radicals and their radical thoughts. How could a student get a proper education, she asked rhetorically, if they were busy worrying about things that don’t concern them? Students, she implied, should spend their time learning useful skills and not waste their time considering the norms and forms of human society. Indeed, the professor’s simultaneous distrust and recognition of the need for learning is central to the organization of education the Franken-city, which favors technology at the expense of wisdom; the prototypical scientist obsessively pursues possibilities, rather than considers the consequences of these actions; our best and brightest have become engineers and electricians, rather than philosophers and priests.
Happiness in the Franken-City
It is tempting to claim that the Franken-city is the horrific manifestation of instrumental reason. Concocted in back alleys, where rats flourish and human children play, the Franken-city pumps fresh blood to its urban core and spits out desiccated bodies along its public transportation lines and logistics corridors. At the broken edges of the city, the prosthetic veins seem more dodgy and our compatriots live by picking through plastic bottles and accumulated debris, hoping to place their offspring in a downtown office building, where sararīman mine data in air-conditioned cubicles and die of overwork. After all, Frankestein’s experiments— much like our own forays into development—aimed to revive dead flesh, without questioning what might rise from the grave. He confesses, “I had worked hard for nearly two years, for the sole purpose of infusing life into an inanimate body. For this I had deprived myself of rest and health. I had desired it with an ardour that far exceeded moderation…” And thus at the moment of his triumph, Frankenstein realizes his ultimate failure. “[N]ow that I had finished, the beauty of the dream vanished, and breathless horror and disgust filled my heart. Unable to endure the aspect of the being I had created, I rushed out of the room, and continued a long time traversing my bedchamber, unable to compose my mind to sleep.”
But here’s the rub: the monster has his story, too. And thus we are confronted with the task of ‘taking care of’ our creatures because they do haunt us, killing our futures and not just the dreams of passionate youth, even as we continuously seek our happiness.
As Frankenstein recovers from the shock of having created a monster,he resumes correspondence with his beloved cousin, Elizabeth. At first, the letters bring happy gossip about family and friends, however, one letter reveals that his young brother, William had been murdered. Once home, Frankenstein learns that a family servant, Justine has been accused of the crime. She protests her innocence and the family believes her, with the exception of Frankenstein; he knows she is innocent because he realizes that the monster is in fact guilty, begging the question of just what he thought the monster had been up to while he convalesced. In fact, Frankenstein’s refusal to take responsibility for his creation is the source of the monster’s murderous actions.
“Have I not suffered enough that you seek to increase my misery?” the monster pleads with his maker, “Life, although it may only be an accumulation of anguish, is dear to me, and I will defend it. Remember, thou hast made me more powerful than thyself; my height is superior to thine; my joints more supple. But I will not be tempted to set myself in opposition to thee. I am thy creature, and I will be even mild and docile to my natural lord and king, if thou wilt also perform thy part, the which thou owest me. Oh, Frankenstein, be not equitable to every other, and trample upon me alone, to whom thy justice, and even thy clemency and affection, is most due. Remember, that I am thy creature; I ought to be thy Adam; but I am rather the fallen angel, whom thou drivest from joy for no misdeed. Everywhere I see bliss, from which I alone am irrevocably excluded. I was benevolent and good; misery made me a fiend. Make me happy, and I shall again be virtuous.”
It is difficult not to have conflicted feelings toward the monster’s petition. On the one hand, Frankenstein did create him and then abandoned him for no other reason than personal disgust. What would have happened had Frankenstein placed aside his revulsion and educated the monster? Would his superhuman powers have been deployed for human betterment? On the other hand, the monster threatens Frankenstein, using his exclusion from happiness as an excuse for destroying the lives of others. In the end, it is easier for Frankenstein to blame the monster as being intrinsically flawed, rather than take responsibility for his actions. Frankenstein even allows the innocent Justine to be executed for the murder of William, even as he knows that when his part in the murder is revealed his family will suffer more.
It is also difficult not to see in the Franken-City a similar damnation—or criminalization, to use the language of our day—of the urban poor or ‘low-end population’ as they are known throughout China. A bit of background suggests the contours of this analogy. Two important reforms that Shenzhen introduced into Chinese society were the commodification of labor and housing. Under the socialist planned economy, danwei workers and their families were entitled to (admittedly poor quality) housing. However, in Shenzhen, workers could be hired by a factory without concomitant rights to housing or other civic welfare, effectively subsidizing Shenzhen’s early modernization; the cost of labor was not only cheap because of the relative weakness of the Chinese yuan, but also because the Chinese state did not afford rural migrants with housing, medical care, and schooling for their children. At the same time, villagers who had become rich through smuggling and vice in the 1980s, built tenements in the 1990s, renting them out to migrant workers who were not technically in the city and thus vulnerable to typical landlord highhandedness. Today, roughly half of Shenzhen’s population inhabits about 5% of its total area.
Since 2010, Shenzhen has been aggressively upgrading its urban environment. The pretext of the renovations is—as was the reason for Frankenstein’s rejection of his creation—that these densely populated enclaves are ‘dirty, chaotic, and substandard.’ The goal is to transform public streets and markets into malls and office space, while providing middle class families with comfortably air-conditioned homes—the ‘small happiness (xiaokang) from which the poor have been excluded. What’s more, the speed at which glass and steel estates have replaced downtown villages has meant that once a village is demolished, residents are usually forced to find smaller accommodations in the city’s growing suburbs.
All this has me thinking about one of the most important features of a Franken-City—the regulation of access to (what we believe are) the conditions of happiness.
After a dusty day traipsing along the Dehli-Mumbai Industrial Corridor, we rode Rapid Metro (http:// rapidmetrogurgaon.com/home/) from old Gurgaon to Cyber City via the most expensive real estate in the capital region. India’s first privately financed metro system has global aspirations and upscale pretensions. The appeal of the line is its ability to provide punctual transportation in comfort, but it also offers a ‘Birthday on Wheels’ program for young children, educational programs for those curious about modern transportation, and the ‘Hassle Free Ride’ program, which is implemented in cooperation with schools and corporations. The key to the program is that the company will dedicate a subway car for birthday parties, classroom activities, students and employees.
On the private metro, women dressed in western styles, scrolling on cellphones or chatting with companions. The signage was all in English, rather than offering Hindi translations. The seats and floor were clean and shiny, the shoes imported and made of polished leather. We arrived at a parking lot with shade trees and took a short walk through the parked cars to a security gate. We stepped into the brightly lit space, where there was a microbrewery and bookstore with popular novels, electronic rides for the kids, clothes and food brands that I recognized. In fact, this was one of the first spaces that our hosts felt comfortable letting us explore on our own—a safe space for international consumers with coin of the realm and credit cards.
Journey to the Northwest
If Cyber City housed the National Capital Region’s elites and their high-culture status, the city’s middling aspirations have taken root just outside the northern edge of Old Delhi. On our final morning of field research, we traced the stubborn history of Delhi’s entrepreneurs on its first metro line. Older metro routes to get people, revolts against it. Placed on broad roads and convenient for construction. With changing technology and demands for metro they are taken tracks and station to people. So more risks in terms of construction. Cut through neighborhoods to build tracks. Red and yellow were first. To get away from politics of naming got exceptions to archaeological laws, land acquisition laws. Making money through real estate. 2010 women only.
Indeed, the stations of the metro not only offer a sociology of the living city, but also comprise a catalogue of shifting allegiances, reminding us that Southasia stretches northwest from the capital region into Bangladesh and Afghanistan, hinting at the deep trade networks that once sutured the ancient civilizations of Eurasia and their redeployment toward the adhoc construction of the modern nation state, as well as the ways in which regional histories and cultures meet like opposing currents, creating whirlpools. Most often the whirlpools of everyday life are very small, like when a bathtub drains. But sometimes, maelstroms form and when the wind calms, the survivors wash ashore in another world.
We stopped first at Pul Bangash (literally “bridge of Bangash”), which was named after Muhammad Khan Bangash, the first Nawab of Farrukhabad and built over one of the branches of the Ali Mardan canal. The Bangash were a tribe from east Afghanistan, and Muhammad Khan was allied with the Mughal emperor emperor Farrukhsiyar and his successor Muhammad Shah “Rangila”. Neither the bridge nor the canal remain, but 0.2 kilometers from the station is the Mutiny Memorial that was built to commemorate the British soldiers who lost their lives in the Indian Rebellion of 1857. In 1972, the Indian government celebrated the 25th anniversary of national independence by renaming the memorial, Ajitgarh which means ‘Place of the Unvanquished.’ Just in case it was unclear that statuses had changed, the government also erected a plaque stating that the 'enemy' mentioned on the memorials were in fact 'immortal martyrs for Indian freedom’. Unsurprisingly, the British designed the memorial to stand slightly higher than the Pillar of Ashoka which is located 200 meters away.
The next station was Kohat were again colonial and nationalist histories have been embodied in the structures and feelings of everyday life. In 1947, the division of British India into the Dominion of India and the Dominion of Pakistan erupted in riots and violence and betrayals as families and individuals fled from their homes to newly established states. These forced dismemberments and ad-hoc insertions were based on Hindu or Muslim majorities, manufacturing Franken-religions by grafting new realities to embedded societies. Punjab and Pakistan refugees settled in the area around Kohat, where Nehru visited them, supposedly telling them something along the lines of “we gave you land, what you do with it is up to you.” And they did make do, pushing their children hard to succeed, rising to the top of Dehli society, and enjoying a culture of conspicuous consumption. As we stood on the metro platform and looked out across the dense settlement, which comprises entrepreneurial acumen and low cultural status, Deng Xiaoping’s instructions to Shenzhen’s earliest pioneers ran through my head, “The central government has no money [so you’re on your own], cut open a path of blood.”
We left the metro at Rohini West, one of three subway stations serving the Delhi Development Authority’s eponymous sub city project. Rohini was planned to accommodate one million people and near the metro station five malls have been built in the past seven years. Here’s the rub. These malls aim to attract nearby residents who don’t come because they are middle class and aspire to the lives sold in higher end malls (like Cyber City) or central areas (like Connaught Place). What’s more, the success of the metro in connecting once disparate areas of the city means that residents can jump on a train and access the city’s higher status areas. Meanwhile, the malls decline, repurposing themselves as banquet halls and offering associated services.
Delhi’s first metro line ends just beyond Rohini next to a sewage treatment plant. The form of this edge is familiar if not its precise expression. Before the red line was completed, this section of the city was peri-urban with enough open space to consider large-scale masterplanning and sanitation infrastructure. Now that the land has become relatively valuable, the sewage treatment plant presents the government and real estate developers with difficult investment decisions. After all, anyone who will be able to afford upscale housing prices isn’t going to install their child in a building next to a sewage plant. So we return to the most pressing questions of the Franken-City: who will take responsibility for our monstrously out of control science and technology? Whose suffering and death redeems our debt to the Franken-City?
On March 25, 2018，another one of those arbitrary but not random events occurred, confirming that all critique actually is immanent in the structures of everyday life. That day the banner headline of the millenniumpost was “Lalu gets his toughest jail term yet: 14 years in 4th fodder case.”
I had to google ‘Lalu’ and ‘fodder’ in order to catch the gist of the corruption scandal. It turns out that Lalu Prasad Yadav is a politician from Bihar, which is located in eastern India, just south of Nepal. On the face of it (and my knowledge of Bihar is limited), the story sounds seems all too familiar. In 1991, India began liberalizing its economy with an eye to becoming a major player in the world economy. On the ground, this meant that local politicians had to take advantage of what was at hand to get on the global gravy chain. Lalu, his wife, and their cronies governed India’s 13th largest state in terms of total area, but its third most populated. Moreover, the overwhelming majority of this population lived in rural areas. This meant that the means for getting ahead involved agriculture and animal husbandry. Lalu and crew fabricated “herds of fictitious livestock" for which they purchased fodder, medicines and and equipment. While Lalu was Chief Minister of Bihar (1990-1997), the scam facilitated the embezzlement of some 9.4 billion rupees (US$520 million in 2017 dollars) from the Bihar state treasury.
Once upon a time, however, Bihar was home to India’s first empire, the Maurya and the birthplace of Buddhism. I had been thinking about India and Buddhism not only because one of our Chinese colleagues, Professor Deng is an anthropologist interested in religious symbolism, but also because there are monkey troupes living throughout Delh’s park. Each time I excitedly said, “monkeys!” one of our hosts would complain that they (the monkeys) were bad tempered, stole food, and even threw feces at people! Given how little space urbanization has left for them to enjoy the simian life, it stands to reason that the other primates would be unhappy with us.
These encounters with monkeys had me free associating in another international direction and taking a Journey to the West with the Monkey King. The ostensive background to the novel is the monk Xuanzang’s sojourn in India to secure better translations of Buddhist sutras. In this fictive account, the monk Tang Sanzang is the protagonist. However, the star of the story is Tang Sanzang’s most intelligent disciple, the Monkey King. Every day, the Monkey King is either saving the monk from certain death and destruction or having a fine time wreaking havoc. Xuanzang constantly reprimands him for misbehaving. Eventually Guanyin places a gold ring on the Monkey King’s head. When Tang Sanzang chants the Ring Tightening Mantra, the Monkey King gets unbearable headaches and stops whatever he had been up to.
Journey to the West is clearly a buddhist allegory about learning to control our monkey-mind and enter Nirvana. Like Frankenstein’s monster the monkeys are simultaneously stronger and less articulate than we are, symbolically embodying our lesser selves. In Journey to the West, however, chanting and religious belief help control the effects of this lesser self, which when tamed becomes a force for good. In contrast, in Mary Shelley’s world each time it there are no means short of destruction to control the effects of mad science.
And there it is. When the monster faces Frankenstein, he pleads for a wife because loneliness is the greatest burden. Indeed, it is his loneliness that makes him human-like, if not fully human. If we return to the monster’s making and abandonment, we discover cold and darkness and fear and hunger. Once he found a home amongst the cottagers, he made due with berries and companionship. The monster demands that Frankenstein create him a wife because the “interchange of sympathies” is necessary for his being. Being inconsistent, Frankenstein first promises to make a wife for the monster and then destroys his work before she is animated, once again leaving the monster alone. The fate of the maker and his creation is sealed: “I will see you on your wedding night,” the monster promises and Frankenstein decides to do everything in his power to save Elizabeth.
Standing on the platform of Delhi’s red line, which has inscribed living history in iron tracks, it suddenly feels as if we children of modernity are always already standing at the end of the line, looking out at raw sewage. We’ve passed through colonial occupation and arrived at master planned communities via the brutal establishment of the nation state. We feel the suction of the city center pulling in fresh blood from its hinterlands and spitting out desiccated bodies along its transportation lines. We set up security gates and punish students who speak truth to power. We arrest the odd politician for corruption that doesn’t really surprise us because, well, the point is to get rich and live behind fortified walls and hire trainers and cooks and have unlimited access to the best possible flesh. And despite our inability to discern the totality of the Franken-City, nevertheless our creation looms and roars. Where, it asks, is our compassion for the creatures of our arrogance?
Franken-Cities of Delhi and Shenzhen
Our trip began with Mark Zuckerberg “forced to apologize to the world” for allowing Cambridge Analytica to mine Facebook users’ data and influence the US and other elections. It ended with the notice that “From July 1 Aadhaar to have face recognition facility too.” Aadhaar means “foundation” in English and refers to the 12-digit unique identity number issued to all Indian residents based on their biometric and demographic data. It turns out that we are the bits and pieces necessary to animate the Franken-city, where “bots” belch ugly comments into debate and Russians in virtual trench coats haunt our digital consciousness.
The figure of the mad scientist—“Remember,” Frankenstein beseeches the reader, “I am not recording the vision of a madman.”—is a familiar metaphor for the relationship between knowledge and and what Michel Foucault called “bio-power.” Foucault aimed to describe how the medical gaze simultaneously brings the body into the fields of knowledge and of power in order to manipulate it through chemical and material interventions. These manipulations are legitimated by what Foucault termed the “medical gaze,” the dehumanizing practices of of alienating a patient’s identity from her body. Today, we’re trying to figure out how new technologies have extended the possibilities inherent in treating human beings as simultaneously human and not as our identities not only get mined and redeployed, but also have taken on lives of their own.
After the fateful conversation, where Frankenstein announces that he has deprived the monster of companionship and the monster threatens him in turn, the monster leaves on a small boat. When Frankenstein awakes, he wonders into a small Irish town, where he is accused of murder. At first, Frankenstein is sanguine, but upon hearing the details of the case, he realizes that the monster has killed again. What’s more, the monster has also killed one of his closest friends. The monster’s choice of victims is not arbitrary; he targets those closest to Frankenstein. Frankenstein falls into a two-month long fever and confesses to the murders of William, Justine and his friend. Two months later, he wakes as if from a dream and finds himself “in a prison, stretched on a wretched bed, surrounded by gaolers, turnkeys, bolts, and all the miserable apparatus of a dungeon.” The symbolism is all too clear. Frankenstein abandoned his creation on a table in a laboratory and he wakes on a bed in jail. Cause and effect, the Monkey King might chortle, are clear.
We have built our cities out of desire and knowledge, scavenged parts and synthetic flesh, rash angers and a persistent tenderness. These juxtapositions beg the question: just what can be compared between the National Capital Region and the Pearl River Delta Region? Governments and multi-nationals are organizing people and our productivities at the level of the region even as turning these wheels (within wheels within categorical boxes) requires all sorts of adjustments. In turn the “local” has been created through abandonment and betrayal; the “local,” it would seem is that which does not fit into global narratives, but which is nevertheless the site were extractive prosthetics are attached, creating ever larger organisms.
And so the Franken-City lurches forward, trapped in trajectories of our own making. If Mary Shelley is to be believed, the solution to our suffering is death, even as consciousness arrises when we understand the consequences of our actions. Frankenstein realizes the true meaning of his work when he sees William’s dead body, while the monster becomes fully enlightened when he sees Frankenstein’s corpse. “I have pursued him even to that irremediable ruin. There he lies, white and cold in death. You hate me; but your abhorrence cannot equal that with which I regard myself. I look on the hands which executed the deed; I think on the heart in which the imagination of it was conceived, and long for the moment when these hands will meet my eyes, when that imagination will haunt my thoughts no more.”
After his eloquent soliloquy, the monster jumps out the ship window onto floating ice and drifts into the distance. We packed our bags and went home.