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Book Review: People Called Ahmedabad

The People Place Project is an initiative to chronicle the NOW- the life and times we live in. Through a lens of people, we hope to pin together the narrative of how we have come to be here - our language, our thoughts, our attire, our structures - everything that defines us. We like to call it a mapping project - exploring  a city/place  with the stories of the people. That is what the website states on its landing page; how is it {their objective} achieved is the question!

This is done through chronicling the various people in selected cities; with one volume for each city. So far, they have done Mumbai, Ahmedabad, Shillong & Kochi. The current book under review is the chronicle on Ahmedabad : People Called Ahmedabad. The approach is surprising, to say the least; as also damned hard to review, as you shall see. But, curiously enough, this surprising approach holds more than enough pulling power in it for me to want to read the other books in this series!

The key question remains how does one define a city? That, to me, is the only seemingly negative point in an otherwise riveting, interesting and engaging concept; perhaps I have not succeeded in fully identifying with the project, or with fully understanding it. Be that as it may, as of now it seems to be a project half-done, or to be more accurate, 3-quarters done. As an outsider to Ahmedabad, but a person who has visited it often, I could not grasp the flavor of the city in full through these chronicles. That said, it does present a logical and immediately identifiable picture of the city, of that there is no doubt.

As for all good books, I will look at the failures first, so that my readers can go away with a positive impression at the end. Where does it come short? Frankly, it looks at an Ahmedabad caught in a time-warp, so to speak; it looks at an Ahmedabad in many aspects, but it fails to capture the spirit that makes it one of the most happening cities for Business in India. There is just a passing hint of the teen and young adult aspect, the education hub that is Ahmedabad. For that is the now of the Ahmedabad; that is what it currently is. Yes, all the aspects covered are true, logical and vivid; but this aspect is absent. All it would have taken are 4-5 stories on these aspects in total.

On the plus side, it has to be said that the book describes Ahmedabad in myriad ways such that you can visualize it as a living entity, so to speak; every flavor, every aspect of this city has been highlighted through carefully selected real stories of unknown people, with each story being engaging, vivid, interesting, as well as containing either a learning, or a moral, or a message – or a fervent hope. In these pages you can see and read a lot, both in actual words as well as by reading between the lines. And that is the biggest success for this excellent collection of stories.

The Food of Ahmedabad is one such example; with several stories around this theme – telling of the food as well as the stories of the people who prepared it, with the attendant learnings. {Though as someone with close family in Baroda, and one having visited it several dozens of times more than Ahmedabad – I refuse to accept this; you cant match Baroda in Gujarat in terms of the Gujarati Veg snacks}. I guess it is the same Mumbai-Pune tangle all over again even here!

Another example is the delicate, gentle, and beautiful handling and presentation of the communal problem of the city as it used to happen; the stories don’t dwell on this topic, but rather tell a positive tone. They do raise a feeling of disquiet as you trace the in-city movement of people, with some people moving their residences etc. This disquiet, though with no worrisome issues, does raise a feeling of melancholy in you, as you shake your head in regret.

All these stories tell of Communal Harmony; of people living together & staying together – which is a welcome change in the narrative, and one that is much needed. It tells the story of people transending religious boundaries in a salutary lesson to our modern world, which makes it a classy effort indeed. What is more, it covers all religions, all classes of society, all languages, from one side of the spectrum to the other. You get a complete picture of the city, so to speak, including generational Amdavadis as well as  people who made the city their home.

No aspect of life is left uncovered – except the one I pointed out above. Arts, Handicrafts, Dramatics find a mention here; which is remarkable in the modern world, where increasingly being “Western” is seen to be the in-thing. This shows the project is in tune with the current trend, where it is now seen to be the in-thing to be “Indian” so to speak; with the rise of the Vernacular, The local Arts and the Local Music and films – as shown by the sales trends of the past decade.

The best aspect of all? Riveting, moving stories of people who gave up big careers, who sacrificed and who thought out of the box to set up ventures to help people. There are more than a few such examples. This is a superb approach, setting exemplars for people through live stories. In these pages, you will find real life, you will find beating hearts; you will find the true heroes of our great country. All in all, this is a tremendous effort that makes for a rapid and riveting read, full of interesting stories, learnings, experiences, lives, events and case studies… rated 5 stars out of 5! 


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