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The Politics of Heritage from Madras to Chennai

Mary E. Hancock

Publication Year: 2008

In this anthropological history, Mary E. Hancock examines the politics of public memory in the southern Indian city of Chennai. Once a colonial port, Chennai is now poised to become a center for India's "new economy" of information technology, export processing, and back-office services. State and local governments promote tourism and a heritage-conscious cityscape to make Chennai a recognizable "brand" among investment and travel destinations. Using a range of textual, visual, architectural, and ethnographic sources, Hancock grapples with the question of how people in Chennai remember and represent their past, considering the political and economic contexts and implications of those memory practices. Working from specific sites, including a historic district created around an ancient Hindu temple, a living history museum, neo-traditional and vernacular architecture, and political memorials, Hancock examines the spatialization of memory under the conditions of neoliberalism.

Published by: Indiana University Press

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pp. ix-xi

More than two decades have passed since my first visit to India in 1985, and over that time the cultural, political, and economic stakes in “tradition”—its definition, ownership, mediation—have sharpened. The questions I explore in this book arose within this ferment, prodded as much by the reflectivity associated with India’s fiftieth anniversary of independence...

Note on Transliteration and Pseudonyms

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pp. xii


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pp. xiii

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1. Making the Past in a Global Present: Chennai’s New Heritage

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pp. 1-16

News of the Indian Ocean tsunami flashes on my computer screen. Almost real-time images of confusion and agony appear in short order. I see women searching for missing children and battered fishing boats run aground. Soon, bloated corpses will be nudged to shore. After trying unsuccessfully to telephone, I rely (again) on the promises of electronic...

Part 1. The Formal City and Its Pasts

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pp. 17

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2. Governing the Past: Chennai’s Histories

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pp. 19-55

Jet-lagged and diffident, I slumped in the seat of the “deluxe A-C coach” that carried me and thirty-odd other passengers from the government tourism office on Anna Salai, the main commercial thoroughfare of Madras.1 It was October 7, 1985, and I had arrived only a few days earlier in the city still known officially as “Madras.” It was my first visit to India...

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3. Memory, Mourning, and Politics

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pp. 56-81

The day is clear and unseasonably cool. Like the other women on my street, I am preparing the day’s meal—mōrkuḷampu, racam, poriyal, and, of course, rice.1 My own bodily clock and appetites have shifted over the months that I have been in India, and I have come to crave a mid-morning meal of this sort. That it is Christmas eve barely registers, certainly not in...

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4. Modernity Remembered: Temples, Publicity, and Heritage

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pp. 82-118

Accounts like this one, celebrating serendipitous encounters between urban travelers and old temples, appear regularly in the “Heritage” column carried by the Chennai edition of The Hindu, an English-language daily founded in 1878. Written for The Hindu’s urban and transnational readership, these stories assert the presence of the ancient in the midst...

Part 2. Restructured Memories

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pp. 119

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5. Consuming the Past: Tourism’s Cultural Economies

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pp. 121-146

Thus read the flyer I picked up at Kanchi Kudil. News of the toilet traveled by word of mouth, too. Before the “heritage house” had opened to the public, I had heard of it from friends who emphasized its facilities and praised the forethought of the house’s owner. Toilets, not just Kanchi Kudil’s, figure in many conversations and articles about tourism...

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6. Recollecting the Rural in Suburban Chennai

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pp. 147-178

Nothing but a small sign, tinted in earth tones, announces that you have reached the entry of DakshinaChitra, a cultural center dedicated to the re-creation of southern India’s premodern rural lifeways. The center, situated thirty kilometers south of Chennai, would be easy to miss, especially if you were distracted by the bold signage and amplified pop music...

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7. The Village as Vernacular Cosmopolis

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pp. 179-203

Google the term “Kuthambakkam,” and in a tenth of a second links to 599 postings from news sources, organization Web sites, and Web blogs appear.1 Visits to these sites reveal Kuthambakkam, a village of about five thousand that lies about thirty kilometers west of Chennai, to be one of Tamil Nadu’s “model villages,” selected for participation in a multi-sectoral...

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8. Conclusion: “How Many Museums Can One Have?”

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pp. 204-212

“Anita” posed that question during a conversation with me about Tamil Nadu’s recently mooted Heritage Act. An architect and a member of INTACH’s Chennai chapter, Anita was exasperated by the ways that some in that organization viewed preservation. “Whom does it benefit?” she asked, referring to activities such as the listing and conservation...


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pp. 213-256


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pp. 257-270


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pp. 271-277

E-ISBN-13: 9780253002655
E-ISBN-10: 0253002656
Print-ISBN-13: 9780253352231

Page Count: 296
Illustrations: 24 b&w photos, 3 maps
Publication Year: 2008