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  • Shiptown: Between Rural and Urban North India by Ann Grodzins Gold
  • Kavithaa Rajamony
Gold, Ann Grodzins. Shiptown: Between Rural and Urban North India. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2017.

Shiptown: Between Rural and Urban North India explores Jahazpur, a qasba (a small market town) in the Indian state of Rajasthan. Based on Ann Grodzins Gold's ethnographic research, the book traces the history of Shiptown, the literal translation of "Jahazpur." Gold argues that imagination and production of space are important aspects of understanding landlocked Jahazpur and that this space is always in a state of flux. Through her interactions with local people, Gold realizes that the name Jahazpur is a misnomer. There was no large body of water nearby that would explain the name Shiptown. The town was originally called Yagyapur (Sacrifice City) after the mythic snake sacrifice King Janamejaya performed to avenge the death of his father, Parikshit, during the Mahabharata times. Somehow the name Yagyapur had morphed to Jahazpur over the years.

Gold constructs the idea of Jahazpur as a qasba (a place that is neither a village nor a town) by contrasting it with the town of Devli on the one hand and the Santosh Nagar colony on the other. Because of its proximity to military camps and industrial enterprises, Devli is highly developed, as is Santosh Nagar, which is a planned space with a "radically mixed population" (73). Jahazpur, however, is marked by the absence of development, is isolated, and is a small, [End Page 424] congested area. At the same time, it is better than surrounding villages because it has good schools and offers job opportunities. Thus, Jahazpur occupies an interstitial space; it is neither a village nor a city. This urban/rural interface is crucial for understanding Jahazpur's market economy.

Jahazpur's market, which was originally inside the qasba walls but later spread out, is an unplanned space where distinctions based on caste and religion become blurred. The market economy depended on the agricultural produce people purchased after the harvest. The main goal of the shopkeepers, however, is making profit and Gold observes that trading and ethics have always had a strained relationship. The goods for Jahazpur's market came from manufacturing centers all over the country but were transported to small local shops by handcart. So Jahazpur is a place that reflected true urban consciousness but has a village-like ethos and culture hidden within it. These aspects make it impossible to characterize Jahazpur as an urban or rural space. Gold reiterates the dual nature of the town throughout the book.

Delving deeper into Jahazpur's history, Gold observes that the town has been alternately ruled by Hindus and Muslims. The installation of a statue of Lord Ganesh in a meeting hall suggests that Hindus have regained power over Jahazpur's past. Gold clearly establishes the connection between space and religion, emphasizing that festivals and the processions associated with different religions transform known spaces into unfamiliar ones. Festival processions are spectacle performances that create illusion. As Gold notes, "There is an emotional or devotional transformation that happens by introducing emblems of spiritual power, abstract or iconographic, into public space" (103).

Like religion, Gold says, spirituality has the power to transform spaces, as seen in the urs (death anniversary) for the Muslim saint Gaji Pir. During this festival, a passage always remains unoccupied between the qawwali (performance of devotional song) and the tomb of the saint, as it is believed that Gaji Baba was sitting there. This becomes a privileged space. The atmosphere created through such spiritual experiences brings a transformation within, which Gold experiences when she is sprinkled with rosewater: "I feel emotion. I feel this headless warrior's dua (blessing)" (145). This passage reflects how spaces are socially constructed and why there is a need to analyze how discourses about multiple notions of inclusion and exclusion are intricately connected with particular spaces. This is clearly evident in Jahazpur, where people who belong to [End Page 425] different castes and religions occupy the specific spaces allotted to them, a practice that creates "homogeneous neighborhoods" (73).

Gender also plays a role in segregation. There are spaces in Jahazpur where women rarely...


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pp. 424-426
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