Publication Type:

Conference papers


Raphael Susewind


British Association for South Asian Studies, April 19-21, Nottingham (2017)


Today, the Rifah-e-Aam Club in Lucknow is the place where the neighbourhood of Wazirganj casts its votes at election times and celebrates its marriages, where politi- cal rallies take place and Ifthar dinners are arranged, where local goons and policemen play Badminton and young men spend their evenings in 'timepass'. But the same picturesque if increasingly deprecit structure from the local past also carries much larger memories: in the late 19th century, this happened to be the very place where Lucknow's civil society emerged, where nationalist demands flourished a few decades later – both the Khilafat conference and the first meeting of the Progressive Writers Association happened here – and where India's postcolonial politics of class, caste and community play out today. It is therefore through the prism of this building, its entangled histories and contemporary uses that this paper explores the changing composition of North India's urban public sphere and its complex entanglement with public space. In Richard Sennets seminal definition 'a city is a human settlement in which strangers are likely to meet' (Sennett 1974). Who these strangers are and how they meet may change over time – but they need a distinct kind of locale. This can be the Habermasian salon of European enlightenment, but it can as easily be a contemporary bookstore (Urla 2001), a town plaza (Low 2000), 'Adda, Calcutta' (Chakrabarty 1999) – or indeed the 'Club for the public good' in Wazirganj. Against mainstream emphases on the public's fragmentation, I thus highlight how it can all come together, aided in memory and practice by iconic infrastructure.