Divine Nature gave the fields, human art built the cities. ~Marcus Terentius Varro, De Re Rustica
The bristling pace of life, the breeze of culture, the exotic smells of cuisine, the montage of haute couture. Ever wondered how they came into existence?
They have been present since time immemorial and will be forevermore. They are coeval with civilizations. Riding on the tide of time they date from the mythical vrindavan and troy, to ancient Harappa, Mohenjo-Daro and Babylon, to historic Alexandria, Persepolis, to modern Paris, Delhi, Tokyo and Nova Scotia. our history is overflowing with the details of cities, and modern city planners are by the minute conceptualizing new ones. Historically cities were ordered by great emperors and kings for a settlement and governing of population, and used to be planned and colossal in size. it could only happen because of the prodigious might of the empires that could provide the intelligence and materials for city building self sufficiently. Even in the modern times great cities have been built only by the efforts of whole nations, such as development of Islamabad in Pakistan, or Nova Scotia in Canada. Presently it has become difficult to develop cities from scratch. Only by land filling or extending the cities into conurbations is it possible to dilate the diagonals of the city boundaries.
the existence of cities from time immemorial if the myths are to be believed or its development over time in the evolutionary course if Darwin’s theory is to be believed, indicate a great need for human bonding. man has intelligence and is a social animal. it not only cares for its present by fulfilling the basic necessities of life like animals do, but goes further in securing its future. it has memories and carries past with it. It secures a safe future for its progenies. Man lives in a community and interacts. it develops culture and ethos unique to the grouping. To cater to the different avocations and desires many vistas are made available. Man is not monotonous, it is not an automaton, it strives for new experiences all the time. for this a great population has to come together, so that at any time the slice of demography project the same ratio of different vocations though individually man continue to dabble different jobs. Meanwhile the culture continued to grow. It took on more refined shades and hues. Theatre, arts, music, literature, dance all developed. Man has inherent liking for these, and cities engender from such needs.
once born, city breathes on its own. It is like a sapling. First it needs tender diligent care in early years but later on when fully grown it nurtures itself and its symbiotic denizens solicitously. However their forms have changed over time. Previously kings and monarchs ordered and ruled cities within the enclosed walls which did not enlarge its boundaries. The cities undoubtedly used to be well planned and managed, examples being the fortified city of Fatehpur, Beijing, or cities of Tibet but the modern unwalled cities grow unrestrainedly and now it has increasingly become difficult to dichotomize the conurbations from megacities and towns from cities. All are coalescing into one. The behemoth cities of New York, Paris and Delhi are points in case. Despite these, cities continue to be the centers of attraction for human population.
Many a countryman has travelled long miles to have a glimpse of the famed cities of yore. Be it the utopian Shangri-la and El Dorado or the existing cities -the Big Apple, the Blue City or the city of fashion Paris, they continue to remain cynosure of human ambitions. Cities continue to remain the political, capital, military, and educational centers. None can deny the clout of Washington or puissance of London; or the swanky millionaires of New York and the military might of Skoda. None can be profane about the sanctity of the educational temples at Boston or Pune and yet all want to be debauched and swathed in the haute couture of Paris. Cities continue to provide us what we dream for.
But we dream not only for material satisfaction but once fulfilled we strive for the higher goals. The goals of virtue, liberty, fraternity, free thoughts. We always strive for the freedom of mind and spirit and once curtailed we fight to wrench it back even from destiny. It is human nature. We have destroyed tyrants, despots and autocrats in the past by the sheer force of human will through revolutions. A revolution is also the child of a city. Though it represents the cross sectional view of the population within and without yet it solely is a gift of the city. Because it is only in a city that a revolution can take place.
Some of you might recall the scientist protagonist Katherine from the thriller “The Lost Symbol” the widely acclaimed but poorly delivered book by the bestselling author Dan Brown of “The Da Vinci Code” fame. She was a scientist extricating the tenets of noetic science so that it can be proved empirically. She proposed a beautiful contention that “our thought has mass”. Then she expatiates that similar to all mass forms though miniscule in nature and weight that has gravitational forces attached, if many people start thinking the same thoughts at a particular time, these kindred thoughts attract each other by way of some gravitational pull, and coalesce to become a large weight. Just like trillions of sand particles of trifling attractive forces combine to form a moon which then has enough tangible forces to attract and sway the waters of the ocean to form tides and cause them to rise and fall, a heavy mass of thought can have perceptible influence on the thoughts of other people nearby. This is in essence what the ancients tried to say through the axiom “Like begets like”. Even Swami Vivekananda exalted the virtues of positive thinking for precisely this phenomenon.
Rationalizing the importance of cities in their radical historical contributions and an active role in shaping the contemporary events with the knowledge of above proposition becomes easy. Cities have always played the role of a leader in engendering revolutions and wrought them to success. Be it the Sicilian Vespers at Sicily, the blacks’ defiance of further discriminations actuated at Oakland, the tea party at Boston, the pulling down of the Iron Curtain in Berlin or the sepoy mutiny and subsequent Indian revolution in a syndicated effort from many Indian cities. All were events in the cities. One may argue that cities are the places where enough population existed in the first place to take part in and bring about a revolution. Villages and small towns do not have even the quorum to spark revolutions. True and agreed. But the more important phenomenon here is that towns and villages lack the critical population to fulminate. Just as nuclear explosion requires a critical mass below which though having the potential to explode the atoms fail to create a chain reaction, the coalescing of thoughts of small population fail to act as detonator. In Hindi we say “akela chana bhaad nahi fod sakta”. The cities provide the Limbo for us to come together and fight the universal rights.
All in all, pages can be filled to rhapsodize and glorify the cities. It is after all the best artifact of human endeavor and paeans in its honor will be like drops in the ocean. May the archangel of cities – Bethanel, continue its watchful gaze…