Some examples of great narratives that build a vivid, sensitive, sometimes shocking or unconventional picture of the Urban:
The city belongs to the dogs. Light-footed, they pass by the people. Now and then they stop for a chat. Their eyes are loyal and alert, their hides are rough, an everlasting suit. When it rains they curl up in circles. They have friends far away. Their ears are pricked up. An alert stomach accompanies their every step. They sleep somewhere or other, invisible. Their gait, though high-spirited, has something stooped about it. They laugh in the shine of the night lamps, sniff at the walls, walk on along the tarred bay of the street. The houses encircle their gaze; the dogs’ gaze goes straight ahead into the dull darkness. Far ahead of them in the night they see a short stretch of horizon. They head towards it. Now and then they dip their paws in a pond of light.
Judith Keller, The Last House, trans. Katy Derbyshire (Readux Books, 2014), 6.
But what was the Domain to be used for? The buildings gave pride, or were meant to; they satisfied some personal need of the President’s. Was that all they were for? But they had consumed millions. The farm didn’t materialize. The Chinese or Taiwanese didn’t turn up to till the land of the new model African farm. The six tractors that some foreign government had given remained in a neat line in the open and rusted, and the grass grew high about them. The big swimming pool near the building that was said to be a conference hall developed leaks and remained empty, with a wide-meshed rope net at the top. The Domain had been built fast, and in the sun and the rain decay also came fast. After the first rainy season many of the young trees that had been planted beside the wide main avenue died, their roots waterlogged and rotted.
V. S. Naipaul, A Bend in the River (Basingstoke and Oxford: Picador, 2011), 117.
Kausalji says in English, “Go slow, friend, go slow. If you help that much they will get entrenched here. But the place has been condemned. If you can move them, and plant some more trees, this spot with the river, the hills and the trees will make an excellent picnic area. In Madhopura my brother-in-law is the Managing Director of State Tourism, and as you know, in Bhopal my …”
A rickety house is condemned. And the living area of tribals. Unfit for the residence of the forest dwellers but fit for picnics. But Shankar was saying yesterday, “there used to be forest all around, now there is nothing. Still the graves of our forefathers are in Pirtha. We give to Pirtha’s waters the bones of our dead at the end of mourning time, we burn them. Then we put the ashes in a new bowl and bury them, put up a stone.”
Mahasweta Devi, ‘Pterodactyl, Puran Sahay, and Pirtha’, in Imaginary Maps, trans. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak (London: Routledge, 1995), 151.
You could not see the new city from the old one. In the new city, a race of pink conquerors had built palaces in pink stone; but the houses in the narrow lanes of the old city jostled, shuffled, blocked each other’s view of the roseate edifices of power. Not that anyone ever looked in that direction, anyway. In the Muslim muhallas or neighbourhoods which clustered around Chandni Chowk, people were content to look inwards into the screened-off courtyards of their lives; to roll chick-blinds down over their windows and verandahs. In the narrow lanes, young loafers held hands and linked arms and kissed when they met and stood in hip-jutting circles, facing inwards. There was no greenery and the cows kept away, knowing they weren’t sacred here. Bicycle bells rang constantly. And above their cacophony sounded the cries of itinerant fruit sellers: Come all you greats-O, eat a few dates-O!
Salman Rushdie, Midnight’s Children (London: Vintage, 1995), 69.
The entrance of the Wassertorstrasse was a big stone archway, a bit of old Berlin, daubed with hammers and sickles and Nazi crosses and plastered with tattered bills which advertised auctions or crimes. It was a deep, shabby cobbled street, littered with sprawling children in tears. Youths in woolen sweaters circled waveringly across it on racing bikes and whooped at girls passing with milk-jugs. The pavement was chalk-marked for the hopping game called Heaven and Earth. At the end of it, like a tall, dangerously sharp, red instrument, stood a church.
Christopher Isherwood, Goodbye to Berlin (Mandarin Paperbacks, London, 1989 (original 1939)), 128.
I had never been in a room where men and women danced for mutual pleasure, and out of pleasure in one another’s company. Trembling expectation was in that girl’s heavy legs, the girl in the green dress. It was a new dress, loosely hemmed, not ironed into a crease, still suggesting the material as it had been measured out and bought.
V. S. Naipaul, A Bend in the River (Basingstoke and Oxford: Picador, 2011), 147.
While I sweep up the wrappers I watch the other rituals of the morning: Mr Halpert unlocking the laundry’s handcart from its mooring to a cellar door, Joe Cornacchia’s son-in-law stacking out the empty crates from the delicatessen, the barber bringing out his sidewalk folding chair, Mr. Goldstein arranging the coils of wire which proclaim the hardware store is open, the wife of the tenement’s super intendent depositing her chunky three-year-old with a toy mandolin on the stoop, the vantage point from which he is learning English his mother cannot speak. Now the primary children, heading for St. Luke’s, dribble through the south; the children from St. Veronica\s cross, heading to the west, and the children from P.S 41, heading toward the east. Two new entrances are made from the wings: well-dressed and even elegant women and men with brief cases emerge from doorways and side streets. Most of these are heading for the bus and subways, but some hover on the curbs, stopping taxis which have miraculously appeared at the right moment, for the taxis are part of a wider morning ritual: having dropped passengers from midtown in the downtown financial district, they are now bringing downtowners up to midtown. Simultaneously, numbers of women in housedresses have emerged and as they crisscross with one another they pause for quick conversations that sound with laughter or joint indignation, never, it seems, anything in between. It is time for me to hurry to work too, and I exchange my ritual farewell with Mr. Lofaro, the short, thick bodied, white-aproned fruit man who stands outside his doorway a little up the street, his arms folded, his feet planted, looking solid as the earth itself. We nod; we each glance quickly up and down the street, then look back at each other and smile. We have done this many a morning for more than ten years, and we both know what it means: all is well.
Jane Jacobs, The Death and Life of Great American Cities (Random House, 1961), 206.