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House, but No Garden

Apartment Living in Bombay’s Suburbs, 1898–1964

2012
Author:

Nikhil Rao

House, but No Garden

The emergence of apartment living in the suburbs in mid-twentieth-century Bombay

Between the well-documented development of colonial Bombay and sprawling contemporary Mumbai, a profound shift in the city’s fabric occurred: the emergence of the first suburbs and their distinctive pattern of apartment living. In House, but No Garden Nikhil Rao considers this phenomenon and expands our understanding of how built environments and urban identities are constitutive of one another.

Ingeniously reversing the conventional perspective, House, but No Garden offers a historical account of colonial Bombay from the point of view of its suburbs. It suggests that rather than being subordinate to the existing city, Bombay’s suburbs pioneered such urban forms as apartment living, cooperative societies, and urban ‘meta caste’ identities. This not only offers a refreshingly original understanding of colonial and postcolonial Bombay but also challenges the existing literature on suburbanization. An impressive achievement.

Gyan Prakash, Princeton University

Between the well-documented development of colonial Bombay and sprawling contemporary Mumbai, a profound shift in the city’s fabric occurred: the emergence of the first suburbs and their distinctive pattern of apartment living. In House, but No Garden Nikhil Rao considers this phenomenon and its significance for South Asian urban life. It is the first book to explore an organization of the middle-class neighborhood that became ubiquitous in the mid-twentieth-century city and that has spread throughout the subcontinent.

Rao examines how the challenge of converting lands from agrarian to urban use created new relations between the state, landholders, and other residents of the city. At the level of dwellings, apartment living in self-contained flats represented a novel form of urban residence, one that expressed a compromise between the caste and class identities of suburban residents who are upper caste but belong to the lower-middle or middle class. Living in such a built environment, under the often conflicting imperatives of maintaining the exclusivity of caste and subcaste while assembling residential groupings large enough to be economically viable, led suburban residents to combine caste with class, type of work, and residence to forge new metacaste practices of community identity.

As it links the colonial and postcolonial city—both visually and analytically—Rao’s work traces the appearance of new spatial and cultural configurations in the middle decades of the twentieth century in Bombay. In doing so, it expands our understanding of how built environments and urban identities are constitutive of one another.

House, but No Garden

Nikhil Rao is associate professor of history at Wellesley College.

House, but No Garden

Ingeniously reversing the conventional perspective, House, but No Garden offers a historical account of colonial Bombay from the point of view of its suburbs. It suggests that rather than being subordinate to the existing city, Bombay’s suburbs pioneered such urban forms as apartment living, cooperative societies, and urban ‘meta caste’ identities. This not only offers a refreshingly original understanding of colonial and postcolonial Bombay but also challenges the existing literature on suburbanization. An impressive achievement.

Gyan Prakash, Princeton University

As early as the 1920s a distinctively Indian form of suburbanization was rising north of Bombay based on modern apartment living: the ‘house but no garden.’ As Nikhil Rao shows in this fascinating and pathbreaking book, these ‘Bombay flats’ not only created a new form of suburban design; they also created a new Indian middle class.

Robert Fishman, University of Michigan

House, but No Garden does the careful work of creating a knowledge base through a historical lens that takes into account the construction of space and difference.

Journal of Architectural Education

Rao writes well; his argument is thoroughly documented and appropriately illustrated with maps, photographs and plans. He has told us much that is new about twentieth-century Bombay, especially its transition from colonial city to modern metropolis. And, conceptually, he nicely integrates the analysis of city and suburb, society and space.

Urban History

Through its examination of Bombay from 1898 to the postcolonial period, Rao’s book fills a void in the historiography of the colonial city, which to date has been overwhelmingly focused on the nineteenth century. By departing from this standard periodization, it adds value to our understanding of the modernization of the colonial city.

Traditional Dwellings & Settlements Review

House, but No Garden is a pleasure to read for the clarity of its exposition, the rich variety of source materials that it draws upon, and the original insights it offers into a hitherto unexplored aspect of Bombay’s past.

American Historical Review

House, but No Garden

Contents

Abbreviations
Introduction

1. An Indian Suburb
2. Peopling the Suburbs
3. The Rise of the Bombay Flat
4. The Spread of Apartment Living
5. From Southern Indians to “South Indians”
6. Toward Greater Mumbai

Conclusion

Acknowledgments
Notes
Bibliography
Index