Dériving Delhi: A Pedestrian Provocation In Old Delhi
University of Exeter
This paper focuses on the possibilities and limitations of the contemporary dérive as a form of everyday ethnography in contemporary Delhi. The dérive, which originated as the Surrealist déambulation and subsequently took form in practice as the Situationist dérive in the late 1950s, has now been anthologised and re-imagined by walking artists and practitioners as the last political movement in the history of western walking practices (cf Coverley 2012, Careri 2001) and as an imaginative but failed political practice (cf Sadler 1999, Wark 2011). The architectural context of post-War Europe that the dérive was created out of - and continues to remain within - remains to be questioned and thusly, the withheld encounters of the dérive with non-hegemonic architectures.
In seeking to locate the Situationist dérive as an walking ethnographic practice within the architectural space of the public market of Chandni Chowk in (Old) Delhi - a postcolonial city that functions simultaneously as a former "walled city" but above all as an "ordinary city" (cf. Robinson 2005) - I seek to engage with the dérive as a pedestrian activity that is, firstly, specific to and politically engaged with the vernacular architectures of Delhi to ask what the regional particularities of a site can bring to the dérive, and not just what the dérive can bring to the site, focussing on urban features that particularly mark the market's rhythms and geographies, such as signboards written over, parallel roads made by electric wires above the ground, and alleys that function as both public and private space. Secondly, using the Algerian Situationist Abdelhafid Khatib's dérive questionnaire to navigate these objects, I examine the various modes of pedestrian mobility a cross-section of lanes in Old Delhi can provide, asking how viewing the dérive as a practice of the city might help narrate local and global specificities of place.
Sharanya is based in the department of drama at Exeter, and is on a split-site programme with the National Institute of Advanced Studies in Bangalore. The working title of her PhD is Deriving Delhi: ethnographic encounters with walking, architecture and memory.