Betwixt and Between
Shiptown: Between Rural and Urban North India by Ann Grodzins Gold, Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2017; pp xiii + 332, ₹ 4,369 hardcover.
Ann Grodzins Gold’s Shiptown: Between Rural and Urban North India is an ethnography of a small town in provincial North India called Jahazpur. In this book, Gold carefully documents and analyses the familiarity and kindness of everyday living practices that are derived from close proximity in living conditions when devoid of political manipulation. This is the larger argument of the book. Gold contends that places like Jahazpur do not have a static, fixed history. Rather, these places come into being through quintessential daily practices, processes, and patterns. As Gold notes, Jahazpur literally translates as “shiptown.” She describes shiptown as a “town in motion, a town as transport, a town providing specific form of transport linking rural with urban” (p xi).
In other words, Jahazpur is an in-between place. This thread of in-betweenness weaves its way throughout the book, seamlessly flowing in and out of pages, chapters, and sections, binding them together. Jahazpur also happens to be a qasba (town): a walled and gated one that has historically provided mercantilist and bureaucratic services in this part of the country. Gold argues that the qasba is a unique kind of North Indian place with its own peculiar characteristics and is often difficult to categorise. It is somewhere in the middle of the rural–urban spectrum, it is definitely both and not exclusively either. Jahazpur is also a market town, whose economic activity is kept lively and vibrant by this rural–urban interface.