Thursday, October 19, 2006

Commemorating Mumford centenary

It was in the American library in Calcutta that, quite by chance, I came across Lewis Mumford's books and ultimately read all that I could get.

As a university student I had actively used the Library and this fuelled my love of literature and acquaintance with American writers. Calcutta is known for its radical leftist, anti-imperialist political ideology, and the American Library has often had to suffer protest demonstrations and even vandalism, for instance during the Vietnam and the Gulf War.

Later in my life, though not disassociated with some of these perspectives, my love of literature took me again to the Libarary, and it was my preoccupation with Calcutta that led me to Mumford’s work. This profoundly influenced my thinking about cities, about society. Through his work I was able to begin understanding my own society, culture and civilisation. My own discovery of his work confirms his thinking about the immense power of cities as civilising centres.

1995 was Mumford's centenary year. It became a mission for me to organise a centenary commemoration as a befitting homage and tribute to this great thinker. But I found that virtually no one was familiar with his name and work, including the people in the American Centre. I had to show them his books and micro-fiches of his articles from their own Library!

Anyway, on 19 October 1995, I wrote out and photo-copied a one-page note together with Mumford's picture, about this man and the significance of his work, got a box of Indian sweets, and had an assistant distribute the note and sweets to all the people at the office of the Calcutta environmental planning project that I was then working in.

However, in December 1995, after much pestering, a panel discussion was organised by the American Centre to commemorate the Mumford centenary, and I was able to deliver my personal homage.

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