ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Revisiting Tranquebar

Tranquebar: Whose History? Transnational Cultural Heritage in a Former Danish Trading Colony in South India by Helle Jorgensen (New Delhi: Orient BlackSwan), 2014; pp 356, Rs 975. Beyond Tranquebar: Grappling Across Cultural Borders in South India edited by Esther Fihl and A R Venkatachalapathy, Orient BlackSwan, 2014; pp xiv + 625, Rs 945.

In the first book Helle Jorgensen brings to us the scintillating aspect of interdisciplinary studies in relation to urbanism. While the book is essentially about Danish colonialism and the palimpsest of the centuries, she focuses on what happens after the 2004 tsunami, and the rediscovery of a medieval trading town, with the onset of relief work. Tourism and heritage become the key features that Tranquebar becomes known for, and unlike Puducherry, which was colonised by the French and integrated in the last century, Tharangambadi (as it is known by the locals) has a complex striated history of a variety of colonial forces. Jorgensen is concerned essentially with how tourism blocks off parts of the medieval town, to the consternation of the locals, who as fisher people did not like their familiar places cordoned off for the purposes of a new trade, which involved museumisation of their well-loved haunts. Football playing fields become taboo in the new dispensation of fencing off medieval parts of the sea-side town, in its new avatar as a peaceful getaway site for middle class and wealthy tourists.

Jorgensen also deals with the ways in which race as a category of foreign-ness is handled by the inhabitants commercially, because the tourists come out of curiosity from Denmark, having a socially entrusted mission which is remembrance of things past, a legacy of overlordship, a nostalgia for that which is not known or experienced personally, but is an accumulation of historical premises passed down generation by generation. The commercialism is so vivid that the hotels for the globalised elite is in stark contrast to the residences of the local people, attempting to keep up with modernism, by presenting their lifestyle as that which can be now exhibited as an example of how tsunami funds can be best utilised:

Since perceptions of development refer to social memory and contexts beyond the present, they also depend significantly on the differing time scales according to which the development of a given locality is viewed. In fact, I found that perceptions of states of development and underdevelopment could exist in the same locality (p 69).

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