Shiptown: Between Rural and Urban North India

Shiptown: Between Rural and Urban North India

Shiptown: Between Rural and Urban North India

Shiptown: Between Rural and Urban North India


Jahazpur is a small market town or qasba with a diverse population of more than 20,000 people located in Bhilwara District in the North Indian state of Rajasthan. With roots deep in history and legend, Shiptown (a literal translation of landlocked Jahazpur's name) today is a subdistrict headquarters and thus a regional hub for government services unavailable in villages. Rural and town lives have long intersected in Shiptown's market streets, which are crammed with shopping opportunities, many designed to allure village customers. Temples, mosques, and shrines attract Hindus and Muslims from nearby areas. In the town's densely settled center--still partially walled, with arched gateways intact--many neighborhoods remain segregated by hereditary birth group. By contrast, in some newer, more spacious residential areas outside the walls, persons of distinct communities and religions live as neighbors. Throughout Jahazpur municipality a peaceful pluralism normally prevails.

Ann Grodzins Gold lived in Santosh Nagar, the oldest of Shiptown's new settlements, for ten months, recording interviews and participating in festival, ritual, and social events--public and private, religious and secular. While engaged with contemporary scholarship, Shiptown is moored in the everyday lives of the town's residents, and each chapter has at its center a specific node of Jahazpur experience. Gold seeks to portray how neighborly relations are forged and endure across lines of difference; how ancient hierarchical social structures shift in major ways while never exactly disappearing; how in spite of pervasive conservative family values, gender roles are transforming rapidly and radically; how environmental deterioration affects not only public health but individual hearts, inspiring activism; and how commerce and morality keep uneasy company. She sustains a conviction that, even in the globalized present, local experiences are significant, and that anthropology--that most intimate and poetic of the social sciences--continues to foster productive conversations among human beings.


Between August 2010 and June 2011 I lived in the town of Jahazpur in Rajasthan, North India, and practiced anthropology as best I could. Bhoju Ram Gujar and his daughters were companions, helpers, and genuine partners in producing whatever ethnographic knowledge I am able to offer here. the writing is mine, for better or worse. I relied on so much assistance from my Rajasthani family that I intended their names to appear on the title page as coproducers, although not as coauthors, of the study. Paperwork obstacles prevented this or rendered it a struggle for which I had not sufficient gumption. I have highlighted their contributions on the dedication page to acknowledge up front my respect, gratitude, and dependence on their help.

I liked living in Jahazpur. the people I met were kind and cordial. I perceived a straightforwardness to relationships and attitudes, even when sporadically contentious. If my husband wrangled with our somewhat difficult landlord over money, members of the landlord’s family still regularly brought us plates with samples of the special delicious treats they prepared for innumerable festivals. Our sitting room was, after all, right above their cooking area, and many enticing fragrances came through the open grating. When a friend’s son was injured in a brief street squabble among young men, the person who injured him appeared at the door the next day, utterly contrite, and bringing prasad (blessed leftovers) from the goddess temple as a peace offering. While proximity can sometimes lead to unredeemable fissures, as recent global history depressingly shows, part of my larger point in this book is that proximity untroubled by political manipulations normally leads to benign forms of familiarity: to greet, to share food, to chat about banalities. These simple interchanges are worth something.

After about a third of my time in Jahazpur was up, I wrote the following:

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