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

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Jholawalla Redux

Even if it is now a bit anachronistic, the figure of the jholawalla is an abiding myth always at hand, ready to be deployed at a moment’s notice.

There was a brief time—back in the 1970s and 1980s—when the figure of the jholawalla actually corresponded to some tangible reality. The kurta and jeans, the shoulder bag, signalled a brisk functionalism, as well as a rejection of the glossy fashion aesthetic that was already slinking in, in the wake of liberalisation. The jholawalla, the JNU metonym, named a certain correspondent anxiety, a subliminal guilt about the costs of globalisation—Dunkel, etc, so to speak. Soon, however, particularly after the fall of the wall, the euphoric chorus got louder as the road ahead seemed imminently to be leading—always a-leading—to the paradise where history ended.

And the figure of the jholawalla began to seem anachronistic and then, even faintly nostalgic—a touching reminder of our youthful naivete, before we entered the brave new world. The jholawalla passed into the imagination, occasionally resurrected by pop sociologists, and became a figure of myth, a polysemic cultural resource that had become, temporarily, superfluous. As part of the same social process, I suppose, JNU gradually supplanted Delhi University—as Delhi had earlier supplanted Allahabad—as a nursery for aspiring civil servants and baby bureaucrats.

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