Letters from Dilli: Part Two

Disclaimer: All the names mentioned and people described in these letters are real! This is a digital reproduction of the handwritten letter by me to the one I would eventually marry three years later. This is 2008 and its the first time I am in Delhi and outside of my bubble.

My first acquaintance with Delhi.

Winter is on the edge of giving in to spring. Changing seasons, I reckon, bring about a  change in perceptions, as there is new light thrown on things around us. I always thought I was one of those people who hated meeting new people. That what people called 'socializing' was something I never did. Intentionally. But I have identified a pattern of myself. There are two kinds of people. One — anti-socialists and two — people who don't socialize (in my dictionary, 'unsocial'). I believe I am of the latter kind. Because somehow, I have always felt so many associations, so many I care about, and so many I want to care about. From the time I shifted into the school in Hyderabad, to the junior college, to CSIIT, to Anegundi, to the Dubai Office, to the Doha office, to Kshetra, to PSDA and to the house that I am going to step into now (continuing from the previous letter), I have found myself in the same situation. That of finding it so difficult to say 'goodbye' and that of finding it even more difficult to return.

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Letters from Dilli: Part One

Disclaimer: All the places and people described in these letters are real! This is a digital reproduction of hand written letters by me to the one I would eventually marry three years later. This is 2008 and its the first time I am going to Delhi for my internship.

Delhi's first acquaintance with me.

From the moment I passed Public Gardens, until the time the train reached Bhopal, the climate posed hardly any problems. In fact, Nagpur was rather hot! It was only late in the night when the train was perhaps speeding through Madhya Pradesh, that I felt the need to put on my jacket, which until this time was acting as (by 'train standards') a luxurious pillow. I can now boast of successfully avoiding any conservation with my cabin-mates, all of who were 'asal' hyderabadis and were of the popular opinion that its only in Hyderabad that people know how to make tea! Food was their favorite pass time, while I, on the other hand survived most of the day on a 5-star.

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Getting the stupid stuff right!

I usually don’t go for the self improvement genre of books. But when one is handed down to you by a doctor brother from long distance, you’ve got to give it a try. One hot Delhi summer evening I found Atul Gawande’s The Checklist Manifesto in my mailbox. With a cover page I would never have picked up from a bookshelf and a tagline I wouldn’t have paid a second thought to, (How to get things right. Really?). As cliched as the book sounds and looks, I confess it turned out to be a page turner, so much so that I stole time away in office from work to read short lengths of it!

Its not that the author’s writing is artful, its just that he creates a mystery around the subject and takes just the right amount of time to unravel it. Humans are imperfect, and they have a hard time accepting and acknowledging that. A one-off coup is what they are mostly capable of, but where they lack perfection is in the consistency to perform repetitive duties. And the remedy for getting those mundane tasks right, argues the author, is a checklist. Who would have thought a thing as simple as a checklist could be of such vital importance under varied circumstances, and could take such a laborious effort to arrive at. The author admiringly illustrates the effective use of checklists in a variety of professional fields including culinary, construction, finance, and of course the leader of them all, Aviation. By the end of the book he has taken readers through the journey of its introduction into the field of medical surgery as well. With a good amount fascinating events and stories thrown in between occasional theoretical outbursts, the book made me look into my own profession to see if checklists exist or could work. But is there really such a thing as a design checklist?

Sure, we do have our own set of ‘emergencies’; though they may not be as critical as in medicine or aviation since the harm is mostly to ourselves! (the worst is that we will lose a commission, and hence starve!) But the closest i can think that we come to a checklist, is our MOMs (Minutes of Meeting) which is the thing we stick to when working and re-working and re-working on a design. Though, I am sure there is a lot we can do to organize ourselves before important presentations, because we are almost perennially scurrying around against time to get things in order, and are bound to make obvious mistakes. Perhaps I will take a leaf out of this book to see if I can institute a checklist to get the stupid stuff right in Architecture.

Abdul Bari
Architect, also lazy intellectual trying to avoid writing a conference paper by digging out old writings and reposting them.

Spoilt By Habit

Its common knowledge that our urban areas today are infested with corruption at every level. But most often that not, this knowledge is taken for granted to such an extent, that it becomes a strong deterrent to any kind of reformation attempt. Speaking for myself, since I got my driving license I had made up my mind that I will never bribe a traffic police official in case I get caught for any offence. Till date, in over 10 years that I have been driving around, I can recall at least 9 incidences of engagement with a Traffic Police Official over an offence (not counting the numerous others when i was ‘randomly’ halted for document checks). Out of these, I can proudly say, I managed to avoid the bribe on 6 occasions; on 5 of which I chose to pay the fine rather than paying the (much cheaper) bribe. And just once I argued and was acquitted. The remaining 3 times, the Traffic Police Official chose to take the (much cheaper) bribe rather than the actual fine I was willing to pay!

With such a conscious history of honest driving, I one day found myself in the company of three others in a Nissan Sedan on a busy junction at Koti, Hyderabad. With me on the back seat was a reputed Civil Engineer who ran his own private practice, and next to the driver was a Government Official from the State Health Department. As it so often happens on crowded inner city junctions in India, the driver missed the signal turning red and crossed the junction just as the traffic from the other side lurched forth catching him in the middle of the sea. A Traffic official arrived at the scene and signalled in true Hyderabadi fashion to park the car at the corner of the street. Though it was december the afternoon sun was still harsh. The traffic police official was in his usual white and brown uniform with a white helmet and a breathing mask (indigenous solution for pollution control). Scolding the driver in the local lingo, he demanded his driving license and the car registration papers; the usual protocol. This usually means that on producing the documents, the offender would either be fined or let off with a warning. But to my surprise the driver resisted showing the documents putting up a defense that he did not jump the signal. The traffic official seemed already irritated with the heat and the pollution and barked back at the driver asking him to show the documents. The driver again resisted, submissively though, saying he has the documents but it wasn’t his fault. After a few more such exchanges, my company of other two gentlemen started shifting in their seats as we were on our way to a meeting and sort of in a hurry. The government official intervened showing some clout by relating to the traffic official the he was ‘government’ too, but that didn’t influence matters either. The driver in the meantime kept acting as if he is taking out some papers from the glove compartment but wasn’t really doing so. The Engineer now joined in protest with the government official, to no specific avail. And after a moment’s pause during which time all three men in protest passed quick glances at each, sort of acknowledging the fact that the wallet had to come out. Taking out a couple or more 10 rupee notes the Engineer handed it over to the driver from the back seat. The driver  then secretively tried to pass it over to the traffic official so that matters can be settled. The usual formula is for the traffic official to deny at first offering, perhaps deny a second or third time as well and then simply take it looking the other way simultaneously signalling the ‘go’. But this particular traffic personnel seemed dumbfounded at being offered money through the car window hidden in the palm of a hand. He retorted back visibly offended, ‘tereko samajh mein nai aara main kya poochron?” (do you not understand what I am asking?). He barked out a few more scoldings to the driver who kept relenting to hand over the money as swiftly as possible. The other two again joined the driver in trying to persuade the traffic official to take the money and let go. But there was no convincing the traffic official, and he kept deflecting the hand of the driver from putting the money into his own. When no amount of protest and shoving seemed to work, the driver finally withdrew his hand and reluctantly handed over the documents to the traffic official. He looked at the documents, handed them back and signalled the ‘go’ stepping away from the vehicle. Everyone was as surprised as they were relieved, except me who was just amused.

The episode has stayed with me ever since. Was it that the traffic official merely wanted to see the documents and let go with a warning? Was it that driver was afraid that his documents would be seized? Or was it that the Engineer who was the owner of the car was trying to save money by opting to pay the cheaper bribe rather than the heavy fine (which in this case would not have been more than 100 rupees or so). Whatever the case be, as far as I was concerned the episode simply showcased the usual mentality of the middle class in India. Bribing one’s way out of any difficulty has become so inherent in our culture that people tend to resort to it at every instance. When in reality, it need not be so. I remember one instance where i was ready to pay a fine of 1100 rupees in cash, and the Traffic Official maybe thinking me some kind of a retard wrote down a receipt of just a nominal 100 rupees! One has to seriously pause and ponder over such little things in life which are sure to be picked up by our coming generations. What do we teach our kids in school and what example will we set in front of them in real life situations? Its not who we are underneath, but our actions that define us. And in most cases we are just spoilt by habit, not by nature. One has to consciously break that habit in order to put a check against the growing plague of corruption at the lowest levels of urban functioning.

Abdul Bari,
Father, also Architect & Urban Designer

BRTs and the Cities of India: Breaking the Habit

One wonders what makes certain things work in one city and fail miserably in another. It may still be comprehensible to the casual mind if it we were talking about cities in different countries or continents, but when it comes to cities in the same country it needs some pondering.

There were recent news reports on how well the Ahmadabad BRT was doing, and on how it has gained public acceptance gradually, but steadily, among the higher classes of its people. It had some mind-boggling figures: to the tune of 23% bikers, 25% auto rickshaw users and 3% car users shifted to the BRT for their daily commute! That is quite an achievement for a new concept to get such a city-wide acceptance. Though it wasn't a piece of cake, as we can imagine, it went through the initial doubts and criticisms, but is now well on its way to spread its network. And it won't be long before it becomes a city habit.

And then we have the Delhi BRT system, with its criticisms and court appeals. Being a daily commuter on Delhi's only BRT corridor I couldn't help appreciating the meticulousness that is apparent in its design and execution. And even maintenance. Yet for all it's worth, the bus I take still doesn't take the lane designed specifically for it, nor does it alight by the bus shelter that is designed for it in the middle of the corridor. There was a court order a few days back allowing mixed traffic on all lanes of the corridor, but why should that stop buses from using the lanes that have been designed for them? The BRT has apparently reported 32% increase in bus ridership, but somehow this figure has no impact on its wide-scale public acceptance or support.

The most common justification we hear on this difference between two cities getting such varied public responses within the same country, is that the Delhi BRT is an open system while that of Ahmadabad is a closed one. This means, Delhi's BRT allows traffic from the non-BRT road network to mingle with it at various points. My personal experience with this; I would wait for the bus to enter the BRT corridor because it would mean faster unhindered travel, and dread re-entering the conventional road network because that would mean unpredictability. The reason I use that word is; and i am sure people who have been in organized traffic in foreign countries will mostly agree, that it is the most important thing about road traffic. If one can predict how long it is going to take to negotiate it, then that is a hundred times better than not knowing when you will be relieved of that torture. And that is how road commuters are supposed to plan their travels. Non-BRT corridors in Delhi with its mixed traffic and erratic commuter behaviour are never predictable. And that precisely is what the BRT offers - predictability.

The only complaints we hear about the BRT are by the car-owners, whose only complaint again, is they have to wait at the signal for far longer than they would like. Their general habit is to just keep moving, even if that is at a ridiculous speed because that is how they are used to commuting. They have become so habitual to chaos that order is now frustrating them. i agree that the signal phasing of the Delhi BRT system needs to be a little more innovative but in principle a BRT system should work as well in Delhi as it is in Ahmadabad, even if the Delhi volumes are much higher. It is a matter of breaking the habit of the commuters, habits which have been so moulded over years and years of bad public transport and inequitable road planning. One cannot imagine the current road network accommodating more and more private vehicles every year. The only alternative is public transport and the BRT system is the current best practice worldwide. I don't think there is a better explanation of this scenario than what the Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit has said, that the BRT is "for the common man," but it faces hurdles from "vested interests." What we have to acknowledge here is that our only chance of survival is together. Everyone requires a piece of road, and equitable road space planning is the only way for us to move forward.

'Social' is in the nature

Something I read the other day sparked a distant memory. It instigated a thought, and after hosting it for a few days now, it seems to have some value. After such an ambiguous opening statement, I believe the reader is entitled to an elucidation.


The book review on the publication “Reinventing a Lot” by Ben Joseph, made references to the nature and design of parking lots across the world. He argued against the popular image of parking lots as being unexciting and generic “no-places”, in exchange to what he thinks are “actually imbued with social, cultural values, no matter if the primary value is “mediocrity.” Having grown up in the Gulf around 80’s and 90’s, I personally have quite a different outlook of these “no-places”. Abu Dhabi, the city I was born and reared in, is planned in a strict rectangular grid of roadways which enclose high density apartment block clusters interspersed with open spaces. The massing of these clusters has been worked out in a certain hierarchy which is both, a response to the harsh and dusty desert climate and a designed attempt to ensure convenient and vibrant urban living. After reading this description one would picture a city which probably has a lot of green spaces which create such a living environment. This is where the article on parking comes into relevance. 

It might sound unimaginable but, almost the entire open space within these sectors was black-topped gridded parking! Reading (and post-education wrongly believing too!) the reference to a parking lot as a “no-place”, it suddenly struck me that I had literally grown up on these very parking lots which covered every inch of the open space there was to be covered. And back then, these parking lots were far from being ‘unexciting’ to me. They were the fields of my freedom. They were where I learnt the most important lessons of my life… tasted victories, suffered defeats, bore injuries, planned great-escapes, had rivalries with other parking lots, came of age, and all this without my family ever owning a car! As a kid I never saw a parking lot as a parking lot. In fact, it was anything but a parking lot, not only to me but to all my contemporaries there. We were Indians, Pakistanis, Bangladeshis, Egyptians, Sudanese, Filipinos…all either finding our common ground or fighting for our Lot! I guess it became such an interface of our out-reaching because it was so naturally put in the centre of our living world that it just made sense being there to all who used it to whatever ends. Though, to think of it now, those places were actually very drab without any plantations or art or street furniture. There was just the black of the driving/parking turf and the red of the pedestrian pavement. But the question I ask myself now is that, if it were a bit more interestingly made, would I have had a better or more memorable childhood? Better, yes. More memorable, I doubt. A bit of nature would have done everyone a whole lot of good, but it’s a desert we are talking about here; nature is in shades of brown, not green.

All this recollection left me with the thought that what we as designers continually aspire to create: ‘a social space’, is it really for us to create? Or is ‘social’ in the very nature of us beings and it doesn’t matter whether we get a drab parking lot or a park, we would still create our world around it and belong. Living is what we will do in any condition. The quest of the designers among us must be to improve the quality of that living.

Abdul Bari, industry-bred urban being also Architect Urban Designer

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A Big City small Adventure

The surrounds of Delhi, 25th August 2009

 

I work for Delhi. The truth is, I neither work in it, nor do I live in it. I only do so when I am juristically out of it and in competitive company, because there; that expression matters. Truth doesn’t.

I live in a sub urban city called Mehrauli which has precisely two motor-able access points, with hearsay about a possible third. And I work in a still sub urban village called Ayanagar which also has the same precision as regards motor-able access. Destined for satellites; I’ve recently arrived at an apt answer for the usual query of long lost acquaintances. What am I up to, is work; not far away from Delhi. Nothing but the truth.

So what comprises a typical day? Power cuts, scarcity of water, pedestrian traffic jams, followed by vehicular traffic jams, roller coaster rides in patches, bumping cars in the rest, dust, occasional relief, power cuts, technical snags, unrealistic deadlines, presentations, meetings! more power cuts, traffic snarls, parking hunts, low voltages…..this attempt is really futile. There is nothing typical about a working day in the capital. And its surrounds.  Perhaps the reason why spending a holy fasting month there can take some decision taking. For a middle-eastern born, not having a mosque in the vicinity of your dwelling or working or recreation or leisure or essentially any place….…is unheard of. Yet, I was made known with this reality well in advance so as to mellow down the surprise, when I was to actually encounter it.

Mehrauli is dotted with miniature mosques in specific zones while Ayanagar has precisely one. Further, 12 Kms of patchy arterial roadway separates the two satellites. It is imperative at this point to provide some basic background information in order to make sense of what’s coming next. We Muslims; we pray five times a day. The male species necessarily in a mosque, and at appointed times. In the fasting month, nothing takes priority over this. Should be so all through the year, but sadly it isn’t.  It would’ve been all so easy, going back to Hyderabad, to actually live ‘in’ a city and spend the month at leisure, leaving the material world behind. But, thankfully, Rumi does not hold influence over me; not the Sufi kind anyway. Moreover, providence left a vehicle at my disposal, which means so much in a city like Delhi. And its surrounds.

Following a time efficient; economic schedule was of paramount importance because….well, don’t mind the reasons…it was just very important. All planning being done, the only unpredictable part of the schedule remained that of the afternoon prayer. Coincidence with lunch-time was convenient for a person who, gladly, wouldn’t have any such obligations for a month; but, not so convenient for a person who is indispensible to his office. Driving back to Mehrauli on Fridays for this one prayer was already a regular practice, but to do that on a daily basis seemed a bit avoidable in the presence of a mosque in Ayanagar; which brings us to the very subject of this narration.

Another ‘imperation’ needs to interrupt here; that of my discovery of the mosque a year before the occasion of this narration. The ‘unheard of’ fact about the absence of a mosque in a whole village was related to me on my first Friday in Delhi. And its surrounds. Those were pedestrian winters, and venturing out in the Ayanagar wild to search for a mosque crossed only the mind; not the office boundary. However, a carpenter from the workshop below seemed to disagree with my colleagues, two of them happening to be residents of Ayanagar themselves, and one Friday made me hop on to his Atlas bicycle, pedaling me away to the discovery. Taking the Bund road, a high road forming the rear motor-able access to Ayanagar, to reach the rear entrance of the village we got off it and turned into a vast open field encircled in a stone boundary; for no particular purpose except to, perhaps, mark a property. Cutting cross country through the field, the other end of its boundary led us into a settlement with cemented pathways and low roofed houses, both literally hugging the topography of the land. At the end of a steep pathway we came to a dead end facing another low stone boundary with wild undeveloped land beyond and a narrow mud road turning right. This was the end of the Ayanagar world; or so it seemed, when the queerest occurrence came to pass. The carpenter bent down to pick up his bicycle, and moving forward with it on his shoulder climbed the boundary running along the left and jumped over, without a single trace of oddity. I mean, its not often that people jump boundary walls with bicycles on their shoulders to go to mosques ...is it?; but in pure innocence I followed suite observing that the boundary wall was frequently jumped over with the help of stepping stones. On the other side, we were immediately greeted by a small temple, the sorts I remember reading in Pearl S. Buck’s classic The Good Earth, wherein the hero frequented a temple of a similar setting on way to his agriculture fields. The carpenter and his cycle didn’t wait for my reminiscence though and walked on. Actually, trekked on…

Following such winding paths, a glimpse of the white dome suddenly caught my eye amidst the wild growth....so we were going to a mosque after all! And that too, one which I wonder if can ever be any simpler and honest.

Return to present. The very first fast spent at office, I slipped out at lunch time determined to trace the cycle path taken a year back in my car to the extent possible and trek the rest up to the mosque. If not efficient time wise at least it would be easier on the fuel, rather than driving all the way up to Mehrauli daily and back. Things were as I remembered to the end of the Bund road, till I got off it and parked the vehicle at the gate of the boundary wall encircling the open field. There wasn’t a new tree on the field; it was as plain as ever. On reaching across the field I observed it had been divided into further boundaries, and I had to jump over two of them on my way to the entrance of the settlement. Which seemed to have more cemented paths than I remember, with most of them having vehicles parked outside the houses, making me wonder how in the world were they able to drive there! That mystery is still unsolved, but the spot of the queer occurrence was as I had left it; with the temple, except that the trekking path was lush green and wilder than before. I attributed this to the monsoon which never really came to Delhi. And its surrounds.

That wild vegetation had hid the trail leading off the main path towards the mosque, and I ended up walking up to another Pearl S. Buck temple at the end of the path. Returning back towards the mosque which was, I had earlier thought, the main access to it from the village. I found it to be impeccably the same with just one stark difference. There was not a soul in sight. And that was perhaps the best occasion to observe a masterpiece which was, perhaps again, an outcome of such innocence as nature alone can bestow upon the human minds; otherwise so susceptible to influence and self exaltation.

A barbed wire low fence for a boundary. Transparent yet by most means protective. A small structure in one corner of a large area. Oriented. A visible high plinth for the structure. Elevated. Spotless white in every corner and detail. Unpretentious. Domed; Symbolic. Absence of doors to the domed structure. Inviting. Uninhibited. Democratic. An unfinished Minar, the only element eluding perfection. And undoubtedly the most important of the elements, since here is an opportunity to display the actual purpose of a Minar; to guide the believers, to encourage them to pray, to show them the presence of the community, to call out the Azan from the top of it into the open fields, to render that final touch to the hierarchy of proportion which flows from the space into the form in the most coherent manner. A perfect blend of form and function. Well, these were my musings a year back when I couldn’t help walking front looking back towards the mosque as I was leaving it with a hungry carpenter. Presently, I was baffled on finding it empty at the time of prayer.

I stopped short in my tracks, re-evaluating my watch, memory, the surroundings and those years I spent in school obtaining religious education! Two beings at that moment were sighted, brethren by appearance but walking away from the mosque in the direction from which I was alighting. I, of course, pretended to be on usual course hiding my internal bafflement, though observing them keenly to identify the same in them. Which I didn't. They passed by me, and in my usual pride I didn't bother looking back to see where they were going. Because, if i was educated well, I can swear that it was time for prayer and they should have been on the way to perform the very same. But, God knew best ahead. And indeed knows.

Timidity is a source of undying hope. So is desperation. The very reasons which took me to the gate of the boundary in any case, and made me peep in, in a nervous manner as if I were in the wrong place at wrong time. Which I wasn’t. The place was just plain empty! though it wasn’t deserted. For sure it wasn’t, for the grass was trimmed, the ablution pedestals were not dusty, the gate of the mosque was only latched and there was a huge tent of a temporary kind right in front of the mosque structure, which could only be for providing shade to the congregation during mid day prayers. It was such a matter of irony that a place such as this found itself without worshippers, when a visit to more important mosques; full of people; is never short of disappointment in some way or the other. Either it is the surrounds, the mannerisms, the unfounded rituals or just the plain lack of respect and ignorance. All the peeping though had no effect on the emptiness of the place and hence I started back in the direction of the two strangers, retracing my steps in haste hoping to catch sight of them. As expected, it was too late.

I, anyway, continued in their tracks; beyond the Pearl temple and was suddenly interrupted by what seemed to be a major thoroughfare in the process of construction. Neither the beginning nor the end could be seen; ideal opportunity for me to do a Tom Hanks at the end of Cast Away…standing in the middle and seeing in either direction not knowing where to go or what to do next. Enchanted world it is that I live in I am aware, but how can one shy away when drama presents itself in real life?

It must be hard to believe, but I was in some condition of urgency; one, because the time for prayer was running out and time is an essence of Muslim prayer; and two, I could almost hear beckoning from the other end of the village; the end which proudly, and not without reason, calls itself Windmill Place.

I returned to the gate, unlatched, entered and went straight for ablution suggesting that the emptiness of the place was the odd thing out, not me. Midway through the ablution, the Imam of the Mosque entered through the gate followed by a little girl! I might have been dumbfounded that instant, though I am not sure and remember only seeing him in a haze since I was obviously not wearing my glasses while rinsing. Somehow the word ‘awkward’ seemed to be unknown to the whole environment there; the couple, odd as they were along with the situation there, walked off to the other end of the campus across the Mosque frontage and closed the door behind them in a small room which I had earlier mistaken to be a toilet. No inquiry, no inquisitiveness, neither ignorance; but a silent acknowledgement. It was God’s house and all those who believe are welcome. Anytime. Of course, these are reflections; but I was reassured then. The Imam never came out while I was present there; while I unlatched the Mosque court wicket, passed through the three rows and entered the domed interior; hiding itself from external view with full length curtains over each of the three arches, examined the interior in all detail and found everything to be in perfect order including the spotless floor surface; made to look larger than it was due to the flooding of light through each of the full length windows, themselves without a speck of dust, on the rest of the three walls enclosing the domed structure and the presence of all the Mosque essentials, picked a rolled up mattress from one corner and spread it on the floor, prayed in isolation, felt stuffy and switched on the fan to find electricity also to be in order, completed the prayer in no hurry, made the interiors as I had found them and stepped outside into the court again. The door of the little room remained closed. Remained unworried, remained confident, remained trusted and devoted to the belief that God’s house is in the protection of God Himself. And is for all His creations to seek Him at appointed times and other.

Taking all my time in putting on my footwear, sitting on the steps of the court I wondered what this whole experience was meant to be for. A thousand perceptions could originate and find their different meanings, but for all that effort why was such a person as me, met with a happening of this sort; which after the passing of quite a time still doesn’t explain providence enough to give the mind some peace, and thoughts some rest.

I haven’t re-visited the site since. Perhaps preserving the memory of perfection, as it is narrated here, will enable replication and will augment reassurance; than to give pursuit to further truth.


Ramzan 2009

 

Answering


Things that stand the test of time are indicators of the passage of time. A sudden and unexpected find in the shape of a school notebook can bring a whole era back, if only for an instant. But that little instant is, in fact, the very sign of life, and memory. What would happen if instants like these cease to come around? How long could a person survive without a sense of memory, or without a sense of belonging? Ask the people who are in pursuit of homes they have left, or been made to leave or are trying to find them while still living in them.

A certain instance of irony finds the name of a building meaning ‘treasury’ first among the list of ones to be demolished for ‘urban regeneration’. One wonders at the logic of the decision makers, for proposing to  demolish a building which has stood firm for almost two centuries, is conveniently tugged away from the urban chaos (yet remaining within physical relevance), has an irreplaceable and ‘irreplicable’ architectural and artistic worth, is well-capable of sustaining life in it with all vigor and color;  and turn a blind eye towards those which have been built perhaps a year or two back and have none of these qualities whatsoever. Who are these decision makers answerable to? And who are we, as citizens, answerable to, having witnessed such a clumsy decision being taken and, in all certainty, being executed?

Everyone is answerable to the environment we live in. Because everyone is a part of it, is contributing to it, and is dependent on it for survival. A resource, in whatever form, should never be allowed to go waste. Simply because it’s outright unethical! The Khazana Complex at Khilwat is such a resource which is being laid to waste due to neglect. And as a result, has become a top priority consideration for replacement by an automated multi-level parking complex. Most things that could have been done to prove that the place deserved a much more sensitive treatment has been done and to no definite gain. An alternate design proposal for the adaptive re-use of the campus through a students’ initiative, and a comprehensive Parking Management Plan for the entire Precinct by a private consultant initiative; have both failed to appeal to the sensibilities of the decision makers.

What is at stake here is not just an old building. If this decision is taken through, it will be the death of common sense. It will be an example of Man’s inability to fit into an environment; to sustain it and to grow with it. Rationality will be replaced by popular favor. And it’s needless to say then, that progress will become unattainable.

As a final attempt this brief is being written with expectations of generating some response from the stake holders involved and also from the people in general. The city is dotted with instances such as these, and unless a beginning is made to bring them back to relevance, these shall remain no more to give to posterity what they have given us. 
An identity.
 

Written for the media.
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Individual, but not alone


‘Pre-requisite to the proposition of this theory is the belief that ‘architecture’ is one field of knowledge based creative application.’
The process of ‘self-documentation’ can make things simple and clear to you in a very subtle but definite way. You can either choose to be a Gandhi, carry out your own experiments and leave it there for others to benefit from it themselves, or be a Hitler and yell out with conviction, all your findings and beliefs for the world to know and, if intellect permits, follow. No matter what heroics you might have done in five odd years of your architectural education, when you eventually step out of the protective and carefree zone, you will be tested only on the basis of what you can do. What you have done will be a thing of the past, and if anybody had to benefit from that, it was you and you alone.
Suddenly your professional aptitude will start preceding your architectural one. How fast you can locate a file in a heap or how efficiently you can replace a book in a shelf will determine whether you are ‘bright’ enough. If we are to accept the fact that we are a third world country, then architecture is more about articulation than art. How simply and quickly you can ‘art’iculate and communicate the most complex of your ideas, is what will get you to the place where you aspire to be. And of course pre-requisite to that is, you should have an aspiration which you understand. Not a borrowed one with a borrowed understanding.
Carrying over from the first sentence, which is a ‘sum-up’ statement from my design thesis, the approach to architecture needs to be singular, but its process and execution inter-disciplinary. Since I was supposed to be writing on my PT experience, and failed miserably to isolate four months from six years of architectural pursuit, and moreover, since this could perhaps be the last time I write for sappenings, I will just go on and conclude with what I think is most needed to be said and understood.

It is important to realize that personality needs to be individualistic, not your professional attitude. You might sit and work in the remotest corner of your studio, but when it comes to a 3.5 hectare development, you need to step out and do whatever it takes to make sure the right thing happens on paper, first, and then on ground. Democratic rule will rarely present opportunities for you to make a difference from your corner. Not everyone gets to be a Glenn Murcutt!
In order to be an architect one needs to be a better citizen and professional first. Once you are that, you won’t have to put any extra effort to be ‘different’ in your design. Your personality will itself reflect in your work. Could there, then, be a more original output?! There is no such thing as a creative designer or architect. There are only creative human beings. Being an architect would require being creative in life itself. Whatever training I have gone through so far has reinforced these very beliefs of mine. How you choose to live your life, is a decision you should leave to your own instinct.
And then simply live it.

Written for Sappenings in 2008 after returning from PSDA, Delhi.

Homeward Bound







An abode, neither a dwelling
Home is;
An emotion, nor a feeling

In taste, nor the smell
Home is;
Not in the place that you dwell

Where familiarity comes to visit
Home is;
Most powerful a thing to reckon with

Binding you to all that you’ve known
Home is;
The very place that you have grown

Where the seeds of your personality have been sown
Home is;
With distance, the light that has always shone

The inestimable treasury
Home is;
In your Memory


Written for a parting soulmate.

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