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Posts Tagged ‘urbanity’

House, home …

July 9th, 2009

House, in a city where this possession is prized, valued and loved

House – personal or matter of policy?

Home – personal or matter of policy?

The next time around, I am taken to Rehnuma’s ghar, her home. But this is not Rehnuma’s house. It is rented. Her brothers and father are building a house next to the rented jhonpada/hutment. I ask Rehnuma – when did you start the construction.

Yesterday, she says.

When will the house be completed?

Tomorrow, she answers.

So soon? I ask astonished.

Yes, no brick and cement to be used. This land is disputed. Demolitions have happened here. So, we are afraid to build something pucca/concrete.  When the house is done tomorrow, we will take our belongings and go there.

Meanwhile, her mother complains that the road outside the house is a mess – hamaare neta ko bol dege ki us mein mitti daal dein.

I ask Rehnuma where the toilets are.

Jungle mein jaate hai. Yeh badi mushkil hai. We have to go to the jungles – that is a big problem.

We move on. I am told that most people build their homes with bamboo poles and tin sheets – easy to build and dismantle. Most  people have a little stilt outside their houses to prevent the rain water from coming inside.

And then we were passing Wadala yesterday, in the BEST bus. At one point, we came across a stretch which was a deep pool of water. The driver stopped the bus. A minute later, the passengers stood up to see what is going on. Then, one of them shouted – drive on! The driver pressed the accelerator and strode ahead. As we moved on, we splashed all the water into the houses which were built on the pavements. Some had water inside their homes. We added more. Residents of the houses came out on the street and yelled abuses at the bus driver. But we had crossed the stretch …

Each day, I move across the city and watch how people have built their houses – someone else’s doors and windows help in making privacy for someone else. Door numbers and house numbers. Some poster of a Congress Neta or a MNS flag adorning some balconies. A ladder connecting the top and bottom floors. The top floor like a bunk – you squeeze to get inside. Some houses on footpaths. Some on hills. Some along railway tracks. And the concrete houses that have been built in the suburbs and edges of the city – some people doubling their homes as shops and trading spaces. Some running beauty parlours inside. Some have reorganized the space and adorned it with beautiful things. And it amazes me to no end how each house is a reflection of the family’s dreams and aspirations, is a source of their politics and consciousness, is their place in the city. And I wonder …

House – personal or matter of policy?

Home – personal or matter of policy?

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City, Nights and Fear

June 30th, 2009

9 o’clock

10 o’clock

11 o’clock

Night,

dark,

inside their homes – the peoples

but, this is Mumbai, does not sleep – the city that does not sleep.

Someone asked me the other day – but you said that people do not sleep here in Mumbai. Look around, everyone seems to be asleep – and he smiled. I thought to myself, maybe it is the weekend and so everyone is sitting tight in their homes.

Then, returning back home at 11:15 PM at night, sitting in the cab, I looked around. A sense of fear had also gripped me – how will I return home? When will I return home? When will I snuggle up in my bed and feel safe. How can this happen to me in Mumbai – the city whose prodigy I am. Fear, that feeling of lack of safety, was creeping up my neck.

Sitting in the taxi, I asked the driver – no public on the streets?

He said – Sunday nah? Little public out at night.

But, I prodded further, even the bus services into the city have reduced at night. What is th deal?

The buses kya? They run empty at nights and so, the BEST has decided to reduce them. But yes, the streets are empty at nights these days, after the bamb-kaand.

Bamb-kaand? You mean 26/11?

Yes. After that, people have reduced going out at nights. A sense of fear has gripped people. We taxi drivers, our income was mainly from the fares we got at night. Now, that has reduced drastically. All the shareef, good character people don’t come out at nights. It is only the badmaash, the bad characters, that come out at night. Plus, so much naaka-bandi, police watch. Who will come out? Which shareef person will come out?

Just a while before the driver was drawing a distinction between the shareef and the badmaash, I had watched a bunch of well-dressed prostitutes and one of their clients in the classic white kurta and pyjama, laughing and making jokes around the corner of a hotel at Grant Road. And I had thought about respectability. Now, I think of the shareef, the badmaash, and the night and the city – transformation, perhaps it is happening at these subtle levels.

Then, I watched the city last night as we rode past one end to the other. Are the streets really silent? Is this what the bamb-kaand has done? Penetrated into the fabric of the city and spread fear …

We halted at a signal around the corner of one of the posh Western suburbs. There she was – no fear – just dexteriously weaving the flowers through the thread and making garlands, perhaps readying herself for the clientele in the morning who may want to offer the flowers to their gods and goddesses, allaying a fear of a different kind (that between the devotee and the devout). She weaved away quickly, without care. Is she afraid, I thought to myself?

Then we passed the roads. There they were, those people, those people we call slum dwellers. Three hutments jutting out from the walls, just onto to the streets. They had also called it a night, lying down in their beds, drawing their sheets onto themselves. There they were, stepping into the world of dreams and nightmares and desires and hopes and aspirations – some had their TV sets on, some just oblivious of the roadside traffic and preparing to go off to sleep. Are they afraid?

Then, we went pass the highway, those big roads that have been created to facilitate the movement of cars (and traffic). On the highway, covered under blue plastic sheets, supported by a few poles, they were also going off to sleep. Perhaps they were construction workers who had settled into a little space on the footpath and called it a night. Perhaps they were contract sweepers, spending their last few days in the city before the rain lashes vehemently. They were almost calling it a night, drifting off (or just about to …) … Are they afraid?

And then, just a little ahead, three-four men and women, playing hide-and-seek in the bushes by the side of the highway, perhaps some kind of a foreplay. They seemed happy, playful. Are they afraid?

Fear – what of?

Fear – of what?

Fear … and the city sleeps at night …

Fear … and we sleep to prepare for another day to come …

Fear …

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Of property, claimed spaces and accessing the city

June 6th, 2008

It is strange to feel a sense of communion with Bangalore city. In recent times, someone mentioned how he found Bangalore to be a flat city while Bombay was a city thick with stories. Perhaps those stories abound in Bangalore too, but I have isolated myself enough not to recognize them. One such story has been surfacing since the last two days and has gotten me thinking, once again, about space, about accessing the city, about urban land, and about the notions and practices of property.

It is indeed strange to feel a sense of communion with this city, this city which has since sometime been labeled as the epitome of fast paced and messy growth. “It is S. M. Krishna’s fault,” I am told, “He has brought the city to be the way it is today. He sold it to the real estate sharks and to the global land developers.” I wonder whether the story of today’s Bangalore is as simple as this. It is rhetorical to even make such a statement, but what needs to be stated is the fact that the story of this city is yet to be told, in all its thickness and richness. The story of this city is not all flat; it is the story of our times. I will try a little now …

So, it is absolutely strange to feel a sense of communion with this mad city called Bangalore. The airport has moved to 40 kms away from the city. The traffic is as bad as it could be. The city’s drains are already overflowing even with the wee bit of heavy showers. What is becoming of this city? That is the plaint with which civil society movements and organizations started in Bangalore, the city which is overflowing and teeming with the good governance and fight-corruption organizations. But that indeed is a flat paradigm of the city. I am confronted with the question of how do I understand and frame the notion and process of change?

Yes, it is indeed strange to feel one with this city, this city that is usually seen as a flat and a doomed-to-fail city. But it is not. It is a city which is at the crossroads of very important trajectories and what defines these trajectories are the contests and conflicts over accessing urban space. I was watching the Majestic area through the windows of the BMTC bus – every nook and corner of Majestic is occupied, legally and illegally. Sometimes, the illegal don’t even know that what they are engaging in is deemed illegal by law and planning. Everyone needs access to space – space, both metaphorically and physically. Booksellers on the footpath, pirated VCDs and pornographic material, bags, shoes, clothes, security services, banking services, pawnbrokers, jewellers, restaurants, hotels, malls at the side of the roadside messiness and occupied spaces – in Bombay they call this cheek by jowl. In Bangalore, I would say that the different times of the city co-exist in Majestic area and beyond. Different groups of people and individuals have occupied space, some nook, some corner, some cranny. And there are occupations and professions that exist in this area which are hidden from the eye but very much located in this geography. Majestic reminds me of a different time in the city. Yes, there are plots on which malls are being constructed in Majestic too and in a few years, the malls will be there unless something drastic happens. But what you see in Majestic is the existence of all kinds of time streams – yesterday, today and tomorrow. That yesterday is not disintegrated from today and tomorrow; it is intimately connected. And that yesterday will be shaped by today and tomorrow just as much as today and tomorrow will be shaped by yesterday. The physicality and the mortality of yesterday may disappear, but yesterday itself cannot disappear. Majestic says this to me as I observe the hectic and frenzied pace of urban space in this part of Bangalore.

As I move from Majestic into Rajajinagar, I am further surprised. Rajajinagar appears much more insular than the Richmond Town area that I live in. It appears that Rajajinagar is living in a time of its own. Photographs of Dr. Rajkumar, the famous cinestar whose death rocked the city, abound in this area. Rajkumar seems absolutely alive and kicking in the spirit of Rajajinagar. Perhaps, his presence even defines the locality of Rajajinagar and marks this space as distinct from other parts of the city. A strong feeling of Kannadiga-ness envelops you if you walk carefully through the area – the sounds, sights, smells, scenes- they strongly remind you that you are in the state of Karnataka of which Bangalore is an important geographical party and symbolic aspect. A subtle sense of the Kannada nation grips you as you walk preceptively, a feeling that is distinct and particular to this area. Now, with the Bangalore Metro expected to run through this area, one will have to wait and watch to see what processes the notions and practices of modernity, locality, community, urbanity, nation and globalization will generate.

Clearly, what has been most interesting about this form of participant observation across the Western parts of the city is the ways by which people have occupied urban space. At Magadi, as we see the hectic and frenetic construction of an underpass, we also simulataneously note that under the trees, there are people who are making and selling bamboo curtains. At Majestic, one notices fruit-cake kind of constructions that were certainly not planned, but created over time, through various networks of politics, graft, deception, illegality, identity and finance. Rajajinagar abounds with spaces that are known in our parlance as “neeche dukan, upar makaan”, again a form od practice that planning defies as illegal and that is increasingly coming under scrutiny with the construction of the Metro Rail. These are spaces which are being practiced variously and in ways that may not be recognnized by urban planning and law. They exist and yet, there is a strong feeling that runs through a large number of us that eventually, these spaces may be destroyed, taken over, annihilated and subsumed. Urbanity is being conceived as this process of the big fish eating the small and the small eating the smaller. The question is whether the current stream of urbanization requires much more intense attention to the processes that are taking place, irrespective of outcomes, if we are to nuance our understanding of change, growth, future, ‘development’?

As I moved into Nagarbhavi, I noticed that virgin properties which were once rocky lands, are now being constructed over. The pace of construction in the area is tremendous. I realized that the potential construction of the Bangalore Metro Rail around Vijaynagar will lead to property prices rising in and around the interiors of West Bangalore. I recognize that this is one of the ways in which property markets develop. The question that arises is whether the growth of property markets, the conversion of multiply claimed spaces into single ownership and title deeds that can be traded between people ‘legally’, is an irreversible process? Are the trajectories of cities defined? How do we conceive of the future? How does one draw on the past to understand and conceive the future? I begin with these questions and many more …

It is absolutely strange, yet wonderful, to feel a sense of communion with the city. It is an enabler, one that allows you to see the city as an organic entity that has life and is not a determined/controlled mass of space …

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Another encounter

February 25th, 2008

So, after a depressing day at the High Court, listening to the CMH Traders association court case against the Bangalore Metro Rail Corporation, I thought I had spoiled my entire day. I felt I would not be able to focus on anything else after this. I somehow knew in the morning that court would not decide in their favour. When I asked one of the traders what he was feeling and whether he was nervous. He mentioned that he was confident and that god was on their side. I wished the same too. But some designs of the universe are unknowable and the court case just reinforced this belief that sometimes you have to fight because you have to, detaching yourself from the consequences.

Surprisingly, this evening I encountered a 14-year old girl who started off by calling me “aunty”. It was very interesting meeting her. I felt I was almost her. She expressed this desire about wanting to know what was happening in the world around her. I almost thought she was out to save the world. I gave her copies of Ishmael and My Ishmael the stories of a man and a 14-year old girl(respectively) who want to save the world. A gorilla is their teacher and he is out to teach them on how to save the world. He does so by telling them the story of evolution. Beautifully written – kudos! to Daniel Quinn!

The best part of all this encounter with her was that I unhesitatingly gave away two of my precious books to her, in the knowledge of the fact that my books may never come back to me. I am learning to dispossess myself …!

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