Sunday, December 09, 2012

Elephants in Bombay

1) A City Ages
Mumbai over the past few years has come to be a city that is in a constant state of construction. As if the audacious concretization aspires to compete with the speed and scale of natural deterioration within the city, where built forms catch dust, moss, cracks and crumble, very often at a rate faster than the human bodies that inhabit it. Signs of age seem to climb over every object, building and person like creepers that grow slowly but with a fierce determination rooted in consciousness of the inevitable outcome.
Presently raising the FAR/FSI is seen as a solution to trigger regeneration, but I only wonder what would happen in another 40 to 50 years when these 20 to 25 storey towers grow old and are crumbling, what would be the collateral then? How would the deficit between the true cost of maintenance and affordability based on earning capacities be rationalized  What kind of maintenance model will be required if the option of raising FSI is no longer viable? Or will a constant flow of infrastructure projects allow continuous expansion? Either which ways, this dialectics of ageing and reconstruction are here to tango till the bubble bursts or life here becomes unbearably agonizing and people migrate to second tier cities.
Through this turmoil of injections of new infrastructure, new construction, old decaying fabric, the city is in a state of constant change and that too with rapid speed, making it unable for someone to completely be able to grasp or even conjecture the nature of an intermediate state it tries to evolve towards.
Most of the spaces of my childhood memories have been forgotten by the city only to be replaced by skeletal concrete monoliths that form a wall depriving the city the very symbol of future hope, the line where the sea and sky meet, the horizon.

Most of us are now old enough to savour nostalgia, a feeling that comes when the balance between past reaches a critical limit in relation to the future, enjoying memories of what it used to be like and city that Bombay once was and how it has come to be Mumbai. The utopian optimism of being able to fight back, small intervention-big change attitude has been replaced by either proposals that are geared towards damage control (Zizek's capitalism but with a human face) or intense mapping exercises (AMO's this is the present, now and here and no use resisting it), and so interestingly most sentences in most conversation seem to start with the word "interestingly", summing up the total disconnection that professionals have from the built environment, restricted to purely being witnesses that record, re-record and represent these recording in subversive ways to balance the guilt of impotency.
Like everything else, age has caught up if not with them then with people close to them, as they try to find solutions to the state of ageing in this city.
My grandmother who has crossed 85, recently moved in our home. Her frail and fragile body bears witness to this city she lived in, her entire life, Dadar Shivaji Park (1937 to 1951),Thane Charai (1951 to 1960), Goregaon Pandurangwadi (1960 to 1962), Cotton Green Kala Chowki (1963 to 1985), Mulund (1986 to 2012),Borivali (2012 onwards). Having short term memory she constantly enquires of her grandchildren once an hour which my father patiently responds to, in manner as if the question was never asked before.
My maternal grandfather lives with my aunt and struggles through with similar problems of age.
This state of vulnerability and return to innocence according to me is the most merciless but yet in some ways appropriate form of redemption to our existence, and deserves the dignity that this fast paced, aggressive city very often cannot afford.
A Thesis on old age homes:
A friend of mine, Namrata Kapoor, few years back had researched and designed an old age home as a thesis topic. One of the issues that she dealt with was the relevance of having old age and its supporting institutions within the city and and not exiled outside the city limits as is the case with lots of old age homes here. I wonder given the changes that have taken place within this city and the aggression that seem to increase exponentially with increase in density and shortage of resources, would the question of "is old age relevant to this city?" needs to be reframed as "is this city relevant for old age?"

The process/state of ageing here is not a noble one, dignified with responsibilities of holding our collective past, neither is it Clint Eastwood commanding respect and a farewell with a finale, rather it is a sad process of decay and suffering and old age only inhibiting memories...bearing witness to this nature of change to me is somewhat like asking a grandparent do you remember me and seeing their eyes desperately search for signs of recognition in your face, just as i search for fast eroding spaces from my childhood in the city of Mumbai.

2) A City comes of Age
As Bombay grows in infrastructure and density, amid all the chaos there seems to be a sense of optimism from some people whom i spoke to, of things changing rapidly (for good or for worse was not of much concern, but the speed), and within that rapidity one has to fish opportunity at the precise moment it jumps towards you (think of Alaskan bears catching salmon). This strange optimism only seems to be growing, as if with a little more toil, little more risk and little more compromises the battle with the city would be won; dreams, desires and aspirations fulfilled. As one of my friend back in Bombay said, over the past 1 year he can see the boom of a booming economy. 
Another one explained that a lot of things presently seem to work purely out of good faith, like the experience of crossing a highway and having good faith in the driver that he wont run over you, while the driver having complete faith in you breaking the traffic signal and crossing from unexpected places, so his speed is slow and he is more alert than an average driver abroad. 
The complexity that Bombay shelters provides for a constant source of study, research, mapping, representation and interventions, built and unbuilt, professional and academic of various scales. the opportunities and potentials are endless..the unrest will follow..."it is only a matter of time...have faith..."

3) Elephants in the City
To me witnessing changes in Bombay is like the experience of seeing elephants in the middle of the city. One is immediately struck by awe at the magnificence of the beast, only to dwell on how the animal survives and then looking carefully at damages that the city life has done to it. It is surreal experience with certain sense of strange optimism mixed with melancholia(?). There are no absolutes here, as even elephants dissolve away in the noise and smog of the city.

No comments:

Post a Comment