Thursday, November 21, 2013

Time Capsule of Optimism: The New Architecture of Europe 1961

cover page image image sourced from: here
Sometimes when I come across books writing in present continuous tense about the present (then) recording the spirit of "here and now" but published long ago, they work as fantastic time capsules, to relish nostalgia and optimism in equal measure. The format, the style of writing, the buildings selected all come together to form one complete picture of optimism. The very same optimism that one senses while watching an old BBC documentary where the narrator explains the design of a brand new housing estate for communities built with miraculous new age materials that symbolise a collective spirit.

Recently I bought "The New Architecture of Europe" by G.E. Kidder Smith from a second hand book sale. The books introductions lays down the spirit of this new era as
"The introduction of rolled steel and reinforced concrete (both approximately 100 years ago), then plate glass, new forms of factory processed (i.e., laminated) wood, and most recently, plastics, has revolutionized man's building means. Moreover, when one demands totally fresh building types--skyscrapers, large hospitals, community halls, housing projects, expansive schools, industrial plants, and not forgetting that terror, the automobile, garages and suspension bridges--the result will inescapably and logically produce a new architecture. Furthermore, this has been and is being colored by a newly egalitarian society, one assailed by changes more profound and rapid than ever before in history."

This book published in 1961 attempts to map/analyse 225 most stimulating buildings from 16 countries of post war Europe. Selection of these new fantastic buildings is subjective, but as the author explains, "Merit alone is not sufficient for the inclusion of a building: it must have ideas and stimulation as well. In some cases a building that demonstrates fresh and constructive thinking, or explores a new facet of space, but suffers design weakness, has been chosen over similar example of routine thought but superior execution".
The chapters are by Country location, which starts with the Mr. Smith concisely explaining the state the country is in after the war and what are the developments that are facilitating these new experiments in architecture.

This book puts all the present day expensively printed and bound Phaidons ,World Atlases, Glossy design Magazines, hourly updated Design Blogs etc to shame. If you ever come across this book, you love modern architecture, and want to reinstate your faith in the collective spirit of architecture and design...Buy it! Enjoy it!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

10 Comrades

I love Bombay; while I think of it sitting in the comforts of my London home, thinking it is about time someone made a difference out there. But while I grow beard and hatch plans for revolution I think about the colourful comrades I met while back in Bombay.
I felt it was important to record these colourful comrade-specimens before these last animals of a disappearing species go extinct, driven away to greener pastures. "Yes it is important to map the people, not the space!" a friend of mine exclaimed with finger pointing to the sky in the manner of Lord Krishna dispensing Bhagvat Geeta. Space didn’t matter, people made space and if we map people space would fall in space..or place, depending on whether one is Cartesian or Phenomenonlogisticalist! (A new field of phenomenology but only 1000 times richer discovered in a recently found papers by Jacques Derrida who uses excerpts from Gaston Bachalard’s hand written but never published papers that almost got lost while he on the verge of clinical claustrophobia tried burning his work, to suggest "it does go much deeper" and we have only scratched the surface in phenomenology and its sequel Phallogocentriology).

So here goes:

Please note, despite these comrades also being my very close friends, I as an unbiased writer/mapper, have tried maintaining a cold, detached and almost scientific attitude while interacting with them and writing about them (though we only know too well there is no such thing as the unbiased eye, maybe unbiased spleen...maybe, but one can never tell). So in the manner of David Attenborough in Madagascar, I in Mumbai note and report:

Comrade 1: (Day to Day constructive acts comrade): Jigisha Khandelwal born to a filthy rich industrial tycoon, was also coincidentally an optimist, optimism not stemming from her Marwari wealth or her schooling from Eton, Harvard and Yale, but from her deep faith that just like her fafda eating ancestors had invented philanthropy in India, she too could make a difference.
 She explained her family employed 5 people (job creation!!), a gardner (Santosh), a maid (Sakkubai ofcourse), a driver (Mangesh), a guard or watchmen (Tejbahadur) and a cook (Lata tai). She said these people are like a family to us. On enquiring why Sakku bai (who was meanwhile sweeping the floor around us) had stayed for past 40 years in exactly same spot while Jigisha and her family became more prosperous, Jigisha gave a shriek of anger. She pointed angrily to Sakkubai and said she IS a family to us and is here by her choice. Sakkubai by now having guessed the discussion in English may have involved her, asked alarmingly "Jiggi beta sagla kai tikh?" (Jiggi dear everything okay?). This is when Jiggi beta did something shocking, she got up, hugged Sakkubai and went to have a bath (not because she felt that was hygienic thing to do but it was time for her to have a bath), Sakkubai after the hug continued looking at me intently for couple of minutes in the manner of a suspicious bull mastiff and went back to sweeping the floor (not because she had to sweep the floor but because she liked to...supposedly).

Comrade 2: (We got the whole thing wrong Comrade): Mandar Apte had grown into a grizzly wearing a very tight marine blue lacoste t-shirt that seemed to work more as corset and give Mandar's breathing a whizzing quality. He was the the first to recognise me, while I desperately tried to look away. I had to look away as this guy had earned himself a pungent aura of sweat and piss. We shook hands and without wasting time Mandar exclaimed in the manner of Zac Galifinakis in a standup, "we got the whole thing wrong dude! hahaha", his manner suggesting that he was now enlightened by the right way to go about "the thing". I was able to continue the conversation by holding my breath for 2 minutes, after which I would excuse myself and go a little away from the table, take massive gasps of fresh air and come back. Mandar fortunately for me didn’t notice that, he was too euphoric singing Jim Connell's Red Flag and waving his 3 pitchers of beer (all held in his grizzly paw) in the air and laughing hysterically.
We sat there for 4 hours past midnight, in a dingy bar drinking beer and Mandar explaining how everything we had thought of was way wrong, but on insisting on the point of right way to go about “it”, he would give vague burps and order more beer.

Comrade 3: (Demonstration Comrade): On hearing I was in the city, Hari Prasad had visited home, wearing a biege kurta from Fab India. Hari having done his MA in Indian languages, spoke fluent Bodo and Dogri and had studied history of Gondia between 3rd Nov 1265 AD to 22nd Jan 1285 AD (he was the only historian specialized in that region for that time period). He was actively demonstrating in various protest marches for and against various issues affecting and not affecting India. "I love candle light vigils, they have such a peaceful quality..., for some time as a break I think i will be sticking to them, maybe after couple of months I may take part in a rape protest", Hari said with a certain sense of satisfaction. On enquiring about his health he replied, "I had joined in on the anti corruption hunger strike, but the government just won’t budge and we had to call off the strike because everyone was so damn hungry bhai!” Here was a man who had made demonstration a way of life. While leaving he removed a donation box and asked me for donations for tribals of Andaman and Nicobar islands. I gave him 500 rupees, he looked at me with disgust in his eyes and asked, "we are demonstrating for children’s safety on the western railway tomorrow, will you join us?" On replying no, he spat in my aquarium and left.

Comrade 4: Undercover Comrade (Poor are genetically inferior, lazy and therefore poor comrade): Rajiv Kukreja born to a developer had grown with us but always seemed to censor his thoughts, but no more he said as we sat at the dinner table in his 8 storey 'bungalow'. He went on to elaborate, however rich he was he worked very very hard to earn money while the poor laze reluctant to even earn their livelihood! This time I had the pleasure of spitting in his aquarium.

Comrade 5: (Comrade Comrade) (elder brother of Comrade 4, they haven’t exchanged a single word for the past 30 years which is shocking as they are 31 now): Amol Kukreja used to live in Bandra in a plush flat, but he sold everything off to buy a small printing press and a flat in Nala Sopara. The newspaper he tried to publish called Nava-Horizon didn’t do very well and he had lost all his money...maybe because he had tried printing newspapers on inkjet printers. He offered me a soup being cooked at home, I refused, because I had seen him put an old shoe in the pot. He had stood by his principles and presently wanting to share a shoe soup with me.

Comrade 6: (with and against comrade): Geeta Joshi whose Napoleon complex had only given her a strategic vantage point to develop a “with and against” “mechanism”, in quotes highlighted by her with hooked fingers gesture. She explained me this with and against mechanism, which certainly had done her well. She said how she worked for multinationals interested in entering the Indian market, but with the money she earned she would publish a book critiquing the very same companies, hoping that the book would sell, spread the word, make her some more money in the process and most importantly give her some conference invites. On the whole this was a theory of “spontaneous simultaneity” (orang utan hooked fingers gesture for in quotes again)

Comrade 7: Reluctant Rich Recluse Comrade (commonly called high on pot comrade): Could not meet Harshad Shah, as he was reclusive, high on pot and reluctantly well to do, as the name suggests.

Comrade 8: Small microscopic inserts Big Global change comrades (plural because they are twin sisters one a Virologist and the other a IT programmer both trying to invent a virus): Nanda and Manda Malwankar spoke alternating words thereby completing a sentence, with the punch line being said in chorus. I believe this feat in communication was possible due to their strong and common sense of faith that the key to change is often a small strand of hair lost in the Atlantic or the Grand Canyon or Deccan Plateau (which ever decreases the chances of finding it the most). Virologist believed greed could be cured because it was all genetic, she just had to make a virus, while the IT programmer believed that infecting all transaction with a computer virus that could deduct fair taxes and create a leveling field, both had named their future creations Anna Hazare.

Comrade 9: Lost Battle Alcoholic Comrade (usually hangs out with Comrade 7, who also pays for his drinks and other expenses): Rohit Vora having failed entering into any of the top universities abroad with his thesis on “Role of Educational Institutions in Global Capitalism” had sadly taken solace in alcoholism.

Comrade 10: (Happily Married Comrade or Also can be referred to as Nostalgic “Those were the days” Comrade): name speaks for itself.

By now you may have realised that these colourful endemic individuals living their day to day lives trying to adapt to the fast changes taking place on their seven islands (it is actually 6, but 7 sounds so damn poetic that they counted a float to be the seventh, which also had the only Maharashtrian Koli fisherman sitting on top) as they evolve new limbs, appendages, feathers to compete for food, nourish their young ones and finally simply to just survive.

At this point in time it is difficult to tell if they are pimping or limping their cause!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Delhi-Mathura-Agra-Fatehpur Sikri-Abhaneri-Jaipur

Water Axis as a Landscape element in Charbaug, Delhi

Humayun's Tomb, Delhi

Courtyard of Delhi Crafts Museum

Ugrasen ki Bawli, Delhi

Chand Bawli, Abhaneri

View of Amber Fort from Nahargad, Jaipur

View of Jaipur city from Jaigad

Qutub Minar, Mehrauli, Delhi

Humayun's Tomb, Delhi

Bada Gumbhad in Lodhi Gardens, Delhi

Lotus Temple, Delhi

Oarsman at Mathura

Taj Mahal, Agra

Fatehpur Sikri

Parrots at Abhaneri

Inside Pura Quila, Delhi

Camel at Jaigad, Jaipur

Purana Quila, Delhi

Sleeping Macaques at Jaigad, Jaipur

Guard at Nahargad, Jaipur

Lodhi Gardens, Delhi

Snake Charmer at Amber Fort, Jaipur

Jal Mahal, Jaipur