Indraprastha, Dehli, Delhi

According to Devdutt Patnaik’s retelling of the Mahabharata, in an attempt to make peace between the Pandavas and the Kauravas, blind king Dhritarashtra gave the Pandavas the forest of Khandava-prastha. On Krishna’s advice, the five brothers invoked the fire god Agni and burnt the forest to the ground, slaughtering all living things -trees, herbs, grass, animals, birds, nagas, asuras- so that no one could lay claim to the land on a later date.

Maya used the principles of Vastushastra when building Indraprastha

Only one survived: the asura Maya, architect of the demons. He begged the Pandavas to spare his life; in exchange, he would build for them the greatest city in all of Bharat: Indra-prastha.

The modern city of Delhi, is, of course, said to be on the ruins of this very Indraprastha.

Quite an impressive legacy.

On a side note, from the Online Etymology Dictionary:

Delhi, city in India, of unknown origin, perhaps connected to Hindi dehli “threshhold,” with reference to the watershed boundary between the Ganges and Indus, which is nearby.

I found one source on the web which contemplates whether this threshhold might have been the door to India, or whether it was meant to represent the outskirts of the same Indraprastha. Delhi then would be a suburb which grew bigger than the mother city.

Our tryst with the DDA!

A few days back a friend and I went to the DDA office, which happens to be right opposite our college’s planning block. We were looking for some information about one of their projects in Dilshad Garden. It was then that we got our second taste of how government offices work (the first is our college’s administration itself). The tallest in Delhi at one point of time, it is quite an imposing building. From the inside it reminded me of the ministry of magic from Harry Potter’s 7th movie (part A), with a core of 6 elevators going to certain floors only, spewing out a variety of people every time the lift doors opened. The place stank like a toilet, tube lights didn’t work and ofcourse, paan stains, everywhere. To get hold of the right person to talk to, we were made to hop around from one lazy ‘Madam’ to the other bored ‘Sir’ and so on, only to be told that the chap who knows where the records are kept hadn’t come to office.

Studying at SPA, back in second year , a bunch of us created a ‘utopian’ (we like to call anything remotely whimsical, that!) character – Archiman. Armed with a parallel bar, transparent string and lethally pointy set-squares, he was to fight the ever-loathsome Dr.DDA (flanked by his secretary Miss Pencil, ofcourse!). Mr. DDA was touted as the biggest architectural kill-joy ever, forcing the entire fraternity to water down any  creativity and stick to its by-laws (Oh, we wrote a song about that too!).

Two years hence, in fourth year, we are at a stage in our design studio, where we have no option but to read the ‘wretched bylaws’ and basically, play by the book (Hence, the visit to the DDA office). Initially its all such a strain; why do we have to provide 15% housing for the EWS? Do we have to leave a 6 meter setback? Can’t we exceed this height limit? But the more I think about it, I see the logic. Apart from certain climatological and safety reasons for providing setbacks and minimum sizes, there are manifestations of an overall vision for the country, the city and the neighborhood, which need to trickle down right to the individual building. These manifestations could have social goals, such as providing housing for all or visual ones, such as maintaining the greenery of Delhi, the one thing which probably all of us are proud of.

However, this is not to say that all of these laws are justified. Looking at Delhi today, its apparent that it is an inverted city. The center is so sparsely populated and the peripheries are packed. This is directly linked to by-laws, FAR and density limits etc, decided by the DDA. Similarly, the minimum standards for housing and slum resettlement are things which have been quite the same for years. With the kind of progress that flexible architecture has made in recent years, it is surprising that the authorities have not  adopted more economical and space  efficient designs, to counter the huge pressure of  migration.

These are just some observations I have made over the past few months. These are my opinions and I might be getting some facts wrong. But what is important is, that as students, we realize that following certain building laws is actually in our interest but at the same time, we should have the audacity to challenge the law, if we can justify it.

One of the many avtaars of Archiman!

(credits: Akshay Khurana)

The DDA building at ITO

(courtesy: http://www.skyscrapercity.com)

The un-destitute Delhi

Architect Charles Correa writes in his 1989 book The New Landscape: Urbanisation In The Third World:

Our criminal indifference to cities Like Calcutta or Bombay over the last decades have allowed conditions to deteriorate to sub-human levels. Yet somehow Bombay functions, and with an energy and enthusiasm that is far more impressive than a showpiece capital like Delhi, because the budget available there per capita is several-fold that of Bombay. Furthermore, cities Like Bombay and Calcutta represents a true cross-section of urban incomes, whereas New Delhi has no destitute people (they are all hidden in Old Delhi); the poorest people one sees are governnient clerks cycling to work, and in winter even they are dressed in woolens! The Third World has too many examples of such capital cities, cities whose apparent affluence is misleading — most of all to the politicians and bureaucrats who live there.

Well, Delhi sure has changed in the past 22 years. Maybe not our politicians, though.

Issues

The city of Delhi sometimes reminds me of an onion, imperfectly taken apart – many layered, veined and maimed. The layers are not coherent or even tightly packed – scattered stray wisps forlornly curl at the edges in some corner, many centuries lie bunched together in another. Yet within them lie hidden vapours of many pasts, rising unbidden to sting you into an awareness of a different time.

Quoted from Anisha Shekhar Mukherji’s amazingly thought provoking post on the essence of our first Delhi Dallying seminar: Delhi and its image issues (if we can call it that).

Considering that a significant part of Delhi (like that of India) is too busy surviving, does the city even have these issues? Or is it only us, thinking too much? Of course, I’m not denying the situation, which is very much real, but I’m wondering whether we can call it an issue if so many of those concerned are not even aware of it.

Can we frenz?

10.59pm. Unknown number calls. Random Woman (RW), husky voice. Hello, Mohit?

Our hero, RP replies. Ummm, sorry, wrong number. (cocks eyebrow)

11.06pm. New message. Hi educated lgte ho….cn we frndz

(ANDC is screwed.)

11.07pm. VB snatches the phone, replies. yeah, sure babez

(Rolling on the floor.)

11.10pm. RW. Wts u name?

11.11pm. RW. Wts u name?

(More interesting submission at hand.)

11.12pm. RW. Wt hpnd?rply to kro

11.14pm. RP. Shila, shila ki jawani. . . I’m too sexy for you . . Main tere haath na aani . .

(Group high fives.)

11.16pm. RP. Wt hpnd?rply to kro

(Double high fives.)

11.17pm. RW. U funy plz tel me kya naam ha apka agr nai btana as ur wsh

11.20pm. RW. Agr aap shila ho to hm bi tees mar khan se km nahi

(Hilarity ensues.)

Delhi Dallying: Seminar I [18.02.2011]

Delhi Dallying held a seminar on 18th February 2011, as a part of Utopia 2011, the annual festival of SPA, Delhi. We had 4 expert panelists who came together to discuss the imageability of Delhi.

Question raised: If ‘New York : Skyscrapers, then Delhi:?’?

Bharati Chaturvedi, Environmentalist + Editor

Ms. Chaturvedi drew our attention to an aspect of the city which we tend to be oblivious to, often unaware of. She spoke about the informal sector of Delhi which is an integral part of Delhi’s ecological chain and also its economy, but is still unrecognized, and often banned. Delhi is a city of ‘walas’ like the neighbourhood fruit vendor, press-wala and maid, who form a large chunk of Delhi’s population.

Himanshu Verma,  Art Curator + Activist

Mr. Verma is passionate about the traditional flower markets of Delhi (like the ones near mehrauli and Baba Khadak Singh Marg) and has been heading the ‘Genda Phool’ campaign to prevent them from being shifted to a dedicated depot on the city periphery. He raised some very valid arguments explaining how these markets were actually ‘activity generators’ and enlivened an other-wise dead space, for the few hours that they are functional everyday.

Madhav Raman, Architect

Mr. Raman is currently involved with the Delhi Ring Rail project and went on to explain the twisted identity that Delhi is headed towards. We often aspire for Delhi to be like Shanghai or New York but that is where the problem lies. The whole point is that Delhi has its unique identity. Infact, it has multiple identities owing to the influx of migrants from all over the country, which makes it a diverse melting pot. He stressed on the promotion of sustainable models of development like the promotion of low cost public transport and indigenous, site specific development.

Narayani Gupta, Historian + Professor

Ms. Gupta concluded the seminar by sharing her experiences of Delhi. She spoke about a protest which she had undertaken in the 1980s wherein they protested against the demolition of the King George V monument, saying that British buildings too, were an inherent part of Delhi’s image as well and one cannot and should not try and erase them from history. She explained the transition of Delhi from a post-independence, nascent city to the rapidly growing metropolis that it is today.

Conclusions:

The discussion led us to conclude that Delhi has the potential of being truly cosmopolitan, as it has multiple images, not just one. Their is so much diversity in the city, that it actually adds to the character of the city.

(This was just a start and we hope to have many more Delhi Dallying seminars soon!)

Begumpur ka ‘Qila’!

Bhavika: Bhaiyya, yahan par hi rok dijiye

Rohan: I think this’ll be really cool!

(Car stops, parks in what could be a dug up construction site, but is actually a parking lot)

Me: I can smell a source of methane!

(looks at the cowdung next to his feet)

And so we walked, from house no. 1A (4 floors,tacky painted plaster) to 173, Begumpur(wood clad, metal plated, furniture boutique, which we aren’t allowed to enter, because the doorman says “Aap kya hi khareed loge?!”)

Begumpur doesn’t strike you as a village. You would probably call it a dilapidated colony, with its closely packed 3-4 story RCC structures and ‘sanitized’ neighborhood parks. A sweet and talkative lady told us, that 10 years back this place was full of single story dwellings with arched entrances. She proudly showed us the ‘solitary arch’ that her family had preserved, unlike the others, sadly pointing out the cracks that had developed due to the metro passing under it. The population mostly consists of Jaats, Baniyas and Punjabis, and some Muslims too. What exists today is obviously a very heterogeneous society, unlike what had existed during the Tuglaq rule.

When we asked around about the famous Begumpuri Masjid, we were answered with perplexed faces, “Yahan toh bas ek qila hai!”. Due to the dilution of the original residents, today the old masjid, which was the prototype for most mosques on Indian soil, is not even known to the people who dwell around it.

Thankfully, the ASI has done its bit to preserve the monument. As we climbed up the awe-inspiring steps of the masjid, we all realized why people chose this over the Khidki masjid as the basis for subsequent mosque design. The shear proportions of this structure were magical. It wasn’t that big, but it looked huge. Multiple domes on the side cloisters added an element of detail to an otherwise plain design. I must admit, it probably looked even more charming due to the weeds and greens that had engulfed bits of the mosque.

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We went on to see the Vijay Mandal, which is surrounded by overgrown greens all around, quite charming, till you see a man rising out of the greens wiping his posterior!

As we walked back to the car, I felt a tinge of sadness about the neglect and oblivion towards these spaces. And so I am writing about it, hoping that others too, go there realize how awesome these places are!