#Walktober

walktober headerAs the weather becomes favourable for exploring the city, Delhi Dallying shares some of its favourite stories from Old Delhi, every Saturday this October. Join us as we explore the obvious (read food) and beyond – the mohallas, the gallis and the markets – to understand what makes this medieval city tick today.

We’re looking at the extra-ordinary in the everyday Shahjahanabad through two lenses – take your pick!


walktoberwalktober2

Advertisements

Notes from St.ART Delhi @Shahpur Jat

shahpur card collage (rohanpatankar)

street (noun)

a public road in a city or town, typically with houses and buildings on one or both sides.

art (noun)

the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power.

street art

an umbrella term defining forms of visual art created in public locations, usually unsanctioned artwork executed outside of the context of traditional art venues

St.ART Delhi is the India’s largest Street Art Festival, that in early 2014 invited over twenty artists from around the world to come and paint the town red, quite literally so. The 6 week long festival’s first stop was at the urban village of Shahpur Jat. The folks at St.ART gave us the opportunity to string together narratives from various facets of the festival into a curated walk, . Excited much, we began by going back to our ‘history of architecture’ lessons from architecture school and simultaneously, began speaking to the artists ‘on site’ to get their perspectives.

The peeps at the festival really meant it when they said they were intervening in Shahpur Jat, in the thick of the urban village. This is not the area that most people who are reading this post have seen; not the Fender Academy, not the Wishing Chair, not the Dada Jungi House lane. This was the much larger yet hidden ‘hinterland’, bustling and complex, strikingly different from the world outside it. The ‘outside’ is merely 200 metres beyond, marked by the August Kranti Marg, of the fairly new Delhi (especially in comparison to this 600 year old settlement). To the closely knit village community, this became a starting point for many a conversation- within itself and with the world outside.

Layers and intervention

While the street art became one more layer among the many layers that made the experience of the place, it also initiated a process that unearthed other buried layers. We began our wanderings and meanderings; understanding the workings and internal relationships between these many layers. The most visible among them are the ruined fortifications of the 14th century city of Siri and, in contrast, the many designer boutiques that have popped up along the outer periphery of the village, not so long ago.

We were equally curious about the ones less apparent, about why most of these houses have the title Panwar written on them, about how a certain specific corner shop selling tea and snacks would have all its signage and music playing  in Bangla, about the staggering number of sequins shops on every street and also about just how many prachin shiv mandirs there were in this village. In our two weeks of frequent study-on-ground (after our day jobs, of course), we slowly began to absorb these observations and aberrations and also began to understand that street art was intervening with these layers in ways beyond the obvious.

Landmarks

The traditional landmarks of the village also became navigational anchors for us and the St.ART team to go about town. One such landmark, albeit a forgotten one, is the anonymous Baradari, the epicenter, where the story of this settlement began. Today the baradari doesn’t quite exist. The shadows of this 14th century monument are buried under and surrounded by many generations of ambitious building all around it. The Rainbow Project gives this ‘non-place’ another anonymous anchor that unites it with the hundreds of other such anonymous places across the globe that host the rainbow.

While the village gave the festival some landmarks thanks to its geography and multi-layered history, the festival also reciprocated with a few anchors. German artist Tofu’s piece of the striped lines at the Nayi Chaupal was one of the first pieces of the festival, also one of the most memorable, perhaps because of its central location. It became the torch-bearing reference for any artist who went to seek permission for doing a wall.

The massive cat drawn by Indian artist Anpu Varkey was also part of the first wave of festival interventions, and it quickly grew to be a neighbourhood icon. It also earned Anpu many friends and assistants in the week that she spent drawing the massive piece. The January air was cold and damp, the wall was huge and the scaffolding looked fragile. The neighbourhood aunties and uncles were amazed at this petite-looking girl’s skill, and also somewhere in their hearts, proud – of Anpu as well as the cat!

Haan, aapne woh billi toh dekhi hai na? Bas wahin se dayeen taraf janaa hai.’(Yes, you must have seen that cat, right? Just turn right from there.)

Conversation

While Anpu was one of many women artists who participated in the festival and painted walls that were possibly much more challenging to paint than the ones done by their male counterparts, the commentary on feminism was taken to another level altogether by artists like Ranjit Dahiya and Sé Cordeiro. Dahiya’s monumental mural of fearless Nadira (the infamous rebellious seductress from the 1950s) cleverly gets us thinking about how a woman’s smoking and drinking fixation has been automatically branding her as the vamp on the Indian screen and outside it since forever. Se Cordeiro’s beautiful woman warrior from the Gulab Gang is as powerful as she is spunky, armed to pin down all of those men who disrespect her. Adding charm to the quaint village setting are also Alina Vergnano’s graceful murals of women, almost softening the mood of this somewhat aggressive setting.

The festival generated quite a stir in the neighbourhood. People were intrigued about the organization that was just going around painting on walls without even taking money for it.

Achha, aap bhi company ke hi saath aaye ho? Yeh ho kya raha hai?” (Are you also with these people the company? Just what is happening here?) “Yeh log sab jageh drawing kar rahe hain, par phir yeh festival kahaan ho raha hai?” (These people are just painting everywhere, but where is this festival happening then?)

This is exactly what even many visitors wondered walking right through this village, not realizing that, in fact,  ‘they’ were the festival! The fact they were there, looking and talking and moving around seeing this place, made the festival. This real experience was only complimented by the sea of people who saw all of these pieces online, not in relation to each other but in relation to the worldwide scene. Delhi, India had just popped up on the street art map, and so had Shahpur Jat village as this neighbourhood bursting with art!

On ground, the festival was thriving, really, on conversation between the artists and local people, often only through gestures and body language and bits of broken English (and in the case of a few curious characters among the village folk, some surprisingly eloquent exchanges in English). While traditionally, street art would be relinquished as vandalism, in this case, all of it was legitimate and carried out in broad daylight (and sometimes, in the night too, ofcourse), with police permissions et al in place. With no economic transaction at play, it was just about finding the right wall and seeking permission from the owners and soon enough, being flooded with requests for commissioned art pieces too. Well, these conversations have only just begun. And we are sure we’ll be listening intently!

AFTERNOTES:

  • We learnt about various styles of street art, from Graffiti to paste ups and murals.

  • We began to appreciate the immense amount of skill required to draw on walls (that turn very cold in the winters) and how different it is from drawing on paper in terms of scale.

  • We realized we really do like taking people out and showing them around places : )

  • We met Daku. (It was kickass!) No, we’re not telling you who s/he is.

Documenting Delhi

Author Tarquin Hall introduced me to an unusual Delhi slum in The Case of the Man who Died Laughing (2010):

The slum, one of Delhi’s largest, was inhabited almost entirely by street entertainers: puppeteers, snake charmers, bear handlers, musicians, acrobats, troupes of actors who performed plays with social messages, the odd story-teller, and jadoo wallahs. But the view through the scratched, convex windshield was depressingly familiar: a sooty ghetto of ramshackle brick houses smothered in cow dung patties. Plastic sheeting, chunks of concrete, and twisted scrap metal were draped over roofs. Canvas tents were pitched amidst heaps of garbage where filthy, half-clad children defecated and played.

Hall went on to describe the incident in such vivid detail that it was a clear, crisp movie playing in my mind- in fact, when trying to recall where I had previously come across the slum, I had to discard the idea of a movie/ video, it seemed that real. Anyways, and again, credit to Tarquin Hall, I was so enthralled by the book that I forgot my intention to google the slum: he never even mentioned its name, only that it’s in Shadipur.

It’s called the Kathputli Colony, where wandering magicians and entertainers settled sometime in the 1950s, on public land which was then barren, but now prime property, courtesy of the Metro.

The name seems familiar-ish now that I know what it is, as if it was always on the edges of my consciousness. I’m sure I’ve come across it before.

This post was prompted by this brilliant trailer (and appeal) for Tomorrow We Disappear, a documentary by American filmmakers Jim Goldblum and Adam Weber.

The slum land now belongs to a private developer, so it’s most probably in its last days, soon to become another entry in the long list of lost traditions and quirks that made Delhi Delhi. I’m not saying that slums are good, and need to be conserved. But I certainly think that the art and culture of this particular slum needs to be saved- or at least, remembered.

Jim and Adam are attempting to do exactly that- their movie will document Kathputli Colony as it is today. (As far as I know, it does not aim at stopping the eviction.)

The clips they have are beautiful. Also, I love the music they chose.

Tomorrow We Disappear Teaser Trailer from Rebel Yell on Vimeo.

__

This project is similar to HandpaintedType, by which graphic designer Hanif Kureshi is attempting to preserve the tradition of street-painting. You know, the painters who sit on roadsides and make posters/ banners/ car number plates. Before watching this video I never fully appreciated their skill. All I had were semi-curious half thoughts about how exactly they do it (especially since I’ve been required to draw guidelines for my text) – do they draw guides, do they use rulers, do they make a first draft, do they outline and and then fill-in later? Now I know, some-what.

__
How is it that expats/ foreigners/ tourists sometimes (often) know your city better than you do? Tarquin Hall is a British journalist, Jim and Adam are American, and recently Delhi Dallying (with friends) participated in a surprisingly tough Delhi quiz hosted by another British journalist, Sam Miller, and which was (surprise!) won by other foreigners (of unknown nationality).
__

Happy Diwali!

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.