ENVISIONING THE INDIAN CITY: PEOPLE, PLACES, PLANS
UGC-UKIERI INTERNATIONAL WORKSHOP
HL ROY MEMORIAL AUDITORIUM
MONDAY 17TH AUGUST 2015
The third ETIC international workshop was inaugurated by Professor Sukanta Chaudhuri, Emeritus Professor of English and well-known urban historian. Supriya Chaudhuri (ETIC project lead, Jadavpur) thanked the Centre of Advanced Study, Department of English, Jadavpur University, for hosting the two days and communicated apologies on behalf of Professor Nandini Das (ETIC project lead, University of Liverpool).
Narayani Gupta (Formerly Professor, Department History and Culture, Jamia Millia Islamia) opened the first panel. ‘The Denial of History’ discussed the lost traces of Delhi’s cross-cultural connect throughout its ‘planning’ historiography. Delhi was depicted as an open city, attracting cosmopolitan migration including Armenian and Afghani communities, but Gupta commented on the lack of social historical interest in this multi-layered past. As Delhi gets reported in political terms, using phrases such as Lodi Dehli, Moghul Delhi, and so on, this lack of an awareness of the city’s actual inhabitants or a sense of development is, Gupta stated, increasingly obscuring the study of its past.
Her paper concluded with the discussion of the predatory nature of the contemporary city which obscures clues to these longer histories. Describing India’s planners as ‘lacking self-confidence’, the recruitment of American architects and expertise was said to have created a ‘totally unworkable city’. Whilst aesthetically impressive, Delhi as an experience was, Gupta concluded, one of illogical plans for traffic circulation and incoherent planning schemes.
Monideep Chattopadhyay (Former Professor, Department of Architecture, Jadavpur University) spoke on ‘Calcutta Planning: Its European Connections’. Calcutta’s dichotomous identity from its genesis was reflected in its architecture and metropolitan planning stated Chattopadhyay. The paper focused on this reflection and interaction with a comparative reading of Lal Dighi, or Dalhousie Square, that housed Writer’s Buildings (1824) and Trafalgar Square (1845). The evolution of Dalhousie Square was utilised to highlight the entanglement of rhetorics being played out in the city’s structure.
Sujata Patel (Department of Sociology, School of Social Sciences, University of Hyderabad) presented ‘Are smart cities smart solutions for the Indian context?’ Patel opened with a discussion of current Indian urbanism in Bombay. Depicted as ‘visions of the elite’, she critiqued statistical data emerging and the omission of ‘subaltern urbanisation’. ‘The periphery is not captured’ and requires, as Patel stated, ‘consideration’. Urban density and scale need to be comprehended and attention paid to the increasing informalisation of labour in the urban context. From her analysis of development in Bombay she observed that there was haphazard growth with chaotic traffic and service delivery as well as conflict between state and municipal bodies.
Patel’s paper continued with a discussion of the Government’s contemporary strategy and elaborated on its concept of the ‘smartness of cities’. The introduction of smart cities, a brand patented by IBM and run in collaboration with a number of multi-national ICT companies such as Accenture, were offering a model built on offering a connection to the ‘global knowledge economy’. Patel was critical of the notion of urban citizen which emerged: an individual with global knowledge digital technology and literacy.
The programme had ‘not been disseminated properly’ stated Patel, and lacked scrutiny. The paper offered up for discussion the provocative notion that the Smart City was a ‘techno-utopia’. The mechanics of patronage needed to be questioned and it had to be asked whether there was a feasible or equitable ‘smartness for Indian cities’?
The audience discussion raised the advantages the smart city might engender in terms of transparency and anti-corruption. The gender and linguistic dimensions of the space were called into question. Patel responded drawing attention to the politics of patronage and the legitimising role which professionals play. She was critical of the profit oriented models and the monopoly large corporates enjoyed. The role of language and gender required further exploration. Women in domestic service were not considered citizens, they were not part of the knowledge economy and formed the alternative part of the dual city.
The second panel considered India’s architectural histories and cross-cultural spatial legacies. Madhavi and Miki Desai (Faculty of Architecture, CEPT Ahmedabad) presented ‘The Bungalow in Indian Cities: Colonial Urban Legacy and Post-Colonial Impact’. The paper looked at the proliferation of this typography from the British colonial period. Regarded as bringing about a historical revolution in its plan, form, style and structure, the bungalow’s heterogeneous variations at pan Indian level were discussed in the paper.
Utilising examples from Ahmedabad influenced by Nationalist movements post independence, trends in Delhi between 1913 and 1930 and the Bombay suburb, Khar from 1920 to 1930, the modification of the form was charted. The social history of the building and its development were considered through the prism of health, sanitation and climatic concerns as well as technological, political and cultural forces. Attention was drawn to the structure’s increasing link with suburban growth and its contemporary reinvention as a luxurious dwelling in developer-dominated communities.
Rachel Lee (Institute for Architecture, TU Berlin) introduced ‘Learning from Bangalore: From princely visions to urban resilience’. Departing from the city’s princely past, Lee discussed current urban development as contingent upon a history of flexibility and resilience. The paper posited that Bangalore’s interstitial position as the capital of Princely Mysore enabled it to emerge as a place of progressive projects and evolving infrastructure.
The impact of the Indian Institute of Science established with state, Tata and British funds was explored as a fertile ground for ‘modernity’ and collaboration. The ruler of the princely state of Mysore had followed a policy to recruit non-British foreign scientists. Lee focused on the work of Otto Koenigsberger as an example of Bangalore’s dynamic urban change, initiated in pre-independence times. Koenigsberger was a German immigrant, and his projects, including the installation of India’s first wind tunnel, were sensitive to the environment. The University site, built next to a slum, was a particular example of his desire for educational integration and exchange.
The notion of exchange and participation was developed further in the context of Lee and Fenk’s recent project in Bangalore. The architects held a series of public consultations to create a ‘people’s vision’ for the city. Selected designs were subsequently published and distributed intended to make a ‘more resilient’ neighbourhood.
The ensuing discussion focused on bungalow typologies, the emulation of British classicism and the progressive nature of the form during Koenigsberger’s period in Bangalore. His designs, as Lee stated, which connected the servant quarter to the house were, at that point, innovative. Desai affirmed that the changing nature of this structure throughout India, consolidated previously segregated living patterns and was an agent of social change.
The afternoon opened with Parjanya Sen (Assistant Professor, Sonada Degree College, Darjeeling) presenting ‘Reviving a Lost Trace: the Buddhist Revival movement in the 19th century and its Calcutta Chapter’. The paper explored Buddhist revivalism and the conditions through which it emerged in Calcutta during the nineteenth century. Mapping the movement, three distinct registers were identified, incorporating active community participation, ‘secular’ intellectuals and sympathizers and British archaelogical practitioners. The paper investigated how these groups interacted and how this contact was facilitated by Calcutta’s spaces.
Mohit Ray (Engineering) presented his work ‘Kolkata – water bodies, people and history’. Drawn from his recent publication ‘Five Thousand Mirrors: The Water Bodies of Kolkata’ JU press, he outlined the multifunctional qualities of these spaces. From their eight hundred year history, with a focus on Lal Dighi, he spoke of the significance of water bodies in the urban environment.
Describing contemporary Kolkata as a city of ponds, his study had identified five thousand water bodies and a similar number which had been filled up. His research into these contemporary water bodies had looked at the usage of these spaces. Supporting 23% of Kolkata’s population including bathers and a community of three thousand fishermen, these entities, Ray argued, needed to be preserved by effective policy making. Overlooked and undocumented by the Government, the ponds could also be looked after by the community. He gave the example of a local movement without institutional support which had resurrected a dying jheel in the South of the city.
Cleo Roberts (PhD Scholar, University of Liverpool) concluded the session speaking on ‘The River Ganges and Intellectual Exchange? A Liverpool-Calcutta Connection’. The paper focused on a series of botanical exchanges between William Roscoe and Nathaniel Wallich during the early 19th century which exemplified the river’s connection to the global emergence of natural history. Speaking through the pragmatics of successive shipments, her analysis went on to discuss the personal relationship which manifested. Visual representations were utilised to discuss the inefficiencies of the intellectual exchange which she argued, were contingent upon Wallich’s inherent subservience to Roscoe. Questions asked during the discussion again focused on the inequality of such a relationship in the imperial and colonial context, and brought out the many ambiguities of Wallich’s position.
Sujaan Mukerjee (PhD Scholar, Department of English, ETIC project RA, Jadavpur University) opened the final panel of Day One. His paper, ‘A Second Look at the Calcutta High Court Capitals’, explored the aesthetic and architectural history of the Court’s capitals. Tracing their classical design to Walter Granville, further primary source research had dispelled former claims of their link to the Cloth Hall, Ypres. Mukerjee posited that Doges Palace, Venice could have been the inspiration. Discussing Victorian aesthetic debates and gothic revivalism, these capitals were therefore best re-approached and situated within a ‘Ruskinian’ dialogue.
Anubha Fatehpuria (Visiting Faculty, Department of Architecture, Jadavpur University) considered Calcutta’s cultural heritage and contemporary institutions. ‘The Stage at the Heart of the City: Culturing Kolkata’, called for increasingly considerate and consultative cultural policy. As a performer, her professional experiences informed her discussion of the failure to adequately facilitate and nurture culture in the city. She argued that planning of spaces had to be in direct consultation with practitioners and audiences whose expectations were often unmet by the spaces built.
Shubhrajit Das (Professor, Department of Architecture, Jadavpur University) continued with a discussion of Calcutta’s architectural status. ‘Spatial Vibrations in an Indian City’ reflected on the city’s current ‘insipid architecture’. He called for a reinvigoration of practices which considered India’s architectural heritage and reflected the city’s environment. He drew attention to the city’s distinct light quality and using a recently completed project, described how architecture could animate and play with this aspect of the urban complex.
Following an animated discussion of the three papers, the first day concluded with a screening of Quarter No.4/11. Introduced by Ranu Ghosh (Director), the documentary followed the urban real estate development of South City, a shopping and residential complex in South Calcutta. Focused on the narrative of Shambhu Prasad Singh, an ex-factory worker whose living quarters were on the development site, the film gave an individual perspective on the political and social conflict encountered.