"The city is being swept away by the metropolis. This action does not just replace one noun with another, but radically turns one state of affairs into a state of perpetual motion. As a collective action -- a verb more than a noun -- the metropolis destabilizes our concepts of time and place. With the dissolution of the city into the forever- emerging metropolis, our existence slides into permanent mobility." - L. Lerup, in After the City


thirteen: pause in Mirissa


tonight I am living my anti-proposal: non world-cities in non-motion. I'm staring out at my dimly lit room through the faint green haze of a mosquito net in Mirissa, Sri-Lanka, after an exhausting, steamy 4 hour train ride south from Colombo where I arrived at 6am this morning. Colombo, being a layover point between Mumbai and Hong Kong (my next city), and also home to Geoffrey Bawa, whose Mirissa house was my 200a case study, seemed like a good place to recharge, make sense of my time in India, and do some Bawa building scavenging.

the southwest coast of Sri Lanka is a paradise that was pummeled by the tsunami in 2004, now getting a second wave of hardship in the form of severely reduced tourism due to recent fears about political instability from the LTTE (who executed a bus bomb last year in one of the most thriving tourist towns along the coast). it is somewhat difficult to imagine either of these devastations; travel here has been shockingly seamless, from arrival at a sparkling airport with granite floors, to a train ride that carried us through a tunnel of dense green foliage to the east, and open blue sea to the west, small houses huddled beside the track where inhabitants stood and watched as we careened through their otherwise tranquil backyards. the quiet after India is startling, even in Colombo: there are far fewer horns, and while tourist-touting is still rampant it is easy to smile and say 'no thank you' and receive a half-laugh in return. exhausted from a middle of the night flight I have spent the day listening to the sound of ... nothing. a 4 foot lizard walked past my door in the afternoon sun, and right now I can hear night insects and see stars. unfamiliar, almost unsettling. it is one thing to be alone in a city where your solitude disappears amidst chaos, quite another to be alone in paradise along a wide stretch of white beach and turquoise waves, French couples here and there elegantly smoking and drinking beer, bohemian arms wrapped around cherubic babies.

Mirissa is an odd sort of town by the sea – in many ways congruent with other coastal paradises I have seen or been to (this admittedly not too many). ponytails, boardshorts, broad surf-shouldered locals, generous happy hours, palm trees and always the sound of water. walking the stretch of beach tonight though the differences are noticeable. guesthouses/hotels all have their own small restaurants which invariably spill out onto the sand, tables added and taken away as need be. the beach becomes the quiet 'main street,' where subtle billboard communication takes place. the restaurant having the bbq will light its fire early for all to see. fireworks signal a late-night party. as a traveler looking for lodging or a place to eat you would walk not on the street, where the entrances are, but on the sea side, where the life of the establishments takes place. most places play a variety of rhythmic world music when the sun goes down, while in the back where the food is cooked local radio blasts traditional Sinhalese tunes. citronella candles glow in pockets of varying density down the length of the beach, making an establishment's popularity readily advertised. for the tourist, life happens right there on the sand, and it is an appreciable miracle that the beach manages to remain so pristine.

it is surreal to spend a few days in this corner of the earth between two metropoli, but perhaps somehow a fitting reminder of the compression of place and the preservation of difference that make our feet continue to move.

2:30 am at the Colombo airport, in The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf shop, of all places, my first Americano in awhile, everything priced and paid for in dollars as soon as we cross the security threshold. Nicole Kidman's feline face is staring at me across the escalator, next to an ad for the in-house airport ayurvedic spa. the shopkeepers are all struggling to stay awake at this ungodly hour as the world of airborne transit continues, oblivious, a temporal & spatial glitch of consumerism. still, a couple of massive mosquitoes are finding the airspace around my computer appealing. I took the 4 hour mini-bus from Mirissa tonight, and completed the last 1km journey to the airport on foot (public buses are not allowed to approach for security reasons). i was walking in total darkness with my bags, cars zooming by on the high security road lined with armed guards.

Mirissa got into my skin in the form of a sunburn, long, salty swims and a serendipitous ending to my short stay here. having come to Sri Lanka to seek out Bawa's Mirissa house, I was told it was inaccessible, even though it was 1.5 miles down the road from where I was staying. 'wait, wait' was the word; the owner's friends were there for the weekend with strict orders not to be disturbed ... pictures of the model we built in 200a weren't convincing, nor were descriptions of the gorgeous doors that I knew so well but had never seen, so I waited until finally, 2 hours before my bus tonight ... it's a project of minimal gesture that is so pared down, refined, and powerful. a cliff, a roof, and rooms that descend into the earth. rooms: ground, roof: plane of sky and sea, columns: trees. like so much of the architecture I have seen here, it expresses the bare essential of what is needed for living comfortably in this climate. vernacular houses here are inadvertently beautiful, drawing wind into themselves under the broad eaves of shade-providing roofs and generous patios. doors and windows, with protective screens for shading, materialize and dematerialize as the sun's movement across the sky dictates.

it's easy to see why foreigners are buying. in the Dutch colonial fort city of Galle, about 1 hr (by bumpy bus) north of Mirissa, thick-walled, 18th century, hybrid Dutch-Sri Lankan bungalows are immaculately preserved, often by their European owners. in an odd second wave of colonialization, the town is fast becoming a bubble for well-dressed travelers who patronize the stylish boutiques and galleries. prices inside the old walled city are inflated compared to the new part of town , and I wonder (fear?) if this trend, should it continue, will push out the remaining local inhabitants and shopowners. although Galle is not corporate, the presence of a more subtle global capital is detectable; I overheard a couple of conversations between Europeans and Sri Lankans discussing business and land deals in semi-hushed voices. even walking through a small village nestled in semi-jungle near Mirissa, I was asked if I was interested in buying land. I surmise that this coastal area, and in particular, Galle, where the historic real-estate is, will see much change over the next 5 years.


twelve. last days in Mumbai.
the spectacular mundane: thoughts on the derive
Mumbai draws to a close, and at just the time when my traveler’s mind is crossing the threshold from experimentation to addiction; part of me wishes I could be here long enough for re-hab. this process of normalization is at odds with the conventional idea of travel, in which the consumption of fascination draws us forever forward to novelty and the exotic. most tourists pass through this city in 2 days; in the way of 'sights' there are few compared to the rest of this astonishing country. and yet, for 3 weeks I've marveled at the mundane, which was spectacular, and now am observing a slow reversal in which the spectacular returns to the mundane. perhaps it is at this point, if one were to push through this phase and come out on the other side, such that the mundane and spectacular are compressed into one single rhythmic entity called Life, one might cease to be a Traveler and begin to be a Dweller... although this implies that travel is not living and dwelling is not travel.

dwelling as travel... this is precisely what I am seeking to understand about the cities I visit, even as I occupy the polar opposite paradigm, or perhaps this is not the case at all -- my city for the next 9 months just operates at a different scale, and is dispersed throughout the world, my occupation to observe it far and wide.

the incident that sparked these ruminations happened on one of my last derives, when I, now comfortable enough with the lack of enforced boundaries between the body and Mumbai's speeding trains, paid no attention to the approaching sound of the express train. a nearby man was saying something to me – again I ignored him, having become adept at the art of ignoring unknown men, when suddenly he came up to me, grabbed my arm, and yanked me away as the train blasted past, creating a turbulence that potentially would have knocked me over, and perhaps tragically in the wrong direction. I had entered the zone of true naivete; no longer new enough to be constantly on guard, yet not wise enough to know the more subtle rules and regulations that govern the minutae of daily life. I was also beginning to understand the logic of how interior compartment vectors operate, as people position themselves strategically and in groups to facilitate the mad commuter rush off the train at the appropriate stations.

Sion (CL)-Mahim (WL)- Bandra Seawall-
Mira Rd.(WL) - Bandra rail station
as the derives expand in number and reach, my proclivity to comprehend them as isolated routes within this city wanes, and they become components of a broader (although still unbelievable paltry) understanding of the city ... even as that understanding has come about precisely because of the route-findings and executions themselves. as the city becomes more comprehensible, the route finding becomes more intentional, allowing me to appreciate the Situationists' efforts to understand their well-known home city of Paris through new eyes. as the route finding becomes more intentional, and the lens of observation more attuned, the literary narrative that parallels the spatial sequence of a route gives way to a more thematic way of thinking about the city. parallels between areas are drawn, certain dynamics occur again and again.

my last 2-day derive resonated with and encompassed all others, beginning on the Central Line and ending on the Western, following not the roads that run between the two rail lines but the creeks and rivers which flow west to the Arabian sea, and which are not divorceable from the density of life which sprouts up alongside them. the derive's general section can be described as: rail-road-water-rail-road-sea, which looking at a map of Mumbai is quickly grasped in this linear city squeezed by water, and once longitudinally joined by infill and bridge.

the weight of water: floor, wall, sewage, sea
Sion station: sunk 15 feet below the road which leads towards Mahim and Dharavi, one of Asia's largest slums–although the community is so large and well-established it is no longer called 'ZP' on the maps but is a thriving neighborhood of chaotically mutli-storied shops and huts. water runs through it - in two parallel pipes of approx 10ft diameter, the water itself inaccessible, the forms of the pipes acting sometimes as floor and sometimes as wall for the roughly built shacks which press up against it. other times these pipes become the pedestrian pathways through the settlement, the void around them filled with dirt, trash, and debris, creating a pungent second ground. Dharavi sits squarely between the Central and Western line, just south of Bandra's CBD, with its gleaming white towers and vibrant corporate billboards in the not-too-distant distance. walking over the Mahim bridge, which hovers over Dharavi, the Western Line and the water pipes, the air is difficult to breathe as it is so thick with the smoke of burning garbage. the stream-cum- sewage swamp which flanks Dharavi still nourishes frail, bright-green trees and the occasional snow-white egret, although the water swirls in an opaque grey sulfurous sludge, which closely downstream becomes the river where men bathe, and further on the sea where the wealthy Bandra-ites who live in waterfront high-rise towers stroll upon the exposed rocks at the ocean's edge. (this rock-field is also the place where I later inadvertently slipped into the brown sea as a gathering of 10 curious men watched my strange photo shoot; it was somehow an appropriate baptism).

the mode as multi-functioning public & private space
more than anything I will remember Mumbai for its necessities, which are answered in the most urgent and creative of ways, and which generate a raw vitality. the train, although overcrowded beyond tolerability during the rushhour, epitomizes the city's fragile exuberance. despite cramped quarters and the cutthroat dive to board, it is a social space, a public space, an economic space, where room is always made and conversation is easy. seat configurations support this, facing each other across the width of the train. watching an oncoming train, faces rush by in a momentary glimpse and they are smiling, hands reaching out as if to touch, shouts and hollers to the milli-second neighbor across the way. even when the trains are empty the doors are full and faces are forward, into the wind, perhaps into the hopes of a better future. the door's edge is a space of psychological and physical respite in an overcrowded city. standing at the borivali station overpass I saw two trains in stasis, and mens' arms were stretched like threads between the two compartments, some bodies resting against the shell of opposite train, others simply gesticulating, communicating. in sum, the trains in Mumbai are not only for transport but serve crucial visceral functions: release, connection, competition, conversation, bravado. on a packed train a few brave men will sometimes even ride on top.

train stations serve as nodes for settlement, as in the case of Mira Rd., a bedroom tower community north of the city proper that is distinctive for its uniform residential tower-typology which caters to the rising lower-middle class. at the Mira Rd. station, and at surrounding stations surrounding, multiple billboards boast: AIR CONDITIONED LOBBY/HIGH END AMENITIES/ EXCLUSIVE BUNGALOWS/ FIRE FIGHTING EQUIPMENT/ 24 HR. WATER SUPPLY/ BIGGER FLATS/ NON-STOP POWER SUPPLY/ CLUBHOUSE/ SWIMMING POOL (see http://www.rnabuilders.com/ for more). at Mira Road a large stone wall separates the tracks from the neighborhood, and an empty swath of dessicated grass called the jogging track lies unused in the center of a group of these towers. still, the streets are shaded by height, and for many the promise of a reliable roof, reliable power, reliable water, and fire-fighting equipment is no doubt alluring (as fires in informal settlements can be devastating).

the buses: in Mumbai, quiet and private, people facing forward, the conductor establishing a hierarchy which perhaps infringes on the sense of the communal so easily found in the train. not viable for long distances, as traffic is so horrendous 15 km can take nearly 2 hours to traverse. the buses the most private of the modes I have experienced here, save for the obvious cab or tuk-tuk (rickshaw). as I moved further from this metropolis, and even up in Delhi, my presence became more of an anomaly, and thus, added an aura of the jovial, curious,and conversational as people tried to help me get where I was going. (and many wondered why a foreigner, who could take a cab, would ever take the bus).
the sidewalk: to walk, to sell, to build, to live. where they are flanked by walls or fences sometimes they become the floors of homes or stalls. it is heartbreaking to see where these sidewalk dwellings have been torn down, the faint scar of quick brick sidewalls still remaining as a backdrop for the hasty reemergence of even more temporary tarp and stick dwellings. near slums sidewalks becomes parking and dumping grounds for waste both human and otherwise, and streets becomes the space of the pedestrian passing through.

Mumbai is, without a doubt, the most pulsating, organic, depressing, laden and renewed place I have ever been... in a word, unbelievable. and difficult to leave.


eleven. Chandigarhhhhhh…
… like the exhale of the first breath of truly clean air I’ve savored in awhile…except…my last morning in Old Delhi as I wandered the market-maze, I stopped at a perfume shop and was doused in rose oil. 3 days later in my 60 degree room in Chandigarh, this odd garden-scent on my well-traveled shirt remains. it’s been raining non-stop, turning dreams of cycling the whole city into bittersweet busrides, damp bicycle rickshaw rides, & wet muddy walks.

first noticeable difference: it is impossible to get lost in this town, which is set up like an orderly fractal of squares in which footpaths lead to small roads lead to larger roads lead to big roads lead to huge roads lead to roundabouts (or vice versa, depending on whether you’re an inhabitant or visitor). the only non-rectilinear lines are to be found in 1) said roundabouts 2) Corbusier’s plastic architectural monuments and 3) the subtly illicit & informal addendums citizens have made to the backs/fronts/aboves/betweens of the concrete housing and shopping areas. square signs of ‘rules’ abound, and yet, if this sounds like a checkerboard hell, everyone whom I’ve spoken with loves living here. I can see why, and it is not because of that which we learn about in school, the Capitol complex itself feeling largely devoid of vital resonance (although the High Court IS beautiful, and the Temple of Shadows an evocative ruin...)

walking or cycling the sector streets and meeting people is the way to understand what makes Chandigarh work, and more than any other place I have been, strangers here (including the numerous requisite guard-guides at LC’s monuments) are eager to talk and quick to help. here, many assume that I am an architect, and not a wealthy shopping tourist, which is refreshing and a testament to Chanigarh’s relative lack of a foreign tourist scene. this is coupled with the town’s morphology; unlike Delhi or Mumbai in which a lot is squeezed into a little, here it is an effort to create spatial niches, and where they happen they tend to be minute and impromptu, like the arcade outside my hotel where the local (i.e. sector-wide) rickshaw bicycle drivers bed down for the chilly nights under thin blankets. this city is too spatially dispersed for all of one anything to collect in one place, and every sector or two has its own local & small scale economy, some more thriving than others.

where city-wide aggregation does occur it is heavily planned, which gets back to Chandigarh’s fractal organization. every sector has its own above-mentioned shop area, which becomes vaguely aligned with adjacent sectors’ shopping districts, which all more or less channel into the citywide motherlode shopping center which runs, well, right down the center of the center sector (17). small sector schools foretell the numerous state government sponsored institutions of higher education, which are largely over near sector 12. rickshaw drivers pool around bus stops, as they know that for many who ride the bus, home might still a hefty stroll away. the city is at once pedestrian friendly and a walking hell: great for leisure walking and untenable for foot transport. car ownership is the highest per capita in India (about 600,000 for a population of 1.5 million), and discussion of reinvigorating public transport is at best, vague. the bus system is well organized and easy to understand, but frequencies and operating hours leave something to be desired. so the rickshaw wallahs, even more than the cabs, fill the gaps, and get a hefty workout in the process, occasionally being used to transport not just people but enormous loads of cargo, or families of 4 or 5.

as a success story I think Chandigarh is more palpable as a self-sustained suburban typology. the automobile is indispensable, and the city “centre” is primarily for retail, leisure, and government, lacking the (socio&)economic diversity of a more pulsating urban organism. however, if regarded as a town for the automobile and single family home or duplex, it works well; the sector-specific shopping areas become neighborly gathering places, with a healthy degree of informality, and walking on the residential streets is a pleasure, as they are wide, quiet, and green. compared to the U.S. suburb, housing, while not high density, is certainly more efficient and communicative with immediate context of yard, street, and neighbor, with directly adjacent units still maintaining a legible autonomy.

it is a testament to something that here, for the first time in awhile, I have indulged in long nighttime walks without trepidation, even though many streets are more empty and dark than in other cities I have been. I haven’t traveled enough of India to know whether this is a regional difference or whether it is specific to Chandigarh.

a day or two later… I’m sitting on the domestic flight from Chandigarh back to Mumbai. it is sunset to the west, and from my window there is a thin ribbon of intense orange lining the horizon before it quickly fades into yellow-green and indigo. although it is a clear night the lights of Mumbai below are muted through haze. I am so excited to be returning to this effervescent, chaotic place…

but a few more words on Chandigarh, which I experienced by bicycle yesterday, followed by a chat this morning with one of the head architects in the city’s planning department. the future of this city is fraught with political complication, as there is Chandigarh the shared capitol of 2 neighboring states (Punjab/Haryana), and then there is Chandigarh the city itself, which is administered by its own governing body independent of said neighboring states – understandably generating disagreements re. land use & encroachment of growth into Punjab and Haryana. LC dictated a 10 mi. wide radius of allowable growth around the city but with a population increase of 40% per decade coupled with the relative low-density of peripheral development, it’s easy to imagine Chandigarh spilling inadvertendly into the surrounding empty land, ‘absorbing’ urban villages as it does so, and as it has already done as in the case of Attawa or Bural. these villages are allowed to remain as is, organic pockets of serpentine alleys and shops, a mind-boggling contrast to the gridded streets within which they are bound. since the 90’s Chandigarh has been in Phase 3 of its development, and yet the city still lacks an updated comprehensive master plan – potentially disastrous for its growth rate. its success is its curse; IT and biotech industries are booming, attracted by the relative success and quality of life of the original city center and its academic institutions; yet these booms are precisely what is putting strain on the city that attracted them in the first place.

regardless, from my bikeride through more recently-built sectors (the 40’s and 50’s) the periphery is swelling somewhat sadly, with a heartbreaking combination of renegade slums (the only land affordable to low-end service workers such as rickshaw wallahs) and cold concrete apartment blocks that resemble housing projects. the zoning codes regarding green space and road layout is still respected on paper but is oddly bastardized, such that the common green areas in these outlying sectors are currently empty fields of wet mud and dead grass; perhaps with time the trees, jungle jims, benches and plants will come?...there seem to be attempts to stretch the infrastructure as fast as possible; even one of the most informal slum areas had water pumps where people could fill buckets, and bus routes have multiplied to reach outlying areas. supposedly slum inhabitants will be rehabilitated to leased dwellings, free of charge but sans ownership, a different strategy from earlier own-for-fee policies which allegedly resulted in re-sale of said meager properties at phenomenal profits and a subsequent return to squatting.

re-reading this entry I find it rather dry. perhaps more than what I say about a place, the way that I write about it might perhaps communicate more?...

Chandigarh snapshots…
…little kids in the rain ride the ‘bus,’ which is really a bicycle-pulled wagon that fits 8 or 10 munchkins, who get dropped off at their quiet homes in the residential sectors
…the secret life of bicylists: suddenly I am one which means navigating ferocious roundabouts (which take the place of traffic lights) and becoming a target for ‘conversation’ from one friendly (and thankfully, unusual) fellow bicyclist: “hello….america? sex? sex?”
…cold climes call for amazing sweets and lots of liquor? “bakery/sweets” and “wine/liquor” shops in abundance.


ten. Delhi.
from the overnight sleeper to Delhi, I will recall: the sigh of a hundred people sleeping as we move through the dark, and the occasional scent of wood fire as we pass by settlements where the unseen air seeps in through the holes in the compartment. the compartment is full of inadvertent openings: holes for toilets, a hole for garbage, holes for sinks from which water drains, holes where compartments latch onto each other, holes through window grates. the proximity of the tracks over which we fly is palpable. when the trains stop, the platform becomes a carnival of food vendors frantically fulfilling the onslaught of hungry passenger hands: vada, omelletes, salads held in leaves, chapatti, chai, curd...the rhythm of platform vending must be bizarre, an economic livelihood contained within a swollen pause of an otherwise ceaseless system.

Delhi in two short days: gray, cool, unseasonably wet, rain blanketing the city in a muddy sludge comprised of dirt, betelnut spit, urine, garbage-mush (paper, tangled plastic bags), cow dung. through observing feet new boundaries are drawn, as the pedal difference between tourist and Delhi’ite disappears in the face of rain. strategies include: the impermeable boot, the ginger-footed ‘nice’ shoe (usually with pant legs rolled or tucked into sock), the hell-with-it muddy sandle (my choice), and the occasional truly-hell-with-it barefoot. raingear means: plastic bag on head, umbrella, jacket, woolen shawl, nothing at all. the transport provides only half-relief; on buses water seeps in through the holes where window latches once were, rivulets running up and down the sills as the bus lurched and stopped, lurched and stopped, while a man wrapped in a wet shawl shouted madly out the window the bus’ destination. windows fogged, seats wet, sky gray with dusk, but still the laughter of relief when people got on board. here, as in Ahmedabad, my presence turns the busride into a communal conversation: “where is she trying to go? where is she from? her stop is coming up…” I find that there are aspects of these cities I can only discern by making myself vulnerable through public transit. in Delhi the autorickshaw drivers go neck and neck with the buses and cabs, the confident movements of their straining legs the only thing keeping my corporeal self from intersecting with a metal machine... the winter rain is disastrous for these men, who must pause their work while huddled beneath overhangs.

Delhi felt like a man’s city, perhaps in part because I was there over the weekend, but when buying a train ticket I was one woman in a sea of 150, and on the buses only 1 of 2 or 3 females. there are a fair number of public urinals lining the sidewalk, a simple wall with partitions, open to the street, and the effort to clean the city (“say no to plastic [sic] bags”) evident in signs and trashcans. the new Metro system physically encapsulates what the rest of the city begs through its signboards. in the Metro Foucault lives; metal detectors and guards, fines for littering, electronic turnstiles, escalators, guardrails – mechanisms of bodily discipline which seem like the ‘norm’ in any large urban transit system but which in Delhi are still relatively new and thus, flagrant (although metal detectors can be found everywhere in the city, many of them are ignored or unused). I witnessed a family’s first escalator ride, which had them staring, hesitant, causing a jam at the entry until they literally jumped, unsteadily, onto an emerging step and began to laugh…the Metro stations also rearrange adjacent streetscapes as the new paving, sometimes with orderly park or greenery, spills into old space, the boundaries of which must be renegotiated. in general street use in New Delhi is more spatially articulated than in Mumbai, through the use of minute elevational change. differentiation is sometimes only 2 or 3 inches, between parking lot and shopping arcade, sometimes a hefty 8 or 12, to demarcate traffic medians and sidewalks. still, the informal is allowed expression: numerous fences in the rain become walls for plastic tarp-tents inside which fires burn and chai is made.

compared to Mumbai, Delhi also looks more visually ‘global,’ and in certain areas, enacts itself for the tourism industry even more. McD’s are multiple (one oddly sited across from the undulating mounds of a dump cum minor slum settlement), as are emporiums for the source - conscious consumer. the tourist ghetto is particularly symbiotic with the ‘local,’ internet cafe’s on every corner interspersed with cheap clothing stores boasting ‘fixed prices’ and hippiewear for the rajashthan or varanasi returnee. the entire street of Main Bazaar is really one outdoor mall for travelers, and it makes you realize that it all probably began with one recommended hotel in one book. the Main Bazaar’s relationship to the not-Delhi is most strikingly evident in its relationship to the city-at-large: the main entrance of the New Delhi train station virtually spills right into the mouth of Main Bazaar. most are just passing through here, for a night’s sleep, a bite to eat, and a skype session.

Delhi snapshots…
… at the Lotus Temple, a hundred schoolgirls barefoot on white stone, filing wordlessly in and out by the hand gestures of their teacher. their small feet made gentle squeaking sounds against the stone. dressed in plaid skirts, most had thick long black braids in red ribbons, but one or two girls sported rebellious pixie cuts. at every hour there is a prayer that fills the arced dome of the petal roof with song
… at the Jama Masjid, the minaret stairs wind 1.5 ft. wide and 80 feet high to reveal a view of an endless sea of multi-colored Old Delhi houses. in the distance, the towers of Connaught Place look like a flat painting, stripped of the sounds of its tidy & modern bustle
… in Old Delhi’s street-maze, I found a *glitter* manufacturer in a quiet courtyard of a lovely old building tucked in an alley. I’m now toting around 7 packets of rainbow blin, given as presents for being nosy


nine. Architecture & the ‘promenade’ a la Ahmedabad
buying train tickets here is an ordeal for my tourist self: ‘enquiries’ usually receive the mysterious head-bobble, butting at the ticket window is the norm, and here in Gujarat everything is written in…Gujarati, the numbers of which I am crash-course learning. at first it was is easy to feel as if I had no right to impose my own sense of order, but I have found that if I make like a local man and push back, the crowd recedes. simultaneously, a disturbing taste of being non-local: today when I was waitlisted on the train to Delhi I was told to appeal to the regional station manager to file for ‘VIP quota status,’ which I did, now wondering where my mysterious hand-written request is being sent such that a seat on an already over-booked train should appear in my name. the ‘unofficial’ official is always at work, and as a foreign solo woman I get the brunt of both the worst hassling, and the most precious coddling.

I am here in one of Corbusier’s enclaves, where walking down the street yesterday I happened to look across the way and see: ‘Ahmedabad Textile Mill Owner’s Association,’ the modern building I have been most holding my breath to see in India. from behind thick shrubbery and a non-descript, humbly-guarded gate the brise-soleil and ramp were immediately recognizable. what can one say about a sublime building, except that it is more than you hope for and leaves you agape, and that precipice-stairs somehow pull you through space like a ribbon. the god IS in the details (although that was someone else): a reveal between a half-hung stair and a wall, a perfectly square veneered opening in a wall which is wrapped inside its outer counterpoint, creating a cradled entrance. it’s truly a dynamic space -- the boundaries of the body take nothing for granted because a wall and an entrance and a stair are always questioned and held in careful tension with their surroundings…the brise-soleil as sometimes catwalk, sometimes passage; the bathrooms as two hands cupped around each other; the mezzanine as breezeway and vantage point – spaces multi-task without losing the integrity of their functions (although sorry FF and MP, the blinds were drawn…). and the intimate humor of seeing old branner’ites handwritten comments in the visitors book…

Ahmedabad: loud, proud, friendly, dusty-aired but clean-streeted, (nb: in order to clean street debris small garbage fires are alight here and there…) somehow ‘cozier’ and more maddening. the difference in the way people drive is discernible. cars come even closer, the flow even more incessant, the many roundabouts dizzying. when pedestrians cross it is by force, holding out a hand that sometimes comes in gentle contact with a metal hood. here I must often piggyback-cross with a local, trusting someone’s intuitive traffic judgment with my bodily safety. so far, so good. the climate change is noticeable too : as I head further north the non-paved ground is sand, not dirt, and dust dances, instead of hanging heavily in the air. water has always been sacred here, and Gujarat is known for its stepwells, which descend for several stories deep below ground level. the Adelaj stepwell, which I visited today, is a negative 5-tiered vertical hallway of stairs, columns, landings and ledges which all end, so dramatically and without a sound, at a deep vat of cool water. I walked up and down, up and down, clinging to the side, above the lip, several hours, going from glaring sun to shadowy cool again and again, joining the monkeys that call this place home.

the city’s relationship with design goes deeper than Corb or Kahn. centuries-old gated neighborhoods (pols), in an effort to control climate and preserve water, find echo in the ATMA or the Sarabhai house. courtyards, heat stack ventilation, overhangs, maze-like paths that bounce wind, underground domestic wells, buried sewage trenches, a sensitivity to incline/decline and water flow…these old neighborhoods are treated with great care and remind me of the non-infrastructural effects of communal infrastructures. there is also a sense of evolution here; Doshi’s hulking auditorium, now in dusty gloom, is the backdrop for a lively market which encroaches upon its entrance. the city is trying to market itself as a nexus for ‘medical tourism.’ the autorickshaws have gone CNG, as have a handful of public buses. and the oddest non-sequiter – many places sport a generic digital wall clock that glares red numbers, like a bomb. it’s unsettling, and shows up in the most unlikely of places, such as the old stone mosques. it gives the impression that the whole city is counting time. . . .

because I am now without powersource in a pepto-hued delhi hotel room, I write directly from my sketchbook chicken scratch about the architectural candy of my last two days in Ahmedabad:

the Sarabhai in trees: peacocks and memories – a child now a quiet man for whom the monolithic slide dips into blue-green water. simplicity gives way to the serpentine, the rear servants’ maze cloistered behind the channel-gallery for living/showing.

Sangath (Doshi’s office), CEPT (Center for Environment Planning Technology, aka architecture school) + NID (National Institute of Design): these design niches are the most globalizing forums I have yet encountered…although NID an elegant combination of contemporaneity with an acknowledgment of rich vernacular legacy.

the IIM in sun: Kahn wanted a monastery, Patel inspired by the salk? a regal enclave of selective light and afternoon chai patio breaks for worldly students. infinite perspectives recall a higher purpose, as does non-idiosyncratic regularity. Kahn cajoles with light, LC ignites with form; LC breaks the expanse, Kahn opens it up, sometimes through the smallest slit in a wall. a simple gesture: cushions in the round of both the Kahn and patel campuses. I think LC might have suggested ‘seat’ more heavy-handedly. Kahn’s hand, at least cursorily, seems more monumental, but oddly, with a lighter touch.

Shodhan in the dark: fatigued search for the punctured cube – modular windows aglow, mass of 4-storey ‘bungalow’ eerie and exaggeratedly vertical – a private, shrouded compositional masterpiece of gray voids against a black sky. though ‘imperfectly’ approached and less than studied, somehow I feel as if I saw this one fittingly….

Ahmedabad has been an architectural luxury but I am, for now, temporarily satiated with Buildings, which sometimes stand like museum pieces when i cannot inhabit them without guides, closing hours, or photography restrictions…


eight. pause.
1.30 -2.4 Mumbai-Jalgaon-Ajanta-Lonar-Ellora-Ahmedabad
the rock & sway of long-distance trains through north-central India has lately quietened my mind. that, and the growing sense of safety I have found away from the hawking streets of colaba. the long-distance trains are a universe unto themselves, and my first-day-Lonely Planet-toting self (“lock your bags to the seat and never accept food from strangers..”) has been pleasantly proven wrong by the world of families and friendly strangers with whom I’ve shared cramped quarters in the sleeper class cars. amazingly designed, fitting 8, sometimes 10 people comfortably into a 2.5 x 1.5 m. space, the sleeper beds stack and fold on top of each other, becoming chairs or cot as need be. and at $4 for 500 km, a more democratic long-distance travel mode would be hard to find. in the drawn out rhythm of a train moving through a countryside of dark reds and blacks, pale yellow-greens, and always the expanse of unyielding blue, families wait to arrive, husbands’ and wives’ legs intertwine, children snuggle into bellies made round by the constant eating that everyone seems to indulge in – it is always snacktime, especially en route. many many sweet grapes later (even India has her own wine country, through which I traveled) I am now in Ahmedabad for a few days.

but not without the staccato sites of absolute immovable stone between Mumbai and here, connected by the smoothness of the train and the horrendously jarring local buses. (a la yellow school bus, minus 60% of the green padding...). I spent a few much needed days of quiet in the ellora-ajanta area, where my mind had a hard time conceiving of the feat before me: 800 years and fifteen generations of craftsmen carving gaping sanctuaries out of a near-vertical swath of solid rock, the first completed around 200 BC. debris at the mouths of the hand-chiseled caves protected the tempera paintings within, which even now reveal the faces of large-breasted sensual princesses, disheveled beggars, weeping mothers, and the Buddha’s human manifestation. soft cups in the stone floor reveal the small scale: bowls where colored mineral pigment was mixed to make the paint. unfinished caves (about half of the 30 total) remain as they were left, the pockmarks of metal which never completed a corner, elaborated column, or delicate statue. these unfinished rooms were oddly the most poignant, revealing the effortful process that humans endure in the name of worship and remembrance. ellora is even more spectacular (though lacking the quiet reverence of ajanta’s monastic residencies) : a mutli-storied temple carved from a monolithic rock, such that floor, interior wall, exterior sculpted facade, colonnade, roof, doorframe – are one. concrete without the pour. it seemed as if the sky had simply been revealed to this structure hiding inside of a very big stone, and reminded me of michelangelo’s attitude towards his sculptures in marble.

so between the mass movements all these quiet monuments, and even within the movement so much calm. there was a coffin aboard my first train, and cartful upon cartful of cargo. the long distance trains are not precious, they are for moving everything. once off the main spines of the national trains there is local bus territory, hot, dusty and long. they pretty much fill in where the trains leave off, and where the buses leave off there are the communal taxi-jeeps, squeezing 10, 12 people into a space made comfortably for 6. it is in the taxi’s best interest to have as many passengers as possible, limited only by the teetering of the off-balanced vehicle as it rambles down the road. rural traffic is even more of an elegant mystery than urban traffic: where Mumbai has some semblance of structure (stoplights, unheeded crosswalks) out here it is 100% situational. a 2 lane road is usually 3 or 4, in multiple directions. as the mind marvels at the surprising lack of disastrous collision, i realize that people drive awake, gliding within a few inches of each other, at 40 mph, constantly. I admit to not looking forward down the road too often.

the meteorite crater at lonar, ‘near’ the caves (9 hours by bus round trip), well worth the excursion to be truly in the middle of nowhere. in these areas children seek autographs and I feel ridiculously like sally struthers (?) in those aid to Africa commercials, skinny children congregating around blonde. climbing a water tower in moonlight I had the unsettling chance to see concrete, rural-India style, up close and personal : a foot-wide ledge, 70 feet high, mighty cracks and crevices. vertiginous and windy but the ground below so dark and still, as the power at lonar is out every night between 6:30 and 8:30 -- an enforced time of candles and hushed voices. the crater, below which scientists believe the meteor itself is still lodged within the earth, is surrounded by a trail which connects humble and decaying temples, some full of the fruit-rich smell of guano and the chatter of a hundred + bats (revelation: they get quiet when the flash goes off). a few scattered cultivated fields around the meteorite’s lake basin yield radishes and bananas, which end up in market stalls in town, where crows eat anything they can get their pointy beaks into, including roadkill dogs.

the long trip away from this central country to ahmedabad began with a head-sized papaya overripe and sweet, cupped with both hands, eating like porridge from the bowl of its skin, shrouded in a generic black plastic bag. the metal bus seat, so discernible beneath the gauze of cushion, bruises but the fruit is good and soon a dark orange moon rises, as local bus turns to long distance bus turns to train speeding north.