Earlier this month, I traveled out for work. This wasn’t your usual work trip, but a retreat to help some of us unplug from the humdrum routine to think of more strategic matters. And what other place but the mighty Himalayas to make the brain go into overdrive. Fresh and clean air and lush greenery, occasional showers and the mist rolling into the conference room…could one ask for more?
I had my own personal challenge to overcome on this trip. I’ve recently undergone surgery on my knee to reconstruct a torn ligament. Weeks have gone by with limited movement, extreme caution, pain. Shoghi (located a little short of Shimla in Himachal Pradesh) signified RISK….and risk brings in a certain excitement, an element of challenge.
When we reached Shoghi after a train ride and a taxi drive steeply uphill, the clouds were building up and threatening to rain. The walk from the reception to the room was steeply uphill and I laboured upward, taking one step at a time, praying the ground would not be slippery. I texted home: This was a bad decision!
But over the next two days, I learnt to negotiate the slopes. I set my own pace. I asked for support and help. In between the most productive work discussions, I doodled furiously, as I do when my brain is on overdrive. The adrenalin was pumping through me and the confidence (which had taken a wee hit in the weeks before though my optimist hadn’t!) went up and up.
A change of scene can do wonders and the Shoghi sojourn proved that for me. I returned calmer and surer of myself, snapped out of my ‘patient’ mode and stopped cutting myself slack on account of by health. I re-introduced elements of my regular routine (dropping kids to school, the little errands and household chores). I feel so much more hopeful now.
Sharing some misty images and doodles from the trip…..
For those who think films are about out and out entertainment, Dibakar Banerjee’s Shanghai was no joyride. The film hits you with its reality and thoroughly subtle characters. No gimmicks here.
It was one line delivered by the poor innocent tempo driver who got caught in the political mess and was ruthlessly used to murder the unwanted activist, that got my attention. He said “Jeena haraam ho Gaya hai par marne se bhi to dar lagta hai”. Telling the political side of India’s journey of ruthless real estate development, Shanghai highlights the ultimate tragedy of democratic development. Millions in our nation feel this way about their lives, as they continue to see the fruits of development being reaped by a few while their lands are snatched, livelihoods lost, rights taken away and self esteem eroded till they are forced to lead an existence without meaning, devoid of self respect and filled with a constant, irrational fear.
Last year’s backlash against corruption led by Team Anna showed us that this frustration is very real for the middle classes as well. Neither the poor, whose existence is severely compromised in these sort of ruthless power games, nor the middle classes, have any recourse and feel sandwiched between corrupt politicians and bureaucrats on one side and on the other, the daily struggle of their lives. We all live from day to day, hoping against hope that transformation will come. Some of us join hands with the system, others convince themselves to take an apolitical, neutral stand but when we reel under the impacts of poor governance and sheer callousness from those in power, it’s hard to not be angry. The anger simmers and we watch helplessly as our society disintegrates; rising crime and self-centredness become expressions of this frustration we all feel.
The film captures all this beautifully. It helps you see the story behind the headlines, the news of RTI activists killed and collectors mown into. It makes me deeply sad. This beautiful rich land of ours literally being raped in the name of development. As a planner I know there are better ways to do this. That inclusive and sustainable development is possible. But for that, the government and all those in power including developers will have to blunt the razor of greed and sit across the negotiating table with the community to find win win solutions for everyone. Utopian? Perhaps, but let us at least try!
We often read about cities having an identity. Sadly, our city of Gurgaon has a bit of a Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde personality. While those far from it perceive it as the Millenium City of skyscrapers and dapper architecture, those who live in it cannot look past its potholes, messy traffic, soul-less-ness and, increasingly, its brash criminality and lack of safety for anyone, not just women.
In a recent tweetchat hosted by thisbigcity, an award winning sustainable cities blog that covers innovations in urban design, architecture, culture, technology, transport and the bicycle, identity was discussed in some detail by experts the world over. Interestingly (and scarily in the context of Gurgaon), the lead question was about how your city has shaped your identity. Anyone Gurgaon resident wanting to take a potshot at answering this is welcome to comment on this post and it promises to be an interesting compilation!
But really, how would I answer that? I can articulate clearly how other cities I have lived in have shaped my identity. Chandigarh, I barely remember, but Mumbai and Lucknow play a significant role in my life, a role I have described before. And my years of studying architecture and working in Delhi have certainly made me more independent, more aggressive in getting heard, less trusting perhaps but also helped me seek pleasure from the complexity of the urban environment I live in. Culture and heritage, learned from Lucknow, were able to bloom as aspects of my personality in Delhi.
In Gurgaon, I learnt to recognize limits and also learn to enjoy them. A clearly stratified city—this side of the highway and that, signifying old Gurgaon-ites and the new immigrants—Gurgaon taught me to seek refuge in my identity as an educated, upper middle-class mother of young children. It taught me to see a city for the basic amenities it can offer rather than to expect excitement from it. It taught me to value the sanctum of my secure condominium and try to not think of what that says about the safety of the city in general; to enjoy the company of others ‘like’ me (read educated, middle class, similar background) rather than look for diversity. Gurgaon taught me that driving for miles to buy basic supplies is ok, that its normal for every home to have two cars, that suburban life is the inevitable future, that living on power back-up was not something I should feel guilty about……I could go on, but you get the drift!
After eight years here, there are days I see nothing wrong with my life. But today, when I examine the issue, I am horrified to realize this is not what I am and certainly not what I want to be. And if I am disgusted by what I am turning into, what am I doing to my children? Will they imbibe the aggressive barrenness, insensitivity and apathy that define this city, or is there a hope that positive changes will happen? I am hopeful, because everyday I meet people who want to see the change; increasingly, I am meeting people who want to ‘be’ the change, and even some who ‘are’ the change. Am curious to see all these change makers and initiatives come together somehow, to make an impact on our city, and inevitably on us, offering us a brighter, richer, more diverse, inclusive, empathetic, energized and safe future.