Tuesday, January 30, 2007

lawn loafing

it has been a long time since i spent the afternoon lolling around in the lawn. ridhima was talking of the time when they were in the first year when she used to walk by the canteen and watch us all- saurabh, aditya, ninad, ateya, prajna, prasad, prasad, rupali, nilesh, yogita, rohit, chitra and so many more of us of the chai wala and the periphery group. we used to sit, bitch and haggle, chat and discuss what to us were earth shattering conversations about architecture, the city, other people. she was wondering whether she would ever be like us. why she wanted to, i don’t know, but as a space for debate and play, it was essential to my growth. it was an institution then; and like most institutions sometimes suffered from the pitfalls of diverging interests, internal wrangling, complicated love affairs and general claustrophobia; but still it was there- an alternative center- informal and maddening but brilliant fun.

then one day it dispersed. while further studies, conventional jobs, the ‘establishment’ can be blamed for it. perhaps the space had run its course. perhaps that was its life span. after this space dissipated, unfortunately there has been no other space of resistance that has arisen. there have been smoking gangs, drinking gangs, hang out gangs; but never the kind that actually once had a reading club for urban theory over chai and vada pao.

today biscuit was here from the usa. we hung around on the lawn for a long time. the lawn is not a space for bitching. it does not allow that. in the evenings when the sun finally gets to the western end and light finally hits the grass, all it allows for are conversations in a low voice about aspirations, ambitions, the times gone by and times to come. we sat for a long time on the ledge of the lawn talking and it felt good to see him again, still as sentimental and loving- just a little more rounder.

later on the lawn again; this time aparna, lubaina, ridhima, tushar and namrata lounging and talking, i was wondering why i don’t do this anymore; and then i remembered that i am what the school of rock calls ‘the man’ – to be resisted and fought. more power to the opposition!

Monday, January 29, 2007

sunday – thesis. olive

another thesis triumph for the school when at the international conference for humane habitat at rizvi tara and mayuri won 1st and 3rd prize. mayuri presented her beautiful and sensitive pascal maidan intervention with the sophisticated sections and the gorgeous drawings. tara had designing this magical and strange project in the mahim nature park at dharavi. i could not finish seeing her presentation as half way through kalpit felt very ill. with a bad case of acidity and anxiety we took him first to tara’s house close by and then holy family hospital. he was fine soon but had us worried for a while.

later mukul and me ditched the dinner at rizvi to go out to 'olive' in bandra. the “décor” was very casual cool staying away from the over designery stuff where every corner is detailed to death- and looks tacky in 6 months. a large lamp lit courtyard overlooked by glass windows, packed with all the filmy types and firangis of the suburbs; but also with food where the duck, the bonnet desert and the wine made you remember that taste is actually also about flavor.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

thesis zone 3 finals

the school hosted the zone 3 finals of the national students thesis competition yesterday. the projects ranged from a libeskind lite tsunami memorial, an oceanarium in an unsuspecting tarkarli, an airport that happened to be in kanpur, an office building where the floors moved up and down, a temple shaped ‘indian’ skyscraper 2025 in noida, a mill lands project and an eastern waterfront project. all in all very predictable fare. i must be biased because the projects that the only projects i loved were kalpits brilliant interventions in falkland road- mutant forms to ‘decode’ everyday life; and namratas soft sensitive old age home in the inner city. unfortunately the jury agreed with me only on one of the above and kalpit had to give way for the tsunami building with its three bars representing the three stages of recovering from a disaster- shock/denial/grief. more than a little silly, i thought- but then i have been told that there are ‘issue based’ thesis and then there are ‘design based’ thesis- as if the two can be separated from each other. as if issues are not about space and as if design can exist in a space where it only references itself- as form.

kalpits thesis

Saturday, January 27, 2007

on request

happy birthday ajay

at the party at ajay and shardas yesterday..

paro and ajay


mukul and nandini

Friday, January 26, 2007

happy republic day

home / housing / house. - edge of desire. dodiya . zarina . kbs new house . east of eden


it is strange how a variety of things sometimes come together to form patterns in my head. today, it must be the fact that i finally finished reading ‘east of eden’ that themes revolving around the home, history and memory seem to be forming weird constellations in my head that i finding very difficult to articulate. to add to this yesterdays trip to town and the lectures in college also are connecting in weird unsuspected ways.

it all started off in the morning yesterday when as usual my mother was taking her time coming down to the car for our morning ride to work together. instead of, as i always end up doing, reversing the car and listening to my music, i took a walk down the lane and turned to see the building in which i grew up. c-8, flat 5, lovely villa, lic colony- on the first floor of a terraced building with an open to sky space overlooking the trees. it had been a long time since i actually looked at the building, newly painted and gleaming compared to the ones right besides. i thought about charles correa and the act of imagining a life that led to this formation. i thought about how he has influenced the way i act- my relationship to others, and to nature. i thought about power. and then the fourth year design project juries that i was to be a part of an hour later.

the project is in dharavi where work and living form a seamless fabric; where one cannot be separated from the other; where everyday life is of a variety that needs to lead into new and inventive house and community form. unfortunately in a housing project even if we manage to create these, we forget the home as a space enmeshed in the networks of memory and desire.

so caught up are we in the pragmatic we forget the poetic. and when marsha presented for the theory of design class later in the day heideggers meditations on the connections of the fourfold - earth, sky, mortals and divinities - the difference between the two was apparent. architecture is subsumed by the passions of the body and becomes the medium through which the everyday is made marvelous, where it becomes the receptacle for the virtues and the vices of peoples lives. the house is made into a home.

atul dodiya

in the evening there were more connections that revealed themselves. we were gallery hopping when we came across atul dodiyas new exhibition at the museum art gallery where he pays tongue in cheek tribute to the visual language and the women of his own past. using laminated sheets he paints images that reference his parents relationship, the images of television and mass culture that he lives with, and the artists that have influenced his work. the laminated were of the type i remember from growing up at home, the cheap, easy to maintain type that the middle classes prefer, and the juxtapositions strange and ironic. sometimes, i thought, maybe too ironic. a little mtv, perhaps? but no.. for just before that we were at the huge ‘edge of desire’ exhibition at the national gallery of modern art, and there mtv style uber cool exploitation of pop iconography was irritating and reeked of upper class snootiness. but this exploitation was rampant throughout the exhibition. i liked a lot of the work though. nalini, neelima, ghulam sheikh, dodiya, kgs. but i digress into desire when what i wanted to talk about was memory – which might be another kind of desire.

kaushiks work at edge of desire

zarina hashmi

at the bodhi art gallery there were some beautiful prints on display. zarina hashmi was born in aligarh and seems to have spent her life in different homes and cities all over the world. the etchings seemed to be memories of these spaces she has lived in and left behind. it was like walking into an archive of her past. the drawings varied between impressionistic sketches of the light within a room, or the patterns that might have been tile patterns, to beautifully drawn technical drawings of the houses or the cities themselves. somewhere the abstract space of the drawing met the lived and remembered experiences of her past. they were extraordinarily beautiful. maybe the fourth year students need to take a look at them to give their projects more body.

finally last night we were at kuntals new house where rajes new interior is on the verge of being lived in. “to be looked at, and to be looked through” is what kuntal told me the house was about. this was the first look i had of the white walls, the precisely imagined details in wood, the parchment paneled sliding doors, the pieces of art that are to become the place where meha is going to grow up and mukul is going to sleep in his overnight jaunts in town.

kuntals new house

which brings me back to ‘east of eden’ that i finished reading today morning through a haze of tears that i could not keep from falling. it is the scale of the story that got to me; the landscape of many lifetimes that revolve around two families and their homes. the ranches where a living is eked out of the land and the city homes where neighbourhood love and rivalry begin below the branches of backyard trees. and it got to the romantic in me about how architecture can be so integral to the lives of people, how it can shape their lives and how it soaks these stories into itself in the form of traces, scars, additions.

but then again, i remembered what ateya and me were talking about about the samant wada and how to map it. we thought we saw in it a novel of enormous proportions where a family’s history became representative of the history of a village. where in the bricks and stone of the house there lay a mammoth tale that we had in our romantic narrative made larger than life. when the story was finally unraveled it lay in tatters in front of us, because it could never match up to our expectations; and more realistically we were forced to realize that sometimes brick is really , you know, just brick..

Thursday, January 25, 2007

studio. pali. patio

yesterday after college we spent some time in the studio where the space has radically changed with large boards with paintings on them rather than the long table with computers. its great to see it becoming what it was meant to be- an adda.

then sonal and me went for a meeting to the pali gaothan where some residents group has filed a public interest litigation against the rampant development happening in their neighbourhood. the pereiras, neil and daphne have been living in their ancestral hoems in this hamlet with a beautiful basketball court and public space at the foot of pali hill ever since they can remember. the stories were of bmc corruption, about the builders who use devious means to get the consent of the poor owners and then the owners who end up out on the street. i don’t know whether any of the alleged transgressions of the development control regulations have occurred but the poor things were terrified of losing their homes to the powerful new class that claims bandra as its own. pereira insisted that it is a planned predetermined conspiracy to rid bandra of its ethnic community.

kfc where pali meets linking road - the ugliest architecture in the world(?) or the most interesting (?)

the basketball court at the entrance of pali gaothan.

it was sonals birthday yesterday and we decided to try out a new place for a change. ‘patio’. large glass windows in the modern plaza buildings that make up juhu shopping complex. starters and drinks and we were all full- aditya, saurabh, sonal, ranjit and me.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

bandstand - kbc launch party

so after guru mukul and me drove to bandstand and taj lands end for the kbc launch party. the water front at bandra is lovely in the evenings with the layers of activities leading to the ocean. first the parked cars on the street with the guy gangs smoking and boisterously joking leaning against the marutis and santros; then the walkway where joggers and walkers stroll for their evening exercise at different paces; then the sitters- friends who look across to the horizon where the moon is reflected in the water or to the distant lights of madh idland; and then the rocks that lead to the ocean that fade into darkness where the halogens from the street don’t reach, and where lovers cuddle and kiss, make out under moonlight and with the sound of lapping waves.

the kbc launch party was on the lawns of the taj lands end. srk arrived sat somewhere in front as the crowd cheered for him. ajay and mukul circulated among the crowd while sharda and me swigged our red wines and watched- people more than the show.


for a long time through the film i was able to forgive abhisheks overdone impression of a gujarati businessman and aishwaryas scenes as a young wife setting up home in mumbai until ratnam bungles it all up at the end with a ham fisted courtroom scene that serves as a obsequious apologia for the corruption of the middle classes. by even going so far as to draw comparisons of the businessman’s law breaking to that of gandhi, he cannot, i think aim any lower. and all this is punctuated by strobing camerawork and rahman going ballistic with the strings. aishwaryas shrinking violet in the background simpers suitably as her beau plays up being a dhoti clad robin hood for the masses.

the completely warped argument is attempted to be made, i think, merely to make sure our hero does not lose center stage. or to provide a justification for the misdemeanors of the multiplex audiences. and even worse is the fact that some of the actors on the fringes of this story, who contribute to it being watchable for a while- like madhavan who turns in a spectacular performance in his three or four scenes as a righteous reporter and eats abhishek up alive on screen; or mithun the upright newspaperman- are allowed to simply disappear. strong characters that could have balanced the blustering end are let go so that then end is made as simplistic as possible. is it only because any scene in which abhishek was with madhavan, madhavan ended up as the real star? is it merely the problems of making a star vehicle? but i think it is worse.

mukul tells me that ‘guru’ is released by adlabs which is owned by reliance. the circle is complete. the entire film ends up being nothing more than a big budget advertisement to justify the corruption of an organization that is known to bend the rules in more ways than one.

its pathetic to watch a film maker stoop so low. to let any sense of ethics be overruled by sops to the lowest common denominator – a reactionary regressive defense of a value system of the middle classes that we are embarrassed of but claim as necessary for survival.

ps – whats with the structureless songs and the photoshop cinematography anyways? awful.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

"bor nahan"... whatever..

our family has a strange relationship with rituals. we have no idea what they symbolize or their religious significance. for us, its merely an excuse to dress up and get together. and this tradition exists from my grandmothers generation. must be the socialist leanings.

anyways, today there was a "bor nahan" at home where a strange ritual of marathi culture was played out. tanay- poor lad- was dressed up in jewellery made of sweets which included a krishna mukut and a gold foil flute with little sugar peices stuck on it. then fruits of the current season- in this case amla- was poured over him by the other kids present. poor thing cried his eyes out. the house was overflowing with estrogen though in colours of saris- purple and gold, while the men found their way on the fringes. john, mary and joanna, roopali, aunty and arnav, and of course rahul, sushma and tanay were the kid carrying families.

rahul, tanay, sushma


tanay, sushma

tanay and me

john, mary, joanna


mukul tanay aunty

more saris

Saturday, January 20, 2007

vinay / antony

at the st francis church today inside the pink walls a memorial service for vinay / antony morley where in between mumbled english and malyalam hymns, tributes to the boy veered between self congratulatory letters of recommendation to generic rememberances that could never hope to capture the delicacy, sadness and beauty of him.

the three photographs placed at the head of the aisle of his smiling face and the little bookmark we were given at the end said so much more.

big brother , big boss

i stopped watching or even trying to watch ‘big boss’ when rakhi sawant was evicted for the first time. now she is back and i don’t feel the need to return to the cat-fighting, bad hair-days, sweat pants and t-shirts of b-grade celebrities. now the shilpa shetty racism controversy in ‘big brother’ has reminded me of the absurd nature of the show- the fish tank in which strategically chosen characters snap each others heads off while brushing their teeth, washing clothes and cooking dinner. what happens when this fish tank sits in our living rooms every day and we watch this room within the box of the tv set play out its drama of survival? and survival in a world where the good and the bad are not so easily distinguished. to stay in the room the strategies have to be cunning. friends have to be made who want you around; while to stay on the audience must be seduced into liking you – for who you are (or at least purportedly so).

every week we are to watch this drama of death play itself out as one member leaves the room. is this box a place to let reality release itself from a world where all appearances are merely denials of the real gruesomeness that defines us? is this the violence that we crave for in a world where the cushions of political correctness and good behavior seem to have numbed us from the brutality that is our essence? perhaps the show reminds us about who we are and why in spite of our puny little bodies, our delicate clawless hands and our weak jaws carrying tiny blunt teeth ; we sit pretty at the top of the food chain.

Friday, January 19, 2007

studio again

aditya, saurabh and ranjit moved in again to the studio at d n nagar which has been locked up since amit left. they are going to paint their null bazaar paintings there. chitra has also promised to join them. the adda is back in business.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

city of photos

the sense of longing when looking at old photographs is inescapable. there is a yearning to complete in the throes of rose tinted nostalgia what exists only in our imagination and was never really real. sometimes it can get a little icky, this sweetness. but then there is the love of the heterotopia of the photo studio taking us to places we have not been. here desire is uncontrolled and unfurled behind smiling faces through the taj mahal and the garden- the construction of new identity and the resolution of difficult desires through the evidence of the photograph. this exists. or rather also –this existed.

the man who paints photographs of corpses and makes them alive, the girl who carefully archives herself through the images she makes; and the violent disaster backgrounds that become pretty pictures for smiling faces were all very interesting. the squalor / garden binary was maybe a little pat for my tastes but the story had its complications; and maybe i could have done without the below the belt jokes about the poses that people strike in front of the camera- skinny men becoming hritik roshan, or girls striking titanic poses, or lovers wanting to be stars above the taj mahal. or maybe it is just my own unnecessary hypersensitivity that makes me scowl while others were laughing. still liked the film a lot- overall.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

shah struck

went to the kbc shoot today. walked into the dark studio past scores of srks smirking from all the posters. mukul and ajay got me in and i sat 10 ft away from the man with my feet on the lighted floor, ducking below the moving crane. the last time i was on the set was when bachchan was hosting in his grave grandfatherly way. this was way different. while amitabh turned stiffness into an idea of dignity, shah rukh makes everything slightly sexy- or rather raunchy. the double entendres are casual but constant; and his persona perpetually physical- in the sense that his body is always touching, holding, grasping, hugging. so different from bachchan. and he makes sure that we know the difference.

as against bachchans grandfather we get srk the naughty brother, teasing lightly, flirting shamelessly. its difficult not to get taken in by the act and also help it along by assisting it. if he is the star we all had to become his ardent fans- and he charmed his way for us to get there; like that professional charmer he is.

after the show mukul and me got a snap taken with him and his arm snaked around my waist. i know many people who are going to be very jealous right now.


the studio at film city with the fake church facade

Monday, January 15, 2007

two photos from ranjits digicam

on abhisheks and aishwaryas engagement... i present to you an image from bangalore- never seen in mumbai. across the entire city this image is plastered.. need i say more?

and ranjit and me on the window sill after the new years party at mukuls place.


yesterday parul and anshuman were here from dubai. looking lovely and healthy.

spent all of today nursing a cold, breathing through my mouth, talking non-stop on the politics of dharavi, on the joys of designing housing – the dovetailing of intimacy with density, on the architecture of the capitol complex and about the problems of ‘national’ identity, on the ‘operative’ as a generator of form, or so many other things, on the representation for the first year study trip work, some pleasant conversations, some not so good. my head is woozy.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

tarkarli - beauty and death

back last night from the study trip. a 15 hour drive to an mtdc beach resort slightly to the south of malvan where cottages stand in casuarinas forests with hammocks slung in between to pristine white sands, soft lapping water and dolphins. the singhagad fort looms to the right. tarkarli is being heavily promoted as the next ‘it’ tourist destination and is on the verge of radical transformations. i have never been on a study trip this good-looking. gorgeous.

our study was in the village of deobagh- a thin peninsula of land caught in between the karli river and the ocean. to the south the river meets the sea at a spectacular ‘sangam’ point from where there are rides through backwaters and to chase dolphins. all very well, though very different from what we expected from the site for a first year study trip where we hope to study settlements a little more untouched. we improvised though with what we had. we wanted to look at the production of form and space by the everyday activities of the community. i.e. – the making of space and its resultant form. we drew sections across the settlement at different point and looked at the way in which acts inscribe themselves and contribute the making of spaces. extraordinarily interesting and complex stories emerged bout the settlement- about the relationship between the largely christian fishing community and the landowning wadi owners; about the community patterns and the relationship to modes of fishing; about how tourism has led to a new awareness of sanitation in the village- and the role of the church in making sanitation a moral good. terrific stories and some very good drawing possibilities. hopefully ti all comes together well.

it is so different with first year students. in front of them there still lies the option of becoming whomever they choose to be. in the beginning they all come in with such preconceived notions about who they are and what they are capable of. sometimes it’s like seeing in real life the clichés of american high school films come alive. the class is generally divided into the cool dudes, the flirty girls, the nerds, the outcasts, the shy types, etc. then, if things go right, the preconceptions start to shift. new friendships are born, new loves discovered, everyone starts to change. it is so difficult being aware of these and be able to strategize the shifts. kaushik is a genius when it comes to unraveling the mysterious insecurities and arrogances that shape the minds of 18 year olds. to figure out what the potentials of the students are and to be able to make sure that they have the space and support to fulfill them. also to show them the people that they could become while a the same time trying not to patronize them. when it doesn’t work it is a disaster of bad moves- but when it does- there is really nothing as rewarding. this trip was important for me in that way. being with older students- more cynical and world-weary for the past 4 years now- i had forgotten the energy and enthusiasm that first year students have. i was glad to be part of the trip. i came back happy and more than a little sentimental. as you might have guessed.

the soft-focus delirium was aggravated by the incessant beauty all around. picturesque postcardable perpetually. morning began with a long walk to the site from the hotel- along the beach. we crossed rivulets bare footed and wove our way through sea shells, dead fish and other unmentionables that the fisherfolk left behind. then kaushik, ateya and me used to find our slow way down the street meeting the students sketching and interviewing at regular intervals- stopping for chai at every little dhaba. after lunch that was served form the back of a rickshaw or a santro at the large courtyard of the peepal tree the afternoon was spent lounging around reading a book- or sleeping in the shade of a boat or on the hammocks of nearby hotel. ateya and me went into the water twice. the water was easy, soft and the waves folded around us as we floated with the tide. in the evenings the drinking sessions on the beach were on- but we ventured into only a few. the campfire degenerated into a bad game of dumb charades. ateyas friend vikram joined us one night and had stories of hotels building on the konkan coast.

the last night masoom had a chest congestion and had to hospitalized then flown back to bombay via goa. poor thing missed the dolphin ride and the beach – the reward for the hard work of the week. a student falling ill is never something that is easy. but for me the tension was made worse because of the news of vinays death on the first day of the trip.

such a beautiful child. all of 21 and just beginning to become who he was meant to be. unsure, gentle and delicate, he was too young too die. i cried when mukul told me over the phone. ateya, kaushik and me were walking up and down the streets of deobagh looking for sites. it was very disturbing. i had just met him. the last time that we met he had come late for the new years party at mukuls place. i danced with him. he seemed tired but well. he had had a fever for a week. he died of it. suddenly. the shadow of his death was always present throughout the 7 days of the trip. in all th students i could nto help but see reflections of him. and the words failed me. all the cliches that seem to be the only ways of describing or coming to terms with a young death seem to be the only recourse. i remembered rajvi and the morning when i was told in a whisper in the fourth year design studio that she had fallen off her balcony. some things i will not forget. with vinay it will be the last dance. his casual grey t-shirt, the dark low slung jeans, his asking eyes and long hair, and his odd awkwardness as he shyly kept his distance from too much body contact as he danced. and my urge to make him comfortable by breaking that barrier, putting an arm around his shoulder or around his waist and teasing him lightly. a beautiful boy. i remember thinking that it will be amazing to watch him grow into a man. not going to happen.