Friday, June 29, 2007

Romancing the Magical Monsoons…..

Monsoons are always magic days. The sparkling raindrops lingering on the palm fronds, the fresh smell of earth, the lightness in the air, the rejuvenating greenery all add to the magic. My love-hate relation with monsoons dates to those days when my little brother and I were tugged out of our cosy bed in the morning to catch the school bus in time after a long, long summer break. Either by sheer coincidence or probably a ‘well-calculated prank’ of the Raingods, (I prefer to believe in the latter) it always used to rain the first day of school, year after year. I still remember the time when I had wanted to do research on the correlation between “the first day of school and the first heavy downpour of the season”. It used to be such a nuisance then, just an addition to the misery … of one having to carry that heavy load of books with an even heavier heart to sit through another grueling year of school.
Rains meant cool nights when swift scary winds blew unseen whistles, breath taking sights of the otherwise inconspicuous drainage channels swell and gush down in full glory, ‘disco lights’ of lightening flashing across the blue unknown., tiny streaks of water slithering down the car window and the ‘pearly beads’ of water balancing themselves on every flower and leaf. The constant morning reminders of my parents, not to forget the umbrella (an almost irreplaceable accessory of all Keralites) on the way back from school. Monsoons have been a part and parcel of this state often referred to as the “Gateway of Monsoons”. Everything seems normal when it rains in Kerala…the life goes on in its routine manner and set pace.
I missed the monsoons during my early days in Delhi. Slowly I got used to a lifestyle where I unknowingly started hating the untimely rains. Rains in Delhi meant wading through a dirty pool of water to college with the ‘protective’ polythene cover crushing the painstakingly made paper model. My hatred for rains only kept increasing as years went by until one day when I was trying hard not to doze off during an afternoon Postgraduate lecture.
That day the sunny skies suddenly gave in for a gust of dust storm and soon got shrouded in a veil of dark clouds. I was quick to muster the uneasy thoughts of this ‘rain’ happily drenching away my clothes ‘sun basking’ on the line back in my hostel room balcony. I was so distracted that I kept peering out of the window to find out the progress of the advancing clouds. But to my surprise my eyes met the jovial faces of the Urban Designers crowding in their tiny studio balcony trying to catch a glimpse of the first rain drop. And soon the first drop fell and was greeted by a familiar shriek of happiness. Sorabh and Sonal were waving at me from the tiny balcony with a twinkle in their eyes. I looked around to see everyone in my class looking out with content faces….a few were glad enough to let out sighs of respite from the heat. The whole mood of the class had changed. Everyone wanted to go out and get drenched. A few even whispered enviously how lucky the Urban Designers were to have a balcony in their studio.
That day I realized how different…. things seem when viewed in a different light….it is all a matter of perspectives or rather an issue of misplaced priorities. I searched for that old ‘Sandeep’ in me who used to love watching the rains falling through the boughs of the coconut palms, relishing the homemade snack of crisp dosas and spicy coconut chutney. Memories flooded back. As soon as the class got over, I along with a dozen other happy faces rushed downstairs to enjoy a hot cup of tea with pakodas sitting around on the drenched ‘planning ramp’.
Many of the ‘smiling faces’ then would have hence forgotten that day…but I couldn’t afford to do so…..because it was a magical day when I rediscovered a few small pleasures of life…indeed ‘small’ but enough to bring back a ‘long-lost affection’ for the Monsoons.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

United Colors of Fountainhas

A city which can be dubbed as Kevin Lynch’s Delight and Ian McHarg’s Disappointment. Well that’s what Panjim or Panaji, the capital city of Goa seemed to me. The capital city of Adil Shah’s mighty state, a jewel in the erstwhile Portuguese Crown, the Indian answer to the famed French Riviera: city of Cannes …Panjim has been the hot favorite since its inception. Tucked away on the gently sloping southern bank of the estuarine mouth of the magnificent river Mandovi, this city has its colonial flavor still intact. The tree covered Althino Hill, the colorful streets of Fountainhas, the Miramar Beach, the famed and well maintained Riverside Corniche all add up to the beauty of the city.
Once a sleepy sea side fishing village replete with natural springs and coconut gardenlands interspersed by mangrove swamps, Panjim has come a long way. But the transition from its pristine estuarine bank to the present urbanized human settlement is not a smooth one. It can be seen as a perfect demonstration of the four staged “Man-Nature Relationship” .
The first stage of ‘I-Thou’ was when Panjim was still a natural hillside sloping down northwards to meet the southern banks of the majestic Mandovi, the river free to flood the low lying portions of the Ourem and Marshy Lands.
The second stage of ‘sustainable co-existence’ was when the fishermen built a non-descript hamlet and using the sources of the freshwater streams, started farming and made salt pans on the marshes.
The third stage of “I-it” was initiated with the construction of Adil Shah’s Fort and Palace. This was followed by the construction of a causeway "Pointe de Linhares" linking Panjim with the historic Ribandar village by the then Viceroy, Count de Linhares, Dom Miguel de Noronha in 1632. The massive destruction of Old Goa by plague and other sanitary related conditions led to the idea of structuring Panjim as the new capital for Goa. Its well drained topography, its “naturally-protected-on-all-sides” location and its proximity to the sea which ensures tidal flushing thus cleaning up the water aided this decision.
The Portuguese slowly started the process of reclamation of land, rampant construction of government buildings, and a magnificent riverfront. Over time the city has undergone many a change and today lies in the crossroads of 'development gone wrong' with scant regard for ecological processes. The old quarter of the city is thankfully well preserved and echoes its rich cultural past. But the more recent developments around the Panjim, many initiated by the unmindful bureaucratic aspirations leave much to be desired. “Patto Plaza-The Central Business District of Panjim” proudly published around in government publications as the new face of Goa is one such example. It is nothing but an ugly demonic concrete jungle with no reference to the strongly vernacular architecture neither in terms of style nor in scale, mushrooming out of the ecologically sensitive patto marshes. The rampant construction on the Bambolim Plateau with absolute disregard to the sensitive natural processes is also a matter of grave concern. The eying of the saltpan lands with luxuriant mangroves by the ‘Building Mafia’ and ‘Political Eagles’ is also a constant threat looming over the sound future of the city.
But it is not all that bad for Panjim, the still intact and well preserved precincts of Fountainhas and Campal are indeed encouraging enough to believe that a better future for Panjim is possible. The fact that Panjim is only the administrative capital of Goa and not a commercial capital, neither does it have a railway station nor is it the main sea port are all factors that will aid the city in slowing down the ‘urban decay’ which is a bane for most Indian cities.
It is time we moved ahead to the fourth and final phase of the ‘Man-Nature Interaction’ i.e. the realization that ‘Nature has to be cared for and nourished for the well being of Mankind’. The global awakening to protect nature has already dawned, and it is time for Panjim to become both Lynch’s and McHarg’s Delight.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

The Citadel of Frozen Legends....

Last November, my officemates and I got all geared up to attend Nidhi’s marriage in Jodhpur. The marriage was a truly pompous traditional affair. Rajasthani hospitality at its best- great food…spicy to the last ‘y’, great music and lots of vibrant colors. A rush through the forts and palaces of Jodhpur was another highlight of the trip.

The view of the ‘Blue city’ from the top of the Mehrangarh Fort is indeed a treat to one’s eyes. Quite contrary to what I had expected, Jodhpur turned out to be a colorful place where the ‘old’ and the ‘new’ coexist quite well, of course with the former getting the roses it rightly deserves.

Our impromptu tour started with the royal Umaid Bhavan Palace perched on a low hill away from the old city. The well laid out palace was designed by H.V. Lanchester in 1929 in an Indianised version of Art-Deco style. The palace when it threw open its doors for the first time in 1944, was the world’s largest private residence. The palace now houses a Museum(the only truly public space in the whole complex), a five star Heritage Hotel (of course public but for the ones who wouldn’t mind burning a hole in their pockets) and the private residence of the present King. I was impressed to see the carved motifs and the embellishments. Distinctly European yet have an Indian touch to them.

The next stop-over was at the majestic Mehrangarh Fort. Built on top of a rocky cliff, this fort is actually what legends are of made of. Built in the fifteen century, by Rao Jodha, it has truly stood the test of time. It now houses a series of museums. The whole complex is well preserved, probably the fact that it is still with the royal family explains the reason for this. The fort had all the colours and textures one could imagine hidden behind its impregnable walls. But the show stealer was the spectacular view of the city from its ramparts. The effortless transition of courtyards to rooms , the maze of stairwells to connect to the different levels, the discreet division of public and private realms, the ethereal quality of the streaming day light through the stained glass windows into the rooms, the carefully framed views of the city below (or probably they were just accidental) , intricately carved rajasthani jaalis all added to the richness of the experience there. 

As I bid farewell to the city, there was just one last wish in my mind. Knowing very well that some wishes are fated to remain unfulfilled, I did so in vain….. to be reborn as a medieval traveler lucky enough to have a glimpse of this city when it would have been at its zenith of glory.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Back to the Alley of Dreams......

It’s been almost a year since I last punched in a few words on this blog. Well I have a thousand reasons to explain my absence from the blogosphere…..but I’d rather refrain from citing them. In between, I started my professional career as a landscape architect in Delhi. Along with it came a surge of responsibilities and dead lines. ‘Office’ got so much precedence that it kind of eclipsed those small pleasures of life. The alley of my dreams, got shrouded in a veil of complacency. Now that I am taking a break from office, I thought this is the best time to dust my alley and rekindle those dying ambers of hope.