Be careful what you advertise #BJP #Haryana #Assemblypolls #land #realestate

Poll season is about the strangest of radio ads. While driving to work this morning, I was surprised to hear a BJP ad for the Haryana Assembly elections that directly addressed the issue of State-sponsored land grab by developers. In the ad, a Haryanvi farmer talks about how the government has used the ruse of wrongly declaring fertile lands to be infertile to hand land over to developers, thus disenfranchising farmers and leaving them out of the development process. Another ad in the same campaign talks about the challenges farmers face to access water for irrigation. Clearly, BJP is aggressively wooing the rural voter in Haryana. Which is all well and good.

800px-Green_farms_of_Jats_in_HaryanaWhat intrigues me is the implication that the BJP, if elected, will NOT develop agricultural land if it is fertile! Is that even possible for a State that seems to have put most of its eggs into the urbanization basket over the past few years? Leveraging its border with Delhi seems to be an important objective for the State from its recent planning documents.

Of course, Haryana has had a Congress government and these policies could, in theory, change if a new government were to come to power. But, as a colleague cynically quipped, if the BJP were to rule then the land taken from the farmer might go to a Reliance instead of DLF, with nothing really changing for the farmer!

We see a general disillusionment with agriculture across India and a decline of the farm sector, but in Haryana, farming is culturally ingrained. Land and farming are a very strong part of the identity of the Haryanvi people. I’m no expert, but perhaps the State has the opportunity to re-focus on the agri sector, for which it needs to think about compact, transit-oriented, well-planned cities instead of the sprawling, poorly conceived urban stretches we see when we drive around the State.

Learning kathak from the maestros: Struggle & satisfaction

I’ve only been learning kathak for some three years, a very small amount of time when I compare it to those who have been immersed in the dance form throughout their lives. As my guru Jayashree Acharya tells us, this is a journey of constant, lifelong learning. Once you embark on it, it has to be with an attitude of submission and determination.

There are also times in your learning when you are asked to make a leap of faith, as we were this past weekend when Deepak Maharajji, eminent kathak exponent and son of the illustrious Birju Maharajji, spent some time with us in workshop mode. I’ve watched him perform at various points in time and have always been struck by his energetic style, an interpretation of his guru’s taleem (broadly, teachings, but far more..). He is a very masculine dancer, but watching him up close helped me appreciate other aspects of his dance, notably abhinaya (experession) and his effortless relationship with sur and taal (melody and rhythm).

Deepak Maharajji during the lecture demonstration that he concluded the workshop with

Deepak Maharajji during the lecture demonstration that he concluded the workshop with

_DSC8592

_DSC8622Before getting onto the floor myself, I watched Deepakji teach young children (among them my little one Aadyaa), who were completely engrossed in what he was saying and demonstrating to them. It was wonderful to see them pick up little nuances, one imitated the flick of his wrist, another copied the guru’s stance for the sam! When I was in the workshop, however, I found myself struggling quite a bit. One part of my brain was trying to understand the sequence and details, another was recognizing patterns to imitate. I remember thinking about how much more instinctive younger students were while they learnt and I willed myself to dance by instinct, let myself go and, at the guru’s instance, simply enjoy the experience! For the entire hour we learnt from him, I was ecstatically happy.

Teaching the young children. Notice how he is the centre and they are all around him, absorbed completely in the act of learning

Teaching the young children. Notice how he is the centre and they are all around him, absorbed completely in the act of learning

The energy in his movements was something the children caught onto, I noticed

The energy in his movements was something the children caught onto, I noticed

Performing the pieces they learnt

Performing the pieces they learnt

Jayashreeji and Barunji help the children interpret and revise the pieces

Jayashreeji and Barunji help the children interpret and revise the pieces

Our lot, enjoying the struggle!

Our lot, enjoying the struggle!

_DSC8531Perhaps I can recall only snatches of what we were taught. Those students who had learnt for longer and those who had better grasp of kathak, would be able to reproduce more of course. What I did take away was an enhanced involvement with kathak as an art form, a deeper sense of understanding, a certain attitude and the importance of linking movements with a narrative, a story. And a feeling of being blessed with a higher, almost sacred knowledge.

I saw the face of my guru Jayashreeji’s light up many times through the day, delighting in the moments of joy created by, not just the dance, but the interactions of artistic minds. I’m nowhere in that league, but I was privileged to observe and participate in such an atmosphere of unbridled creativity. For that chance, I have to thank my guru and my destiny….I can only hope this experience seeps into the way I dance! Let us see…

London as a #primate city: Some interesting opinions

Isn’t it funny that when you’re experiencing something, it seems like you see a whole lot of the same around you? When you’re pregnant, you tend to notice other pregnant women. When someone you know has a road accident, suddenly everyone seems to have had one!

Having thoroughly enjoyed the sights and sounds of London, I seem to find my virtual world filled with information about the city. I found it very interesting that, while cities like Bangkok and Jakarta are constantly criticized for their absolute primacy (primate cities are those that dominate a country, capturing most of its population and economic activity: Mark Jefferson, 1939) in the the context of their national economies, London is rarely seen in that negative way. Of course, it is a more international cosmopolitan city, one that a Londoner acquaintance pompously touted as “the most wonderful in the world”!

_DSC7690But its also true that about 7 million people live in London while the nation’s second city Birmingham has only about a million people. UK Think tank Centre for Cities finds that London has created 10 times more private sector jobs than any other city since 2010, and that nearly 1/3rd of young people (aged 22-30) who changed cities in the UK moved to London. Real estate prices in London are through the roof and affordable housing a serious crisis; plus, the poor are being pushed further out while the inner city is more and more gentrified. Many of my Londoner friends work in real estate, housing and architecture and I heard this from them as well as at the RGS IBG conference I attended.

Centre for Cities is claiming that London’s domination is because other cities are not performing well enough and it asks for more power to be devolved to smaller cities. On the other hand, a survey of non-Londoners shows that they believe that the capital gets a much better deal than the rest of the country. Not hard to believe when you see the cranes and construction equipment that dot the city skyline working on many big ticket buildings and redevelopment projects!

This sort of situation has other interesting consequences. I read somewhere that one in five Londoners are in favour of London becoming a city-state! An unlikely possibility, but the sentiment says a lot about how London’s identity is distinct.

Clearly, policymakers need to think hard about balancing growth among cities within a country to create wider access to job opportunities and for a more equitable distribution of resources and yet, there is something to be said for the sheer energy created by a concentrated wealth of resources and capabilities.

Here in India too, policy has been hugely tilted towards metropolitan areas and attempts to support smaller cities have not met with much success, for various reasons. Beyond the constant refrain of smart cities that we hear from the present government (it’s like a broken record, stuck!), I really hope there is some thinking in place for how to revitalize cities of various sizes and on how to empower State governments to put their urban agendas in place.

 

Postcard From… Berlin

ramblinginthecity:

Good to be a part of Emily’s lovely blog again!

Originally posted on emilyluxton:

Welcome to this week’s Postcard From – the feature where I chat to some lucky explorer about their recent travels. If you would like to take part please get in touch – eluxton@hotmail.co.uk or @em_luxton – I would love to hear from you!

This week, I’m welcoming back Mukta Naik, whose Postcard From Istanbul is still one of my most popular ones to date! An architect and urban Postcard From Berlinplanner based in India, Mukta says “I work to rid cities of problems (ha! Wishful thinking!)”. She also spends a lot of time blogging at Rambling in the City, passionately pursuing classical dance, travelling and dreaming about travelling, and she has “two adorable children who motivate me and keep my on my toes”.

Welcome back Mukta! Where have you been lately?

We visited Berlin this summer, by ‘we’ I mean my husband Rahul, me and our two children- Udai is a…

View original 956 more words

Notes from #RGSIBG14: Visual methods for research in the #socialsciences

A couple of weeks ago, I was attending the annual conference of the Royal Geographical Society in London. It was a huge conference, with several parallel sessions and I could obviously attend only one at a time. Even so, I was exposed to multiple facets of geography and it was particularly interesting to see various research methods being used in the world of social science.

The use of visual methods for research is a particularly exciting field now and I noticed it was a recurrent theme in several sessions. Film and photography in particular are gaining ground as legitimate means to document how humans experience spaces and situations. Combined with interviews, focus groups and more traditional methods of qualitative research, they promise to take research a step ahead certainly.

I’d like to show you a glimpse of a piece of research presented by independent researcher Silvia Sitton, who is based in Modena, Italy. She set out to study the way Italians in London lived. Without visiting London herself, she did this through a system of self-reporting by participants using photographs of their home, living space and neighbourhood. Silvia supplemented the visual documentation with skype interviews to create profiles of Italian people in London city and understand their experiences. To me, as a researcher interested in migration and housing, her work appealed instantly. She had been able to capture how they felt about their adopted city, how they used space, their daily routines, their challenges and high points as well.

The website she built to house this information (screenshots below; to visit the site, click here here) is in Italian, but its stunningly simple and Silvia told me she would love to replicate this sort of research in other geographical contexts. The value of gathering data without the bias of the researcher is immense here, isn’t it?

Geographical location of respondents. These are clickable on the site, to reveal details

Geographical location of respondents. These are clickable on the site, to reveal details

Profiles of each respondent

Profiles of each respondent

 

The mysticism of the past: Visiting Stonehenge

I’ve wanted to visit Stonehenge since the year 2000. Back then, I was pursuing a Masters in Urban Planning at Texas A&M University and taking a course in historic preservation. Professor David Woodcock encouraged me to pursue my interest in cultural landscapes, and with his help (he leveraged his contacts at English Heritage and got them to send me every piece of research they had in their possession!) I wrote a great term paper on Stonehenge.

The mysticism of this circle of stones has stayed with me ever since. It’s the kind of place that evokes in me an unnamed indescribable fascination for history. I wonder how humans in those long bygone days conceived the world around them, how they built their social fabric and how they sowed the seeds for the complexities of existence that we take for granted today.

Stonehenge is a neolithic site created from enormous stones over different period of time probably to understand or pay obeisance to the elements of nature, namely the movement of the sun across the sky around the year. It is part of a larger landscape of monuments scattered around this area, dating from 4000 BC to about 1600 BC. Many of these, and more are being excavated and interpreted even now, seem to be ritual gathering places, burial grounds and they reiterate how important birth and death, religion and rituals must have been to ancient humans. No one knows how they transported these gigantic stones from far away to the site, and its hard to imagine the complete monument today when you see only a ruin from which stones have been taken away or that has degenerated with time.

It is, however, possible to feel the primal energy when you stand there next to Stonehenge. A sense of mystery and strength, of peace even, a dedication to the powers that be! This time, I had only an hour to see it, but it would be fun to return one day to this World Heritage Site and walk the entire landscape that includes Stonehenge, Avebury and surrounding areas.

Stonehenge is now accessed through this beautiful visitor's centre. It is impressive how well heritage sites are managed in the UK.

Stonehenge is now accessed through this beautiful visitor’s centre. It is impressive how well heritage sites are managed in the UK.

Sense of scale!

Sense of scale!

_DSC7940

A very happy me!

A very happy me!

A very happy Nupur too...

A very happy Nupur too…

Looks different from every angle. As you move around it, Stonehenge transforms

Looks different from every angle. As you move around it, Stonehenge transforms

Helps understand something of why it was built

Helps understand something of why it was built

How tiny the man is, how huge the stones

How tiny the man is, how huge the stones

Smooth stones, rough stones....

Smooth stones, rough stones….

_DSC7988The reconstruction of neolithic homes near the Visitor Centre really added value to the visit for me, as one could better imagine what life was like back then, bringing Stonehenge back from a monument of mystery to one that was used for specific purposes by real people!

_DSC7997

I miss my kids when I travel without them and here, I was tickled by how differently this one was experiencing the space as compared to an adult!

I miss my kids when I travel without them and here, I was tickled by how differently this one was experiencing the space as compared to an adult!

_DSC8001_DSC8002Also, a mention must be made of how well the site and visitor flow is managed. I was surprised to know that the entire 6500 acres of the World Heritage Site is owned and managed by English Heritage or the National Trust and that even the land around is owned by the armed forces and other government agencies so that the disturbances to the site and the experiences are minimal! It is possible to walk for miles through fields and woods to explore important prehistoric sites.

There’s a lot of fascinating info about Stonehenge online, if you want to read more….

The ‘I like” list! #Portobello Street market #London

I didn’t want to be the tickmark tourist on my recent visit to London. Of course I still ended up doing a bunch of touristy things, of which the most fun was our Saturday morning spent exploring Portobello market. We had been advised to get there real early if shopping was on the cards, but too much wine and excellent company the previous evening ruled out that possibility. So we ended up strolling out of Notting Hill Gate tube station mid morning, eager to experience the famous Portobello all-day market. Here’s my quick run-down of what I loved about it, with some of the zillion pictures I clicked that day!

1- If you’re a crowd hater, don’t go! I loved the hustle and bustle, the jostling… and even the irate look on the face of a well turned out Londoner that had “Bah! Tourists!” written all over it!

2- The colours of Notting Hill and Portobello are so not London. It’s like being transported to the Mediterranean in the middle of England! Pastels and bright colours on building facades make me smile indeed! And the random details too…

3- The antique market is the best bit here, in my opinion. I bought an original map of India, circa 1820 for 40 pounds, quite a steal (Tip: Cash begets discounts)! And just pottering around this section made my day!

4- Food haven, indeed. From crepes to paella, there was quite a spread if you had the appetite!

5- The sheer length of it. Portobello is never ending or so it seemed. Lots to see, lots to do, if you have the patience and the spirit. And if you’re not here to buy, it’s all the more enjoyable with that pressure off!

On our way there...

On our way there…

Typical!

Typical!

_DSC7816

_DSC7806

I would think those who live here think a lot about exterior paint shades!

I would think those who live here think a lot about exterior paint shades!

My co-explorers!

My co-explorers!

_DSC7818_DSC7820

Entertainment along the way...

Entertainment along the way…

_DSC7846

A touch of bizarre

A touch of bizarre

And the spooky... :)

And the spooky… :)

Lots of delightful antiques...

Lots of delightful antiques…

Anyone remembers the "Homemaker for a lifetime.." jingle?

Anyone remembers the “Homemaker for a lifetime..” jingle?

_DSC7863_DSC7868_DSC7894_DSC7895

And finally, just before I left, a spot of graffiti for good measure!

And finally, just before I left, a spot of graffiti for good measure!

Fraternising with geographers at the #RGSIBG14

Up until a few months ago, I didn’t consider my work or my research as geography. I had not realised that the boundaries of the discipline of geography had stretched here, there and seemingly everywhere. This has been driven home by my time at the Royal Geographical Society’s annual conference in London, where I’ve met geographers who theorise, practice, those who influence policy and many who work closely with communities. As an urban planner, I’ve been looked at as a part of the geography fraternity and not really outside it. I’ve wondered about how Indian academia works in silos, right at the other end of what I’m seeing here, which is frighteningly inclusive!

It’s not only the range of topics that has been interesting, but also the people. A young man from Slovenia is working on a PhD that looks at the interests of those who own small-scale forests. A woman from Jamaica is studying water security. A German bloke is looking at religion and city making in Ecuador. I’ve gathered a bunch of heavy theoretical terms that don’t roll off my tongue easily, but that I’m sure will help me anchor my often wandering thoughts.

I have been fascinated by the range of methodologies I’ve been exposed to and am thinking of dedicating a separate post to just that when I return. Especially the use of visual methods of data gathering and analysis were fascinating for me, with my architectural background.It has also been a good opportunity to bounce off my own experiences and ideas with people, find synergies but also alternative ways of looking at situations. I’ve found solace in the confusions and frustrations of fellow researchers and practitioners as well!I’m presenting tomorrow, on the final day of the conference on migration decisions of youth in the context of a small city and right now, I’m struggling to fit everything I want to say into 15 minutes! Not a nice way to spend my evening in London, but what can one say…you gotta do what you gotta do!

Southwark through a local’s eye: A walk along the Thames in #London

I’ve anticipated this London trip for so long and yet have had little time to plan an itinerary. A work trip for the most part, I knew my touristic experiences would need to be squeezed in. I’ve opted to live with a friend, someone I’ve known since college and so, by default, I’ve been let into her little world. I let her lead me through her neighbourhood on my first day in what locals consider “the greatest and most beautiful capital city in the world”!

We started our stroll with a visit to her local square. Kids kicked a football around, a few stalls were selling trinkets and toys. The residential neighbourhoods we walked past were still and sleepy. A dog barked at us, a baby gurgles, the locals stood out in the sun in bunches, satiated with pints of beer and lazy lunches.

The neighbourhood square

The neighbourhood square

Riverward..on the way

Riverward..on the way

My friend lives in the London Borough of Southwark, south of the Thames and close to the London Bridge. And our walk took us river-ward. An area with Roman origins, the riverfront we walked onto is rich with wharfs and restored warehouses. On a surprisingly sunny yet balmy Saturday afternoon, the place had a zippy, young feel to it. Families out with their children, friends catching a drink at the pubs and restaurants that lined the Thames, that sort of thing.

Posh apartments,  redeveloped from the docks that lined the Thames give this area a unique flavour

Posh apartments, redeveloped from the docks that lined the Thames give this area a unique flavour

_DSC7692_DSC7696

The ramps that took the cargo from the qyayside to the warehouses. Pretty dramatic huh?

The ramps that took the cargo from the quayside to the warehouses. Pretty dramatic huh?

My first glimpse of the Thames...gasp!

My first glimpse of the Thames…gasp!

Love the clutter!

Love the clutter!

View across the river

View across the river

Wine stop!

Wine stop!

_DSC7704

Public art, lots of naval stuff like enormous anchors strewed around for kids to clamber over...

Public art, lots of naval stuff like enormous anchors strewed around for kids to clamber over…

The sun lit up the Thames and the famous landmarks that were spotted out to me dazzled and shone. The Tower Bridge, of course, the City Hall designed by Norman Foster and, as my friend put it, a miniature of the Bundestag Dome we saw in Berlin, and the HMS Belfast right there in the centre of the river. We walked across and around the Tower of London where, along with the swarms of tourists, the sea of ceramic poppies greeted us, a recently installed commemoration of the World War I in its centenary year.

_DSC7735_DSC7737

City Hall, HMS Belfast, the sights and sounds of the river...

City Hall, HMS Belfast, the sights and sounds of the river…

Walking around the Tower of London.  I was here 15 years ago...

Walking around the Tower of London. I was here 15 years ago…

The poppies...oh the poppies!

The poppies…oh the poppies! Blood red and stunning

Caught the Shard between the turrets! It's Renzo Piano's latest addition to London's skyline

Caught the Shard between the turrets! It’s Renzo Piano’s latest addition to London’s skyline

A surprising detour through the upmarket St Katherine Docks where the Queen’s gilded boat rests and where I was amused to see The Dickens Inn, rebuilt in the style of a 17th century timber-framed building and apparently inaugurated by the famous writer’s grandson. That the author spent a part of his life in this part of London is well-known but it was had to reconcile the images of Dickensian London in my head with the extensively redeveloped swank sights before me!

No longer serene, but still quaint, St Katherine's is a lovely little marina, apparently the playground of the rich and famous

No longer serene, but still quaint, St Katherine’s is a lovely little marina, apparently the playground of the rich and famous

err....like the Queen, whose gilded craft is on the right side of this pic

err….like the Queen, whose gilded craft is on the right side of this pic

Ceramic panels we walked by...

Ceramic panels we walked by…

Posing in front of the Dickens'

Posing in front of the Dickens’

An aside: A lovely little fountain and a peaceful square. Seeing the city through a local's eye is the BEST way to do so!

An aside: A lovely little fountain and a peaceful square. Seeing the city through a local’s eye is the BEST way to do so!

No, can't wipe the smile off!

No, can’t wipe the smile off!

And thus, after being introduced to this delightful part of London, I dragged my jet-lagged self back at last night, happily tired and looking forward to more good times here!