Remembering Haarlem #1: Of music and dancing

One of the highlights of visiting my uncle and aunt in The Netherlands is the trip into the heart of Haarlem, the city where they live. Haarlem is a quaint town, the capital of the Noord Holland province and preserved beautifully in a manner typical of Dutch towns.

Haarlem has been in existence since Roman times and grew to become one of the most populated and influential cities in the Medieval times, a centre of trade inundated by Flemish merchants. Haarlem lost its prominent with Amsterdam’s rise during the Golden Age (17th-18th Century). Today, its essentially medieval layout and the visual richness of Gothic architecture is experienced strongly when you walk through it. We enjoyed getting lost in its streets, especially closer to the centre where many streets are quaint, narrow and exclusively pedestrian.

Late 18th century city map of Haarlem from Wikipedia

Late 18th century city map of Haarlem from Wikipedia

Wandering the quiet residential streets in Haarlem, where a surprise is right round the corner

Wandering the quiet residential streets in Haarlem, where a surprise is right round the corner

The explorers, taking it all in!

The explorers, taking it all in!

Our Haarlem expedition was just a couple of days before the FIFA mania began!

Our Haarlem expedition was just a couple of days before the FIFA mania began!

Architecture along the mainstreet

Architecture along the mainstreet

This is the sort of image that stays in your mind long after you leave Holland- cycles, people enjoying the outdoors, heritage and very well-designed road infrastructure!

This is the sort of image that stays in your mind long after you leave Holland- cycles, people enjoying the outdoors, heritage and very well-designed road infrastructure!

As you must do in a town like this, we gravitated slowly towards the Town Square or the Grote Markt. We knew we were close to this epicentre of Haarlem as soon as we began to hear the distinct music of the street organs and spot them, positioned on a corner or in the middle of a courtyard, people smiling at them as they walked by while some stood to appreciate their intricate facades. The Dutch street organ is a quaint sight, usually family owned and intricately decorated. They used to be all manually operated by an organ grinder but tend to be automated nowadays. I’ve seen them here and there in the cities of Holland before, but never a profusion of street organs like we saw on the Monday we decided to walk through Haarlem. It happened to be a long weekend thanks to the Christian festival of Pentecost or Pinkster. Through the morning, we watched residents and tourists descend into the centre of the city, and the organs seemed to swell in number too! The pictures below are each of/from a different street organ and all from the streets of Haarlem.

Particularly attractove for children

Particularly attractive for children

_DSC6373

Details are very interesting

Very much a part of the scenery

Very much a part of the scenery

 The sounds of the street organ changes the entire experience of walking down a narrow shopping street

The sounds of the street organ changes the entire experience of walking down a narrow shopping street

Udai spotted the back of one of the organs and thoush we can;t make sense of it, here's the documentation!

Udai spotted the back of one of the organs and though we can’t make sense of it, here’s the documentation!

Taking advantage of the shade under a tree to attract people on a hot hot day!

Taking advantage of the shade under a tree to attract people on a hot hot day!

Haarlem’s Grote Markt is a delight. The beautiful open space is dominated by the towering St. Bavo Cathedral, which you can see for miles around the city, and the beautiful Town Hall or Stadhuis at the other end. When we first reached, we thought the Cathedral was shut because of Pentecost (it wasn’t though and the St. Bavo experience is the stuff of another post!) and so, we sought to enjoy the activity in the square. And I’m so glad we did!

St. Bavo towers over the Grote Markt

St. Bavo towers over the Grote Markt

Lounging around. I loved watching the crowd at the square

Lounging around. I loved watching the crowd at the square

_DSC6310

Plenty of space to eat, drink, dance and hang out!

Plenty of space to eat, drink, dance and hang out! The Stadhuis is in the background

_DSC6291

The most fun thing we did was dance in the Silent Disco. You put on headphones and dance away. Those who watch could think you are crazy and will most certainly have a laugh. The kids and me went in, and then the kids did a second round once more, so kicked were they with the concept and experience! Udai kept wanting to bring the concept back to India (no noise pollution, wow!), only to be told they already have it on the beaches in Goa!

_DSC6315_DSC6317_DSC6316_DSC6325A band was performing in the middle of the Grote Markt, belting out mostly Latino music. As we sat there, sipping our drinks and trying out Poffertjes (A Dutch pancake with toppings, the most popular in summer being strawberries and cream!), a crowd began to gather. And dance! In a jiffy, Aadyaa had dragged me in and there we were, jumping about, surrounded by beautifully dressed couples doing the salsa and the meringue. Udai took the opportunity to polish off some new herring at another food stall.

An animated band

An animated band

With very enthusiastic dancers

With very enthusiastic dancers

_DSC6349

The best thing about events like this at truly public spaces is how genders, age groups and classes mix. Look at the children running freely in between the dancing couples!

_DSC6348

And whats better than dancing with papa?

And what’s better than dancing with papa?

Then came a church visit, a much-needed ice cream and a giant serving of the Dutch frites topped with mayonnaise and a long, long walk back along the canal and the forest till we reached home. A day well spent, steeped in music and dance, sunshine and conversation!

And before I wind up this long long post, here are my two ‘crowd’ clicks that I really like!

_DSC6341_DSC6342

My little dancer, full of warmth and pleasant surprises

Aadyaa has been learning kathak for a year now. It’s been a fun ride, but not easy by a long shot, for her and her friends. Learning a classical art form takes discipline and rigour, both don’t come easy for little children. In the initial months, novelty carried her through. But as her guru (well-known kathak exponent Sushmita Ghosh who is also the current Director of Kathak Kendra in New Delhi) pushed them more, I saw Aadyaa’s enthusiasm wane a few times. A few weekends she came back saying: Guruji daant-thi hain- she scolds us! As a mother and a kathak dancer myself, I had to make the right sympathetic noises while also conveying that the discipline is part of the game.

Slowly and painstakingly, the rights and lefts fell in place, her habitual attention seeking faded away and was replaced by a deep sense of enjoyment in her dance, an appreciation of nuances and the development of focus. She started at the age of five, now she is six. And I amazed by the progress all of her friends in the kathak class have made.

The icing on the cake, though, was their stage performance last week. Sushmita guruji began to prepare them for the show way back in December, teaching them the basic piece first and embellishing it as time went on. The choreography was reasonably complex for beginners, but the little ones handled it beautifully. They had had plenty of practice and repetition, so they were all comfortable on stage and not nervous at all.

They shone resplendent in their beautifully designed off white and gold angrakha kurtas with coloured churidaars. They has identical jewelry made and similar make-up as well. All of the dressing up created a flurry of excitement among the girls. For Aadyaa and many others, it was the first time they were trying make up! She sat with a pout from the time the lipstick went on till they got off stage, some for hours!

But far more than how they looked and how well they danced, what impressed me was the confidence and sense of enjoyment that was evident in these little dancers. They are fortunate indeed to be blessed with a guru who loves them and is dedicated to her art. Little experiences like dancing to live music and sitting patiently through the pieces that other dancers performed added to their training. The entire show had an intimate and relaxed feel to it, which I think was a deliberate attempt to draw the audience (parents and well wishers of the students mostly) into the enticing world of Indian classical arts. All in all, a memorable experience for all of us and moment to take genuine pride in our children!

Check out Aadyaa’s dance video below. Credits: Rachna Khanna

And enjoy the pics below! Credits: Nupur Chaturvedi

Image

Image

Image

Image

Image

Image

Image

Experiencing small town India at Narendranagar, Tehri Garhwal #employment #migration #aspiration

Having tried my hand at being an entrepreneur, I’m always impressed by people who are brave enough to venture into new territory with ideas and initiatives. My friend Biplab is one such person. I’ve known him for a while, though not very well. And when my research work started focusing on what’s happening in small cities, I remembered his venture and drove over for a chat.

Biplab runs a BPO called EGramServe in Narendranagar (will refer to it as NN), a town of about 10,000 people a short drive uphill from Rishikesh. In starting this venture, he (like several others, of course) has created a window of opportunity for young people who otherwise have no choice but to migrate out to larger cities. The stories he told me, about his own entrepreneurial journey and the experiences of his employees, stuck in my head for days after our chat. And I decided to pay NN a visit. As I was leaving, my kids were curious to know if that’s Narendra Modi is from (no escaping NaMo)!

After an eventless and comfortable train journey (a frequent traveler on this sector, Biplab is an expert in wangling seats even when tickets are unconfirmed!), we got there early Monday morning and walked around town. As a planner, I was struck by the orderliness of the town. NN came into prominence in 1919 when King Narendra Shah of the erstwhile kingdom of Tehri Garhwal moved his capital here from Tehri. It’s orderly main street and relatively wide streets and uncluttered feel contrasts sharply with the messiness of other pahari towns, which are usually trading or market towns. The shops and residences along this main street, I learnt, are still owned by the municipal board and leased out to individuals.

Approaching Narendranagar

Approaching Narendranagar

EGramServe occupies the ground floor of the only hotel in town

EGramServe occupies the ground floor of the only hotel in town

The managerial staff at the BPO lives on the top floor of the same hotel. Was mighty amused at the interiors!

The managerial staff at the BPO lives on the top floor of the same hotel. Was mighty amused at the interiors!

Criss-cross wires and a typical hill town view, albeit much less crowded than any other I've been to!

Criss-cross wires and a typical hill town view, albeit much less crowded than any other I’ve been to!

Mainstreet, the legacy of a royal past

Mainstreet, the legacy of a royal past

IMG_6144

An early morning view, but it doesn't get too busy even at peak hours

An early morning view, but it doesn’t get too busy even at peak hours

More vestiges of a royal and institutional past

More vestiges of a royal and institutional past

IMG_6205The view from NN, which is also the closest town to the world famous Ananda spa resort, is beautiful. It is a remarkable thing that, so close to Rishikesh, this lovely hilly location that experiences excellent weather is so tranquil and languid, the pace of life barely impacted by the proximity of the fervent religious tourism of Rishikesh and Hardwar below or the seasonal tourism of the hill stations above.

The town looks onto lush forest areas and the lights of Jolly Grant airport and Rishikesh sparkle in the distance during the night

The town looks onto lush forest areas and the lights of Jolly Grant airport and Rishikesh sparkle in the distance during the night

IMG_6169Its tranquility is reflected in the conversations I have with its residents, some of who are from families who settled here during the time of Narendra Shah and consider themselves insiders and others whose families have migrated here from surrounding villages or from other parts of Tehri Garhwal in search of livelihood.

My two-day visit was a most interesting experience thanks to Biplab’s warm and sincere hospitality. He was kind enough to give up his accommodation so I could be comfortable and also enthusiastic enough to introduce me to people all over town. Over the next few weeks, I hope to unscramble some good information from the 20-odd interviews I managed to take. I hope to understand better the experiences and aspirations of the young people who work in EGramServe, their linkages with their family/community and what role cities like NN can play in keeping young people close to home.

I was driven back to Haridwar railway station by two enthusiastic members of Biplab’s team. The most marvelous drive through the lush greens of Rajaji National Park alongside the Ganga canal  served to remind me of how precious the hills, the forests and the rivers are for our survival. In addition to providing opportunity, I remember thinking, encouraging sustainable development that involves communities that can no longer rely on agriculture for survival (low productivity, climate change) is critical. And here too, small cities like NN could be important in tying these rural communities together and linking them to regional economies.

The Ganga Canal, a critical irrigation waterway in the region

The Ganga Canal, a critical irrigation waterway in the region

The road we took through the Rajaji National Park is closed at dusk because of the frequent crossing of wild elephants. They've known to attack and crush cars in the past!

The road we took through the Rajaji National Park is closed at dusk because of the frequent crossing of wild elephants. They’ve known to attack and crush cars in the past!

Gurgaon Glossaries: Prasad Shetty, Rupali Gupte and Prasad Khandolkar

ramblinginthecity:

So interesting in context of my work on Gurgaon’s urban villages. I love the sort of stuff urban research throws up!

Originally posted on Kafila:

This guest post byPRASAD SHETTY, RUPALI GUPTEandPRASAD KHANDOLKARis research work in progress for Sarai Reader 09 @ Devi Arts Foundation, Gurgaon

When a new city settles, new systems are made, new vocabularies get invented, new relations are formed, new methods are devised, new networks are forged, new enterprises are produced, and new life is led to settle the ruffles. This work is a compilation of such systems, vocabularies, relations, methods, enterprises and networks that get formed to shape and settle the city.

CLU:

‘Change of Land Use’ is a town planning provision that is generally a part of town planning acts of various states across India. This provision allows land use changes in the statutory plan. This provision is made to allow governments to respond to unforeseen requirements of the future, where some lands need to be used differently from the planned use.

View original 1,855 more words

Inclusive city building and the promise of ‘freedom’

ramblinginthecity:

An interesting analysis…

Originally posted on Incremental Cities:

The Indian capital city of Delhi, with an approximate population of 22 million, has long attracted migrants seeking employment, healthcare, education etc. Most of Delhi’s urban poor live in over-crowded and insanitary settlements, commonly known as slums[1] or squatter settlements (locally JJ for jhuggi jhompri), and usually do not have access to safe and secure shelter and basic infrastructure and services. They live in illegal and informal settlements because they cannot afford formal shelter, and are consequently excluded from the formal housing market. Like many cities of the global South urbanization in Delhi is characterised by rapid growth paralleled by and accommodating for an exponential population increase. This growth is predominantly driven by rural to urban migration motivated by an aspiration to gain access to the benefits of the city: education, healthcare, jobs and housing. However these migrants find it hard to make a claim, participate in, or…

View original 1,193 more words

Allowing Indian cities to grow: Can we be bold enough to adopt global FAR densities?

I wanted to share this fascinating piece in the Next City about Indian cities and density. The article argues that low FAR (floor area ratio, that essentially controls how much you can build) makes no sense for Indian cities. We’ve known this for a while. To me, the constant back and forth about FAR and the obsession of planners and private developers with it has been a source of frustration and amusement in equal measure. Why? Because FAR alone cannot determine urban form, or infrastructure, or anything unless it is rationalized with other development controls. Unless there is a vision of what we want the city to be. The obsession with FAR is, I think, yet another symptom of the disease of technocratic planning that India suffers from.

pune.jpg

Why are we scared to allow our cities to go vertical? High-density slums don’t scare us, then why high-rise?
Picture of Pune: Slums and mid-rise dominate out cities. But Pune is relaxing its FAR and might go the global way, as per the article!

But to get back to the article. What fascinated me was the revelation that Indian cities do not really account for the fact that the per capita consumption of space will increase over time, as people become more prosperous. We need to, therefore, stop planning cities at “essentially slum densities” and be more real about the kind of people that will come to occupy, say the areas around a Metro corridor as time goes by. I also liked that the piece points out to another paradigm shift that is needed- one in which we see increasing populations as a good sign and not only as a problem. If more people want to come in, then something is happening right in a city and we need to 1-create more space inside the city for these people and 2-enable them to come in and leave more efficiently, and support meaningful suburban development.

Author Stephen J Smith cites the work of Alain Bertaud, a former World Bank researcher in the piece. Bertaud advocates that Indian planners junk the idea of low FARs and allow cities to grow out “to the same height as its peers across the world”. Can we handle that?

Who is it for? A critical reflection on power in “social urbanism” and planning

ramblinginthecity:

All the good stuff- connectivity, mobility, participation and ownership and public spaces that the community needs (not necessarily open spaces), this post looks at Medellin and picks out elements that make it work. It also explores some questions around which we can better understand urban connections and issues.

Originally posted on CITIES LIKE DREAMS:

I wrote this reflection for a course that looked at Medellin as a case study through which to examine the concept of “social urbanism.” It was the first more design-focused class that I have taken and it was new for me to be working with brilliant designers and architects who made up the bulk of the class. Challenging but also illuminating, as I hope this reflection demonstrates.

cablecars

This course launched from the idea that “social urbanism,” or rather, design and architecture with a social conscience, is increasingly gaining in popularity in urban areas around the world. One very visible example of this is the city of Medellin, Colombia, where a transportation project of a metro and above ground cable-car system was set up to connect the city center to the marginalized informal areas that sprawl up the city’s steep hillsides. One such area is Comuna 8, one of Medellin’s 16…

View original 2,148 more words

Do the new cities being proposed for the UK spell an opportunity to rethink city design?

I’ve been following UK’s housing crisis with a lot of interest. Without knowing a lot about the history and political context of the housing industry in that country, it amazes me to read the stories coming out about homelessness, huge shortage of units and now, the idea of building new ‘garden cities’ to solve the problems (read about it here). With housing production at an all-time low and the industry being declared incapable of meeting demand, prominent people have been advocating for changes in the planning norms to allow a slew of new cities to be built in what former BBC Chairman Michael Lyons (who has been given the task of drafting a plan for more homes by the Labour party) calls post-war spirit (read here)!

Of course it is logical and of course, greenfield developments have the power to jump start the economy and of course, this means an opportunity for a new kind of thinking about cities. With all the analysis and knowledge, all the criticism out there (some days my head spins with the number of media articles analyzing cities) about what has gone wrong with the cities we have built over the last couple of centuries in the Global North and the Global South, I’m looking forward excitedly to what will be proposed as the model for these new urban entities.

I hope they will not be boring replicas of what we already have. I look forward to at least some space for a new architectural language. More public spaces, more walkable and cycle-able networks, a lower carbon footprint, an exploration of cutting edge research on high-density, sustainable urbanism. There is a long wishlist out there. I know all of it cannot be achieved, but some of it certainly can and it would be fitting for the UK to show the way ahead in doing so.

How slums can save the planet

ramblinginthecity:

Maybe planners shouldn’t be the ones evaluating and opining on cities! The benefits of squatter cities are still waiting to be discovered…

Originally posted on Terra Urban तेरा अर्बन:

by Stewart Brandhttp://www.prospectmagazine.co.uk

Sixty million people in the developing world are leaving the countryside every year. The squatter cities that have emerged can teach us much about future urban living.

1983, architect Peter Calthorpe gave up on San Francisco, where he had tried and failed to organise neighbourhood communities, and moved to a houseboat in Sausalito, a town on the San Francisco Bay. He ended up on South 40 Dock, where I also live, part of a community of 400 houseboats and a place with the densest housing in California. Without trying, it was an intense, proud community, in which no one locked their doors. Calthorpe looked for the element of design magic that made it work, and concluded it was the dock itself and the density. Everyone who lived in the houseboats on South 40 Dock passed each other on foot daily, trundling to and from the…

View original 444 more words

Savouring Dubai, the land of opportunity and refuge

Dubai has been on the cards for a while now. The last and only time I visited was in early 2010 for a conference. I vaguely remember doing a brief spin of a city deep in the doldrums of economic depression, staring at half-built buildings and getting the sense that I was experiencing a ‘freeze frame’. That first impression and the idea that I am motivated by (hi-fi?) stuff like art, culture and history and not so taken in by glitzy glass-clad skyscrapers (sarcasm, confusion, loads of self-judgement in those words!) ensured that Dubai wasn’t really on my radar for some time. But then, Rahul started to come here every year for his annual training refresher and Dubai was back on my list!

This time round though, the city feels very different. Alive and buzzing with the energy of the Dubai Shopping Festival and a renewed construction boom kicked off in part by the fact that the World Expo 2020 is being hosted here. I promised myself to reserve the judgement before I came and have been happy tramping about the city by myself (while Rahul is working), exploring the Metro and meeting friends and shopping! Despite myself and because of the way this city is, it is impossible not to appreciate the sense of organization, the aesthetic of opulence, the ease of getting around, the effortless intermingling of cultures very different.

The cranes are swinging again in Dubai!

The cranes are swinging again in Dubai!

An organized city, the cars speed by and you let a different-yet-familiar cultural ethos seep into you

An organized city, the cars speed by and you let a different-yet-familiar cultural ethos seep into you

It's strange how mass transit has begun to define your experience of a new city. The Dubai Metro, though limited in coverage, is simple to use. I wish metro experts in India would think to have these sort of protection screens at the platform edges on stations!

It’s strange how mass transit has begun to define your experience of a new city. The Dubai Metro, though limited in coverage, is simple to use. I wish metro experts in India would think to have these sort of protection screens at the platform edges on stations!

I really like the signages. Here, people are not-so-subtly encouraged to let passengers exit from the centre while they climb in from the side. The Dubai metro also like Delhi) has a ladies only coach, only at peak times though

I really like the signages. Here, people are not-so-subtly encouraged to let passengers exit from the centre while they climb in from the side. The Dubai metro also like Delhi) has a ladies only coach, only at peak times though

In conversations with those who live here, friends as well as strangers I met on the Metro, I can see how it is easy to get used to the conveniences of Dubai, especially in the face of the employment opportunities and improved pay packages it provides as compared to ‘back home’. Dubai has attracted people from a plethora of nationalities- Indians, Pakistanis, Bangladeshis, Yemenis, Syrians, Egyptians and many more- for whom it represents a better life. Yes, by corollary it also means that life ‘back home’ wasn’t that great for many of those who have come here. By all accounts, most of these immigrants will never ever go back, or even want to go back. Despite the big brother watching, despite the controlled media and the heightened awareness of the need to mind your own business if you want to survive, Dubai is a good experience, a place that treats you well.

Both strangers and friends confided to me that a sense of personal safety, the lawfulness and speedy execution of justice were what made them most comfortable here in Dubai, as compared to India. I wasn’t too surprised by this admission, even though I had to curb my urge to fiercely defend my country. You have to read papers here to see that nearly all news out of India is negative! In contrast, the media reports about the UAE are a mix of heady, positive, self-congratulatory stories interspersed with rather watered-down criticism. My analysis: You cannot compare apples and oranges, you gotta see things in perspective. By this I mean that living in a democracy and an autocracy are very different, but I can also see that this difference may matter little for citizens who are happy to have their daily needs well met. Walking among the glitzy edifices and seeing families out carefree and happy in the middle of the night, it’s hard to push this point without sounding defensive!

And so, I let it go and shop some more. I click pictures of dancing fountains and ornate ceilings. I enjoy the pleasure of the us-time Rahul and me are getting as we choose from a fantastic selection of restaurants, eat, talk, laugh… I savour Dubai, I refrain from judging, I miss home.

Malls in Dubai are works of art, with ornate interiors and grandiose ceilings that rise high above you

Malls in Dubai are works of art, with ornate interiors and grandiose ceilings that rise high above you. This is at the Mall of the Emirates, where I trawled aimlessly for an hour, clicking pictures and feeling intimidated by the determined shoppers!

The Dubai mall, next to Burj Khalifa, is the place to be! Absolutely monumental in scale, the spaces are so large that even the most bizarre ceiling fixtures seem to fit right in!

The Dubai mall, next to Burj Khalifa, is the place to be! Absolutely monumental in scale, the spaces are so large that even the most bizarre ceiling fixtures seem to fit right in!

Another ornate ceiling

Another ornate ceiling…

...and the space below it!

…and the space below it!

At every juncture, we miss the children, and become kids ourselves!

At every juncture, we miss the children, and become kids ourselves!

The curtain of water inside the Dubai Mall

The curtain of water inside the Dubai Mall

The dancing fountains outside are infamous. Every half-hour, they dance to a different tune, ranging from Western classic to Arabic to pop, against the backdrop of the dazzling and slender Burj Khalifa. It's pretty spectacular.

The dancing fountains outside are infamous. Every half-hour, they dance to a different tune, ranging from Western classic to Arabic to pop, against the backdrop of the dazzling and slender Burj Khalifa. It’s pretty spectacular.