Lucknow’s obsession with beautification

Another mega park, but what are the real benefits?

Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav shared this photo on his Facebook page yesterday, with the title- “I would like to share with you the first exclusive pictures of Janeshwar Mishra Park. This 400 acre Global Standard park has a beautiful walkway, water bodies, jogging track, cycling track, landscaping and much more.”

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This park, being developed in the Gomti Nagar area of Lucknow, is modeled on London’s Hyde Park and will cost Rs 168 crore to build. Akhilesh Yadav takes pride in highlighting the green-ness of this grandiose scheme from the erstwhile Chief Minister Mayawati’s much-touted Ambedkar Park, which was widely criticized for taking the form of an infrastructure project strewn with stone structures and little greenery. A news item says the park will have “beautiful landscapes, two huge ponds spread over 38 acres, golf course, horse riding trail, lakes, sports centre, gymnasium, cycle track, jogging track, theme gardens, children’s play area, lawns etc.”

I grew up in Lucknow and have strong linkages with the city. My attachment to Lucknow urges me to ask three questions.

1- Do these large park projects really mean the creation of city commons? Or are they exclusive gated spaces more accessible to the elite and subtly less accessible to the poor?

2- Whose land was this and the older park developed on? Were there slum evictions involved? Akhilesh Yadav has made a press statement that implies that the park was conceived to “save the land from land mafia”? What does that even mean?

3- How does a city that desperately needs affordable housing justify a project that not only consumes a large tract of valuable land but also is sure to push property values and housing costs further up?

To offer a background, Lucknow has the dubious reputation of being a city that is in denial of the existence of slums! The municipal corporation doesn’t report any slums in the Census 2011! Yet, the State urban Development Authority estimated in 2000 that 11% of the city lived in slums. In the absence of any substantial addition in the housing stock of EWS/LIG homes in the city and with continued increase in urban population (decadal growth rate has been around 40% for the past decade), one can only imagine that those living in substandard housing with insecure tenure would have increased, not come down to zero.

A press analysis of the park

A press analysis of the park. Sourced from 20twentytwo.blogspot.in

My take

While I very much appreciate the creation of  green infrastructure and open space in the city, I see the park as another proof that city governments in India are obsessed with beautification projects and have very little vision or interest in what the city actually needs. I would have much appreciated the integration of such a project with meaningful amenities for the city. Golf courses (the city already has a functional golf club) and horse riding are clearly exclusive. Why not a govt-run public sports complex instead, open air gyms and an urban forest, not manicured lawns? I would be curious to see what the park’s designers (I believe they are from IIT Kanpur for hydrology and SPA, New Delhi for design and layout) have to say about its impacts on the city’s air pollution or groundwater levels. Despite its multiple ‘green’ features, I would like to ask whether their plan relates to the city’s needs for environmental sustainability. Also, was there any public consultation on what kind of public space the residents want or need?

Plea to Akhilesh

To the CM, I would like to offer a piece of advise. Move the propaganda around these mega park projects moves beyond beautification and to the real stuff. I know you will not answer my provocative questions about urban poverty and elitism, but do ask your PR department to talk about the real benefits of this park if indeed there are any. We, the public, would be very happy to know how this beautiful park will contribute to a more sustainable, economically strong and socially inclusive Lucknow.

Feeding the sparrows! Aadyaa’s best moments in #Berlin

Tired after spending the morning inside the Bundestag dome in Berlin (post here!), we picnicked in the lawn outside. We had had a rainy morning and the bright sunshine that followed offered us the sort of bright light that brings the colours alive and makes everything around look like its straight out of the pages of a computer-rendered drawing!

Picture perfect!

Picture perfect! The buildings surrounding the Bundestag greens

In this setting, Aadyaa discovered the pleasure of feeding the birds when she accidentally dropped a morsel of bread on the grass beside her! The eager and clever sparrows, well versed with tourists, began to seat themselves in the bushes and trees nearby, waiting for one of us to throw out  piece of bread or a broken off potato wafer. Slowly they began to wait in the grass beside us, only a few paces away and it would seem that if we had spent the rest of the day there, they could have eaten out of our hands as well!

In the branches nearby, watching us closely though pretending not to...

In the branches nearby, watching us closely though pretending not to…

And then right next to us on the grass, no longer pretending but staring at our food!

And then right next to us on the grass, no longer pretending but staring at our food!

They know that little girls will feed....

They know that little girls will feed….

...and in return, they will make her smile!

…and in return, they will make her smile!

Needless to say, our little girl was thrilled! My intense pleasure of experiencing the Bundestag dome paled a bit in comparison with her genuine happiness while feeding the sparrows. Rahul and me were spellbound by the extreme simplicity of a child’s mind. Sitting there, deliberately not rushing the kids towards another touristic destination, we were able to see, for a bit, life the way our kids see it. Uncluttered and in the moment!

This post is part of a series on our family’s experiences in Berlin and The Netherlands in the Summer of 2014. Some of the more popular travel posts from this series are:

Udai’s Tenth: The best birthday ever!

Dinner at a windmill: How Dutch can we get?

Remembering Haarlem #1: Of music and dancing

Not a brick in this Wall: Profoundly affected by the Berlin’s history

Visiting the Dinosaurs! What kids loved in #Berlin 2/3

Memory tools: A bombed out church turns into urban scale artwork

I’ve seen this sort of stuff before in Germany. Many years ago in Cologne, I remember walking on a street with a giant circle inscribed in it, to remember the Roman structure that once stood there. It was 1999. I had recently graduated from architecture college and the simple memory tool simply blew my mind!

This summer in Berlin, I noticed that the heavy scent of memory and nostalgia, tinged with sweetness and pain, still hangs around every street corner. And so I was particularly struck by this little open space near Checkpoint Charlie.

It’s called Bethlehemkirchplatz. Here, where a Church once stood, stands a metal frame that recreates the outline of the original building in a giant three-dimensional sculpture designed by Spanish artist  Juan Garaizabal (it is a tube structure that plays with light apparently, but we saw it only in the daytime). You walk inside it and you see the plan of the erstwhile church inscribed into the paving in a distinct colour. It urges you to try and conjure up its walls and roof, its interiors, furniture, people. And you cannot, because it is in fact an empty space, filled with memory and emotion.

A 16th C church built for Szech Protestant refugees who came to Berlin at the time of Frederick William the 1st. Built around 1737, the church was bombed during the WWII in 1943 and in 1963 the ruins were brought down. The current artwork was inaugurated as recently as 2012.

We first caught a tantalizing glimpse of the sculpture on our way back from Checkpoint Charlie on Day 1 of our exploration of Berlin (more on that later). But it stayed in my mind and we went back to it another time to feel wha its like to stand inside that shell. Interestingly, the plaza is also known for the building in the background that was designed by well-known architect Philip Johnson and in this way, the place holds more than just memory but is linked to Berlin’s recent history and architectural prowess.

The artwork peeks out at us on a rainy day

The artwork peeks out at us on a rainy day

It fills the space, yet you see forms beyond it

It fills the space, yet you see forms beyond it

We return another day, under a blue sky

We return another day, under a blue sky

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The sculpture next to the church’s frame represents the everyday things the refugees left with. I didn’t take to it much!

 

The explorers are at it!

The explorers are at it!

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This is my favourite view of the plaza. And heya Johnson House now clearly visible in the background!

This is my favourite view of the plaza. And heya Johnson House now clearly visible in the background!

 

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

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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

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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

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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

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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!

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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!

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Better design of city roads can and must deliver safety

My twitter feed and today’s newspapers are full of lament over the tragic death of Rural Development Minister Gopinath Munde, who is considered a rising star in the newly elected BJP government. Munde died of internal injuries sustained in a road accident caused by speeding and rash driving (it’s controversial who was the culprit, his own driver or the one who hit him).

The tone of the lament heavily leans towards the political implications of losing an important political persona. A few articles here and there talk about the issue that stares us in he face- If a Minister on the central government dies in a road accident in the central part of the capital, what hope is there for the millions who use this country’s roads everyday. Should we not use this incident to highlight and drive home the need to do something about killer roads?

India’s road safety record is perhaps the most dismal in the world- 140,000 ppl died in 2012 alone as per official records, one death in every 4 minutes! Often we consider only fatal motor accidents. Many pedestrians and cyclists die every day and many more are severely injured. The fact that the majority of those injured and killed are the urban poor, whom no one mourns except their families, is one of the reasons these issues never make it to the government’s priority list!

Mulling over the the press coverage and adding knowledge gleaned from friends and colleagues (Special thanks to Bharat Singh, Romi Roy, Nipesh P Narayanan, Monolita Chatterjee, Amit Bhatt and Sarika Panda Bhatt), I’d like to make a few points about the issue of road safety in India.

On policy: A revised Motor Vehicle Amendment Bill has been pending in Parliament for a decade, which will bring in stricter consequences for traffic violations like speeding and drunken driving. However, experts say that the provisions in this law are outdated already. The Hindu today carries a piece on how UN goals need to be actualized, in which Save LIFE Foundation founder Piyush Tewari says: “The sole statute governing road safety in India, the Motor Vehicles Act-1988 (MVA), has proved ineffective in addressing any of these issues decisively. Even the last tabled Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Bill, 2012, which was passed by the Rajya Sabha in 2012, was archaic and contained recommendations which will not solve the current situation on Indian roads.” 

On road design: Of the three factors- human behavior, driving behavior and infrastructure- the third is the most easily fixable while the other two take time and a combination of awareness building as well as stringent policy formulation and implementation. The best way to fix transportation infrastructure is through improved road design. There is considerable evidence to show that flyovers and pedestrian foot overbridges are NOT the way forward for city roads. Rather, controlling speeds and offering cyclists and pedestrians at-grade crossings is the humane and intelligent way to design roads in the city. This means accepting that the automobile is one of many modes in the scheme of things and not all-important and this is a huge mindset change that needs to come in if we want safer cities to live in.

Let me use an example closest to home to explain what I mean. As mentioned in coverage in Hindustan Times today, one fatal accident happens every month on the road that I live in- Sohna road in Gurgaon. The road is designed as a highway instead of a city road, complete with crash barriers on the median, slip roads and minimum crossover points. The automobile is encouraged, by design, to speed up to 60-80 kms per hour and experts tell me the road is probably designed for over 100 km per hour speeds!

Stand on the road at any time and you will see pedestrians run across the road, climb over or under these ugly metallic barriers and then dart across the remaining stretch on the other side. There are no traffic signals for pedestrians to cross at all on the entire 4 km stretch despite heavy residential and commercial activity on the road. This is a complete design failure and therefore the roads deaths are also designed to happen. The authorities mus take cognizance that they are responsible for people dying and losing livelihoods owing to injuries every single day!

The HT Gurgaon edition carried a piece today on our citizen activism to make Sohna Road safer. Let's start with our own neighborhoods.

The HT Gurgaon edition carried a piece today on our citizen activism to make Sohna Road safer. Let’s start with our own neighborhoods.

Friends and acquaintances within the design community have started various initiatives to convince the government to involve both designers and citizens during the conceptualization of infrastructure projects. A failure to do this will only create more inhuman cities to the detriment of everyone.

On changing ourselves: I harp on this all the time, but I see merit in self-reflection on these issues as citizens. We all care for our own lives and the safety of our families, but do not do anything about it. Starting with changing our own behavior behind the wheel. So sensitizing ourselves to better road behavior and above all, including pedestrians and cyclists in our scheme of things, is important. We plan to take this up on Sohna Road through RWAs soon.

In another way, it is our reluctance to engage with local politics that allows government officials to get away with ad hoc decisions, poor planning and design resulting in unsafe neighborhoods. It is our duty to be aware of what is happening in our neighborhood and the more who involve themselves to raise a voice for improved governance, the better our lives will get!

Join us in our fight for better roads in Gurgaon by spreading the message that Better design is the most effective solution to safer roads and decreased casualties. By better design we mean roads designed to control speeds, proper at-grade crossover points for pedestrians and cyclists, footpaths and cycle paths to be included, properly designed speed brakers (not the poorly constructed car breakers we get), etc. There are guidelines available for urban roads with Ministry of Urban Development and UTTIPEC and we need to pressurize MCG and HUDA (and other local authorities wherever you are) to follow these and not bring in ad hoc designs that kill more people and make driving and walking a nightmare in our city.

Soaring like kites on a windless spring morning!

One weekday morning in mid-March, when the kids were enjoying Spring Break, Rachna came up with the brilliant idea of flying kites! None of us are experts at this clearly skilled job, but then Rachna owned some fancy Chinese kites sourced all the way from San Francisco. We were all delighted and we showed up in full strength at Gurgaon’s Tau Devi Lal Park- Mum (nani), Udai, Aadyaa, me, Rachna and Nupur, who was to get to work after this morning adventure.

IMG_5719IMG_5750As it happened, it was one of those lovely spring morning with a delightful nip in the air, BUT no breeze. Zilch! Not a leaf moved and we spent a few moments of despair, breathing in the scent of the roses, delighted with being out at dawn, but wondering how the hell we would fly these kites!

Not ones to give up, we found another way to do this. And get in some serious exercise at the same time! We taught ourselves to float the kite up in the air and then RUN. Run, run, run as fast as we can so the kite lifts into the air just as the wind rushes into our lungs! Oxygen rush coupled with the excitement of getting the lovely kites into the air- what a heady start to the day!

IMG_5723IMG_5733IMG_5731IMG_5737IMG_5748IMG_5769IMG_5774IMG_5778IMG_5779IMG_5784IMG_5785IMG_5787IMG_5788IMG_5802IMG_5804IMG_5856Of course, we were so tired in a bit that we call sort of crashed into one of the covered gazebo the park designers have obligingly built. Here we proceeded to eat a picnic breakfast, receiving indulgent and slightly mocking smiles from a few young men from nearby Wazirabad who were into a serious workout session in the same space! After a bit, we noticed a little boy, about the same age as Udai, curiously looking at our kites.

Finding an opportunity to sidle out of more running, we tired adults made the necessary introductions. Aman (he’s a village kid, same grade as Udai, studies in Scottish High where he claims the English is too tough!) , Udai and Aadyaa spent some more time running around with the kites till they too were tired out and the kites were too heavy from being dragged through the dewy grass! We promised to do this again, on a windy day.

IMG_5821IMG_5824We can’t thank Rachna (the kids call her Bausi!) enough for that wonderful morning! Looking forward to more bright ideas from the brilliant Bausi soon…

 

 

A well-designed public space in Bangalore!

ramblinginthecity:

Well designed public spaces can significantly change our cities. This is a great post by an ex-colleague Shreya that analyzes a public space in Bangalore, pointing out positive elements of design.

Originally posted on Brave New Cities:

About a year ago, I happened to buy a book called “The Design of Everyday Things” by Donald Norman for $1 at a garage sale in Brooklyn, and it serendipitously turned out to be one of the books that have most influenced how I view design until this point, not even excepting anything written about or by Steve Jobs. The basic premise of the book is that a well-designed object is one where the designer genuinely considers how humans interact with physical objects, and through this consideration, designs the object to do a few essential things:  first, the object immediately communicates to the user the conceptual model of how it works through the design. So a door ought to communicate whether it should be opened by pushing, pulling or sliding. In other words, the conceptual model of how the door works should be evident in the design. Second, an object…

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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.

A sporty weekend [2]: Kids do Raahgiri on cycles

After a taste of the Raahgiri experience last Sunday [read about that here], the kids weren’t giving anybody any choice. In fact, the word had spread as it is wont to among the young ones and we had a larger group now. Udai was enthused about the idea of cycling around the Raahgiri route this time and I was requested to figure out the logistics. However, on Sunday morning, we were looking at a very flat front wheel and I was scurrying around in my head for a way to handle this. Our neighbor and friend Deepak came to my rescue, offering an adult’s bicycle from his home, but over and above that ensuring Udai test rode it at home before we loaded it on.

Despite Rahul not being around (and we all miss him sorely), the dads in the group Ananth and Deepak worked overtime as did the mums (Shruti, Preeti, me), dadis (Amma) and masis (Gauri) to ensure the kids had a lot of fun. Quite a bunch they were- Udai (9), Aadyaa (5), Avandeeta (6), Candy (3), Deepika (8) and Priyanka (not yet 1!!). All except the last one cycled the route, the rest of us running alongside in turns. Exhausting, but immensely satisfying, this past Sunday at Raahgiri, Gurgaon.

For those of you not in the know, Raahgiri is the name for a car free route designated for citizens to enjoy the streets in Gurgaon, otherwise known for its traffic congestion, pseudo glitzy mall culture, poor infrastructure and corporate prowess. It’s an effort spearheaded by dedicated citizens and supported by government, a win-win partnership that has inspired many of us to hope for a better world._DSC3863_DSC3873_DSC3876_DSC3883_DSC3886_DSC3888_DSC3892_DSC3896_DSC3907

Thoughts and snapshots from Raahgiri Day, Gurgaon

I was all set to write a raving, positive account of Raahgiri Day, Gurgaon’s initiative along the lines of Bogota’s Cyclovia in which a section of the city’s roads are cordoned off and reclaimed by walkers, joggers, runner, cyclists, skaters, skippers, exercisers, dancers and much much more. However, my enthusiasm was dampened by the account in this morning’s newspaper about the death of a 28-year old executive in Gurgaon who was mowed down by a taxi while cycling to work. Ironic that I should have read that item just as I was gleefully downloading these wonderful pictures (do scroll down to see!) of people running, cycling, skipping, exercising in complete abandon free from the fear of vehicles. But it’s also important to remind us that this is precisely why we are having Raahgiri day in our city. Because we don’t want more pedestrians and cyclists dying or being injured by cars. Because the right to walk or cycle is as much of a right as any other. Because we deserve to be free from the fear of vehicles, we deserve space to be able to walk, cycle, run and just be!

Watching the children run full speed on the roads today, watching the roads teem with young people from the city’s poorer settlements, I was struck by how valued space is for all of us and how we have adjusted to living a life without adequate public space. In fact, many of us don’t really experience public space as we spend our lives stepping out of our cars into our homes and offices, only spending a few hours in segregated, manicured open areas. Public spaces where people from different classes intermingle are important for us to root ourselves in the reality of the world around us. On a day when the Aam Aadmi Party has created history by being the first debutante political party to garner so many seats in Delhi’s elections (28 out of 70), it was fitting to remember that the children from the lower income groups I saw enjoying their time at Raahgiri are the aam admi, the future of our country who we need to pay attention to. They have so much promise and yet they face the toughest challenges. Raahgiri opened my eyes to a lot more than the need to use my car less and care for the environment, it reminded me that the reality is that only an inclusive city can be the true harbinger of prosperity and growth.

Races for kids on at full swing!

Races for kids on at full swing!

Sniffling and riding, enjoying the crisp winter air

Sniffling and riding, enjoying the crisp winter air

Mum, thrilled to see the energy around

Mum, thrilled to see the energy around

 

Nupur's expression says it all!

Nupur’s expression says it all!

 

Dadi with the kiddos, waiting up ahead for us after sprinting some 50m full speed :)

Dadi with the kiddos, waiting up ahead for us after sprinting some 50m full speed :)

Youth brigade, playing cool but actually interested!

Youth brigade, playing cool but actually interested!

 

Check him out, my camera made his conscious!

Check him out, my camera made his conscious!

Did I say it already? Raahgiri was a treat for those who like clicking portraits!

Did I say it already? Raahgiri was a treat for those who like clicking portraits!

Stall owners enjoyed the spectacle

Stall owners enjoyed the spectacle

 

They were making their way to the races. Spot the girl looking straight into the camera lens in a later shot!

They were making their way to the races. Spot the girl looking straight into the camera lens in a later shot!

Yoga class starting up in the foreground, while passers by watch in the background. Watching other people is a great Indian pastime! And a wonderful one too...

Yoga class starting up in the foreground, while passers by watch in the background. Watching other people is a great Indian pastime! And a wonderful one too…

I meet her often on my walks around my colony. Was so good to see familiar faces at Raahgiri and what a 100-watt smile!

I meet her often on my walks around my colony. Was so good to see familiar faces at Raahgiri and what a 1000-watt smile!

Cool cyclists, cycles, gear....wow!

Cool cyclists, cycles, gear….wow!

 

 

And the pooch had his day too!

And the pooch had his day too!

Watching each other...fun, fun! This is what I meant about the intermingling of people across class barriers. Watching, understanding, empathising, building a more diverse, vibrant society...Raahgiri is an opportunity people!

Watching each other…fun, fun! This is what I meant about the intermingling of people across class barriers. Watching, understanding, empathising, building a more diverse, vibrant society…Raahgiri is an opportunity people!

Loved the enthusiasm of the girls for the races. look at them cheering their friends at the finishing line...safety for girls is another important benefit of well used , well designed, walkable public spaces

Loved the enthusiasm of the girls for the races. look at them cheering their friends at the finishing line…safety for girls is another important benefit of well used , well designed, walkable public spaces

Can you see her?

Can you see her?

Do do mobile!

Do do mobile!

Most colourful bystanders!

Most colourful bystanders!

 

All agog, but not yet ready to join in...

All agog, but not yet ready to join in…

The youngest member of our squad, now tired and on her mum's shoulders!

The youngest member of our squad, now tired and on her mum’s shoulders!

 

And Raahgiri Day goes on...Join us in Gurgaon on any Sunday till March 2014!

And Raahgiri Day goes on…Join us in Gurgaon on any Sunday till March 2014!