Author Archives: ramblinginthecity

FIELD URBANISM [a book review + recommendation]


Really interesting. We need newer ways to think about cities and this seems to be a good way to begin…

Originally posted on {FAVEL issues}:

All (urban) fields are (urban) fabrics but not all (urban) fabrics are (urban) fields.

For this post I want to talk about a fascinating book that just came out, Changing Chinese Cities: The Potentials of Field Urbanism. The author, Renee Chow, is not only a Prof. of Architecture at UC Berkeley and Principle at StudioUrbis, but she was my supervisor while I did my graduate studies at Berkeley, and continues to be a mentor and friend. Aside from having a personal relationship with the author and the research done, I have to say, in the most objective way I can, that this book is full of thoughtful analysis, reflecting a new understanding of the potentials of urban fabrics, and more particularly of field urbanisms.

field urbanisms

The book offers case studies, essays, and design explorations (illustrations and diagrams) of Chinese cities to demonstrate how field urbanism can identify the…

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An era ends, where do we begin now? A note to Ajjee, who is no more.

She nearly made it to the century mark. It was approaching next year and the family was so excited to celebrate with her. She tolerated our childishness with her characteristic stoicism, but equally typical was her ultimate response to get drawn into it. To plan with us and revel in the expectations of good times to come. Her birdlike alert eyes, her naughty smile, her penchant for wit and gossip and her eternal rock-like support will be missed forever more.


My ajjee. Our ajjee

Ajjee or Ayee to not just us in the family, but to many many more.

She left us this morning and it still does not sink in. It is, for me, the passing of an era, of a generation whose values and discipline, whose rigour and steadfastness, whose strength and vast experience we shall never match. I will always regret my inability to document more closely her life, her experiences and her world view. But I must not complain. Or indulge in regret, which I’ve always held to be a rather wasteful emotion.

Ajjee gave to us with no holds barred. She there whenever we needed her. To cook for us, sit awake through the nights when we needed to study or when a fever racked our body. But not just that. She also sat and talked to us, cracked jokes, heard our inane stories about friends, our fantasies. She ignored my usual prank of hiding the story book between the pages of a school text and pretending to study. She never told on us grandchildren to our parents. And it takes a lot to do that!

Today, when I am a parent and when I observe my kids interacting with their grandparents, I understand a lot more about how she added value.

Ajjee, no one can ever take your place, but you have left behind a legacy of care and compassion, of confidence and self-respect, or hard work and perseverance, that we carry with us everyday and hopefully will pass on to the next generation as well.

Rest in peace…..

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The City in Imagination: Vitasta Raina’s ‘Chalet’

Architect Vitasta Raina clearly spent a lot of time observing and worrying about life around her, the life of cities, the life that millions had chosen. Here’s an extract from her published fictional novel Writer’s Block that is woven around the imaginary city of Chalet that, with its class wars and segregated living, disconcertingly resembles the cities we live in today.

Vitasta’s writing reminds me that the city is often a metaphor for the society we live in. It’s a mirror, a visual representation of the chaos that we create and experience. All the imagination of urbanists and policymakers is channelised into imposing order on this temerous chaotic creature, The City. Yet it demands so much more than rules and regulations. Love? Belonging? Tolerance?

Ok, time to shut up and let you read….. And do send in that entry to #TheCityasMuse contest to by 15th September 2015

Extract: From ‘Writer’s Block’

     My name is Roma but in the Chalet City Census 2017 I am listed as C-PUE7/RI/WB6. I am a poet though they often say that I am a cynic. Well, if you spend your childhood questioning the universe and all things therein, by the time you are twenty-eight you are quite enlightened and then you cannot understand why people are pretend puppets. Then as you grow older still you see they only pretend to be puppets because they can exercise free will at any given time. I am only pretending to be a puppet because the multiple choices of Chalet’s free will scare me.

     Chalet—the city of numbers. Massive and expansive, her sheer statistics can drive you to acute paranoia.

     There are a billion beauty shops in the streets of Chalet and a billion billboards display beautiful people playing blind man’s bluff in a world perpetually riding on Prozac. Smiling, hedonistic and narcissistic, I see Chalet.

     There are a billion blue tin roofs below badly built flyovers that connect Chalet to her sorry peri-urban sprawl, and a billion headlights tail each other like electric snakes on her highways. Always moving, north to south, south to north, disturbed, dislocated, with a violent entrance and a volatile exodus, I see Chalet.

     I see her billion lights shine from makeshift footpath novelty stores and desperately silent watching windows of her penthouses night after night. Lonely, isolated and abandoned, I see Chalet.

     Every second or every hour, I see Chalet as her billion sexless lovers lick the pus of her festering body, feeding on her lemonade-soaked sweat running down the gutters of her gothic churches and the sewers of her stale slums. Every day, as I make mad love to her cold corpse covered in the filth of her billions, I see Chalet.

     Chalet’s urban culture is embracing and engulfing; it can consume you whole and then sometimes for no perceptible reason it can cast you aside. We are misguided into believing that the space we occupy on Chalet is defined by us. The truth is that we are distinguished by our place on Chalet. The only options Chalet gives are murder or migration, suicide or suburbia.

     Chalet is governed by the Group Housing Builders’ Consortium and by RUMP, the Reformed Urban Manual for Planning. Chalet’s billions are efficiently classified according to their “ability to pay” and “willingness to conform” into three categories: Elegant, Indigent and Parasite. Needless to explain the pecking order, lesser the need to outline the characteristics of the categories.

     The RUMP, by application of various anthropometric calculations and architectural standards, has made it possible to establish the degree of differentiation of basic amenities that each category should be provided. Chalet’s Elegants live in high-rise gated estates, while the Indigents are shifted into typecast social housing projects. The Parasites live everywhere in between, along every traffic corridor, in the gutters and the garbage dumps, below the flyovers and on the railway platforms.

     I am part of a special category the RUMP has classified as “Refined Indigent.” We are the outcasts of Chalet, misfits because we are educated but not moneyed, scholars but strugglers, not rich enough to be put among the Elegants, and far too genteel to belong with the Indigents. We remain on the fringes of Chalet’s sociology. We have knowledge but we have no voice. We have observations but we must remain without opinions.

     For the little things that form the parts and parcels of a huge whole, we are specs floating through the linear networks of this stratified city. I think of myself as a gutter rose. I exist superficially untainted on the surface of the filth but my roots are embedded deep in the many layers of human refuge, trembling when cars zoom past at high speeds, shying away from the men who govern this concentration camp.

     I breathe the poison fumes of the traffic and my petals, dust-covered, no longer have any trace of their original color. I think I used to be pink or orange once, but my leaves were definitely green. In Chalet’s concrete jungle, I have spent the better part of my life undoing my original self. And I am not alone. I am not the only one watching her nightmare world unfold day by day gloriously and brazenly corrupt and calculated; nor am I a solitary witness of the games her billions play on her regional sprawl, and I will also not be the sole observer of the game that one day Chalet will play with her billions.

You can check the book out on Amazon

One more week to send in your entry #TheCityasMuse

We’ve got in some interesting entries for #TheCityasMuse contest.

I’m excited that all sort of fun people are writing in…from teenage schoolchildren to professionals, from travel enthusiasts to foodies, from bloggers to those making their first attempts at writing. The entries are pouring out straight from their hearts and that’s exactly what the ethos of #TheCityasMuse is!

What? You haven’t sent in your entry yet? What’re you waiting for?

Just take half an hour out from your super busy schedule. Transport yourself to that place you love, admire, yearn for, detest, want desperately to improve….. And then write or draw your feelings and experiences! Mail it in to

It’s really very simple!

Look forward to seeing your entry in my mailbox soon :)

Karachi: The City That Was – 1


More inspiration for those who are still struggling to pen their thoughts for #TheCityasMuse contest! Nostalgia and Karachi….

Originally posted on TheSouthAsianIdea Weblog:

By Ahmed Kamran

Yeh laash-e be-kafan Asad-e khasta jaan ki hai
Haq maghfarat kare ajab azad mard tha! (Ghalib)

If Karachi could be likened to a man, with a little liberty taken from Ghalib, this couplet could be a very appropriate epitaph for the tombstone of Karachi, the city that was! This is a series of some musings on the social and cultural aspects of the history of Karachi; how the city’s life was developed and transformed over time. It focuses on the period of 1960s and 1970s when I was young and had many dreams. What was the Karachi that my generation had inherited and what it is today? These writings have a clear ring of nostalgia. Paul Getty said, ‘Nostalgia often leads to idle speculation’. Indeed, nostalgia is distractive, breeds inaction, and, often, depression. But like some sweet-bitter memory of childhood or a sad song or a symphony…

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Two Tenements, Down


Photographs, paintings and pieces of writing are often the only evidence we have left, our tools to preserve memories of what a particular part of the city was in a rapidly changing cityscape. Who would be able to recall the dark and dinghy East Side of NYC if not for those who have worked hard to preserve those memories? And would we value where the city has come today if we did not that it rose on the back of somebody’s hard work so many years ago?

Originally posted on Gordon's Urban Morphology:

Two Tenements Down_2

(Two Tenements, Down. New York, September 2015. Image by Greg Gordon)

Urban Memory:

Two Tenements, Down. A companion piece to our prior post, Two Tenements Standing, chronicles the demise of two stalwart buildings which stood guard over Grand Street for over a Century. Somehow, in the mess of the 50’s Urban Renewal destruction, they escaped the mass demolition of tenement complexes in the surrounding blocks and served as steady reminders of a New York, since passed.

Two Tenements Down will now be New York ghosts. For the inhabitants of this City, their absence will remain as a memory marker to a generation. And chronicled by the painter Hedy Pagremanski, Two Tenements Down are memory pieces edified through artistry, serving as a snapshot of urbanity in rapid change.


(Hedy Pagremanski painting Two Tenements, Standing. Image by Josh Haner from The New York Times)

Two Tenements…

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Anger: an emotion much devalued


Are you angry? Good! An excellent essay on why anger as a fuel for change is something we need to think about and learn to harness…

Originally posted on Ramblings of a Sanky Maniac:


I woke up this morning to this message posted by a lovely well meaning lady and to thoughts of how this amazing emotion – a fuel of our civilisation carries the burden of so much negativism and is so utterly devalued.

At one point of time, when my ‘change the world’ rhetoric was still very much confined to the armchair, I remember having a chat with an anarchist activist friend of mine, yes one of those hardcore ones, as to why solutions are being sought in anger. He was at that time participating in a sit down movement with squatter settlement owners in Jo’berg protesting their eviction from their homes. His immediate comment was laughter… At me and my misguided ideology of comfort. He was not kind in his words, he never is, and told me to understand that such armchair rhetoric comes from levels off comfort not accessible to…

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Carlos Ruis Zafon on Barcelona, Spain #TheCityasMuse

The dark brooding city that forms the backdrop of Zafon’s Shadow of the Wind and its prequel The Angel’s Game bears little resemblance to the sunny bright city I experienced in the summer of 2011. Stop. Let me think again….. a sliver of a memory jumps out at me…

On one dark night, Rahul and me explored the lanes around La Ramblas in the Catalan city of Barcelona and then meandered back to our rented apartment through the Gothic Quarter. I remember vividly picturing the loneliness and pain of Julian Carax and the insatiable curiosity of Daniel Sempere. Mean looking gargoyles stared down at us and strange shapes in light and shade flitted about, sending shivers down my spine. Then the sounds of tourist revelry brought me back to the present….

Zafon’s book brings to life post-war post-Gothic Barcelona in a special way. The city does not take over from a story that focuses on its intense characters; there are no long architectural descriptions, no paeans to the glorious past. Yet the city is a person, present at every turn. A backdrop, a refuge, a cruel taskmaster, a friend offering solace. Zafon constructs a Gothic Barcelona, dark, elusive, misty and mysterious and he weaves it into the experiences of his characters. This is a city that tourists rarely see but are now being shown, in the form of walking tours, since his book’s fame spread!


“I had grown up convinced that the slow procession of the postwar years, a world of stillness, poverty, and hidden resentment, was as natural as tap water, that the mute sadness that seeped from the walls of the wounded city was the real face of its soul. One of the pitfalls of childhood is that one doesn’t have to understand something to feel it. By the time the mind is able to comprehend what has happened, the wounds of the heart are already too deep. That evening in early summer, as I walked back through the sombre, treacherous twilight of Barcelona, I could not blot out Clara’s story about her father’s disappearance. In my world death was like a nameless and incomprehensible hand, a door-to-door salesman who took away mothers, beggars, or ninety-year-old neighbours, like a hellish lottery. But I couldn’t absorb the idea that death could actually walk by my side, with a human face and a heart that was poisoned with hatred, that death could be dressed in a uniform or a raincoat, queue up at a cinema, laugh in bars, or take his children out for a walk to Ciudadela Park in the morning, and then, in the afternoon, make someone disappear in the dungeons of Montjuic Castle or in a common grave with no name or ceremony. Going over all this in my mind, it occurred to me that perhaps the papier-mache world that I accepted as real was only a stage setting. Much like the
arrival of Spanish trains, in those stolen years you never knew when the end of childhood was due.
We shared the soup, a broth made from leftovers with bits of bread in it, surrounded by the sticky droning of radio
soaps that filtered out through open windows into the church square.”

Of course, the author’s love and sensitivity to the city he grew up in is obvious and he has been outspoken about this. In an interview to The Independent in 2012, Zafon said: “The haunting of history is ever present in Barcelona. I see cities as organisms, as living creatures. To me Madrid is a man and Barcelona is a woman. And it’s a woman who’s extremely vain. One of the great Catalan poets, Joan Maragall, wrote this famous poem in which he called Barcelona the great enchantress, or some kind of sorceress, and in which the city has this dark enticing presence that seduces and lures people. I think Barcelona has a lot of that.”

How to deal with problems by burying your head in the sand


Sharp, insightful and making a strong case for a legal approach to prostitution, as opposed to one that is based on moralistic judgement. Coming from a lady who walks the talk by actively working with trafficked and abused women and children. Kudos, Monolita!

Originally posted on Ramblings of a Sanky Maniac:

I woke up this morning to what i initially thought was a very interesting piece in the Hindu Op Ed section:

The dark side of pleasure:

But as I read through it, I sadly realises it is another typical missing the wood for the forest kind of knee jerk reaction article, which chooses to ignore the real problems in bleeding heart arm chair activism. I feel especially sad when I see it coming from well meaning and obviously highly emancipated women. Sitting a couple of pages after the news of how an enquiry is being conducted in the raids conducted in Mumbai hotels where couples were booked under the public indecency act, in itself an idiotic Victorian rule, such an article coming from an emminent scholar need to be looked at through many perspectives.

Firstly lets look at the concept of pornography. Pornography is nothing but an extension of…

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Women, marriage and (in)security: Multiple scenarios, similar fears

Sharing two pieces that highlight the stressful relationship that women seem to have with the institution of marriage. This Quartz piece from China that tells the story of married women who condone and finance criminal acts to eliminate their husbands’ mistresses puts the spotlight on an uncomfortable fact: that marriage is about social sanction and financial security. What about love, companionship, trust?

The other piece from The Guardian highlights this same stressful relationship that women have with marriage, but in the light of Muslim women in India who live in perpetual fear of “talaq, talaq, talaq” from husbands whose motivations to remain married to them are often purely exploitative in nature.

That women should be so dependent on marriage for their security in an age where more women are financially independent (not nearly enough though!) is a travesty. That women should constantly live in fear of the consequences of a failed marriage is also a sad reality, and it’s not just poor women we’re talking about here.

I’m sure men too are stressed about marriage and the responsibilities that come with it and that could be fodder for another conversation, but surely the idea is to move towards a social structure in which marriage is a matter of choice for both men and women and not a social tick mark burdened with so much expectation and anxiety?


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