Saturday, June 18, 2011

Spatial Thought

Without fail the uniformly best promenades in any city or town of India are those that pass through the railway colonies and lead to the railway stations: vestiges of the colonization. Do not take into account here the ‘back entrances.’ They are a product of our collective unimaginative Indian psyche that cannot digest its meal without having a look at bare bottoms, spitted upon walls and additionally take in the generally beyond revolting stench.

The British were truly the lords of the world. They came out of a minuscule country... tinier than minuscule!!The land was not theirs - it was ours; the labour was not theirs - it was ours; the resources were again not theirs - they were ours. And so naturally, the paradise they made out of it, is not theirs [it was once, but is no longer now;] it is ours!!!!

And perhaps that is all there is today to the magnificence of the Indian city. I am not saying India had no magnificent cities before them. But where are they today? Lost in the annals of history; the ravines of war; and bombardments of destruction. And what of the cities that came up after the British left?

They left us over sixty years ago. We grew in terms of number of people occupying this land by nearly three times. We needed that much more space. We had tasted what the western notion of the city was. Fell in love with it. But never could get it right.  Our cities became wider, but congested and unimpressive to the aesthetically oriented.

Why could we just not emulate the formula for city building that the British left behind? I don’t buy the argument that there is no space. We have ample land and in great diversity too. The modern man’s notion of security does not lie in living in close physical proximity of the clan. So why are we still sticking our arms and hips to the next person?

The answer to this is that we lack spatial sense. Yes, there is ample space but no spatial sense – of both the physical space as well as space in time. May be our genetic makeup is such that we are incapable of spatial thought.  

No wonder we cannot go a further 100 feet to start the next house, but rather stick it to our neighbors’ [the same theory of why we Indians are incapable of maintaining distance between people while in a queue.]; no wonder we cannot think to provide for a hundred years from now, but rather think of the 'Me' and the 'Immediate.'

We have repeatedly shown that long term planning in the Indian context is a highly evasive phenomenon. The British laid roads are till date the widest and the ‘coolest’ [both meanings fit in] roads with provision for the pedestrian. We display our upturned nose attitude with our road building. The pedestrians are scorned at and meant to be trampled upon by passing vehicles. No place for the man with no wheels.

Don’t we all remember our history lesson glorifying the Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro civilizations: “roads intersecting each other at right angles; underground drainage system; etc?” And that of the shade giving trees that were planted on all highways during Asoka’s regime? A thousand years from now and still those will be the most glorifying moments in the history of Indian indigenous road building. 

All we certainly seem to be doing is wasting time in reading up on these lessons of history, but not productively using it by building up from those very lessons.

The British left us a concrete blue print in every city and town, and in every possible geographic location too. While expanding our towns and cities we had simply to copy paste the plan, and we would have had beautiful places to live, walk and breathe in. Even in places that we have tried to emulate the master plan, size and space have been compromised – resulting in only a short term marvel but no long term utility.

The modern Indian, I mean the young Indian is an optimist with tremendous and contagious zeal to outdo the neighbor, the competitor in the mohallah, and the next person in town. If he/she could stretch it a bit further and act on outdoing ‘Our’ current state of living, we would certainly be better off. 

 We have amazing brains; we just need to sandpaper that portion that caters to spatial thinking.