Sunday, March 21, 2010

A Certain Sameness


It is hard not to notice that most of this country does not live by the aesthetic we wish for them. Neither do they ascribe to visual culture that we believe they should align to. Most of India lives a life that straddles the rashness of America inspired consumerism and eastern desist-ance in heady cocktail of popular culture where the old and the new though antoginising each other share a dodgy yet almost accepted coexistence . Somewhere in our eagerness to be counted among the forward thinking we have adopted the thinking of those we believe to be forward. We have begged, borrowed and stolen with a callous disregard of the over travelled (and over zealous-ness) of the globe trotting Jones-chaser. Often at the cost we seem unable to see or measure. Those of our own lives and the way we have lived them for centuries in our cultures of sufficiency and custodian ship. In almost 60 years of education we have been unable to establish a set of references or agendas by which to guide an education or establish any legitimacy and standing to a local cultural or aesthetic. We operate via a somewhat loose amalgamation of a western (read colonial) educational process and rhetoric without engaging in a similar rigorousness in the exploration or enquiry into our own.

Our education still relies on a case study of post war to contemporary European architecture and theory as largely expounded in Europe and the eastern united states for its foundations. Much like Aesop’s fables. Our architecture is like the legendary hero of the early coloured movies of Indian cinema, who never dies, even when the audience has sickened of that very longevity.

That is what you feel when you see the landscape of modern Indian architecture, dotted with the same signatures, the same columns, the same beams, the same syntaxes over periods of well over thirty five years. Like a scratched record.


The purist in me doesn’t like this. But somewhere in the aftermath of heroic modernism and its orphaned twin ( that we so proudly profess in India) and the endless cat and mouse games that have characterized Indian architecture (or the mine is bigger than yours/ better than yours/ I also have what you have, games! ) the argument for the non-pure, the hybrid, the cockney, the converted and culturally appropriated modernism( if we must have modernism, that is) must be made.

It would be a far cry to say that its is practiced, or propagated to any great, or impressionable degree, however the argument must be made nonetheless.

The heroic age did not give us a new and heroic India nor did its cities represent the India of today. At some time we will need to stop this unnecessary obsession with the classical or canonical modernism that has populated our landscape in a dull unimaginative grey.


If we are to assume the premise that architecture is the vehicle of the cultural and aspirational ideals of a society.

Is what Indian architecture saying is that we want to be Dubai? Or New York or Shanghai? Or some anonymous world class city? Where the sidewalks are all world class, and so are the roads and the buildings, and the people, and pretty much everything else.

I have wondered what a word class Temple is? Or Mosque? What is a world class Rajput fort? Is the Taj Mahal world class? Or have we been told too long and by too many what is good for us, what we should wear, what we should eat, that wine is great drink, that suits are formal dressing in 48 degrees centigrade and that the great heroic modernism that our fore fathers in architecture were schooled in at the ivy-crested universities of what once used to be called New England was the magic trick that would suddenly bring us abreast with the advancing (and saved) western world.


And what we want now, is that truly new? And is it architecture, or is it still the wish to be counted amongst the counted, by those that will count? And us being neither the ones who count or the one who will be counted. I might have said this before but it doesn’t hurt to say it again, that we practice a sheep-in-wolf’s -clothing architecture. A sad apologetic attempt to talk a language and wear clothes we believe will make us more acceptable.


And where will this all lead to. I see the possibility of cities, where you cannot tell one from the other. Each having the same sky scrapers, the same glass menageries, the same sidewalks, the same edifices of power and might. With un-differentiable people on sidewalks and MRT. Will this be the great triumph of modernism and its post modern offspring? And the celebration (or despair) of a certain sameness.

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