Sunday, July 23, 2006

Birth of a city

Birth of a city

The Hindu

A book that urges readers to look at how Bangalore became the `Garden City'.

Deccan Traverses: The Making of Bangalore's Terrain; Anuradha Mathur and Dilip da Cunha; Rupa &Co, Rs. 1950

AS piles of huge rocks beyond Bangalore City are bulldozed and blasted within minutes to make way for more traffic between the city and Mysore, there comes a book that reminds us that these hills of pink porphyritic granite and gneiss are at least two billion years old. Deccan Traverses: The Making of Bangalore's Terrain is a surprising blend of history, landscape architecture and culture but more importantly, it is a book that gently nudges readers to look beyond the obvious, to look under the layers and to discover the richness of this open terrain. Authored by architects Anuradha Mathur and Dilip da Cunha, it is neither a coffee table book nor a historical book though it is both rich in visuals and historical facts. It is in fact a record of the journey that the architects made through the layers of a "naked country" that people now see as "The Garden City" and as "India's Silicon Valley".

City's design

A Bangalore beyond British colonisation, a Bangalore enriched with the footsteps of innovative and enterprising individuals is the city architects Anuradha Mathur and Dilip da Cunha expose in their deeply researched book brought out beautifully by Rupa & Co. "As a point on a map, Bangalore was open to colonial power, but as a singular point it was open to the imagination and enterprise of traversors," says Bangalore-bred da Cunha, a city planner and faculty at the Parsons School of Design, New York. "The city was `designed' by four enterprises — surveying, triangulating, botanising and picturing," she adds.

In what could be called a pioneering genre of writing, the authors weave drawings, maps, architectural sections, sketches and photographs — both sepia-tinted and recent colour — into text that highlights the layered formation of a city. Apart from early maps unearthed in archives around the world, the authors draw their own quaint maps... of a city connected by routes made by local flower sellers, for instance.

"There is a ready acceptance of visual representation and we still go by the maps drawn by the British soldiers who came to India. Our effort to redraw the visuals helped us to understand the land better," says Mathur, Associate Professor, School of Design, University of Pennsylvania "We did the screen printing ourselves, and shot almost all the present-day photographs in the book too," she adds. It was in the print room at Philadelphia that their then five-year old daughter captured them on film.

The book is a compilation of material that Mathur and da Cunha put together for an exhibition held in the Lalbagh Glass House, Bangalore, in October 2004. "Bangalore is a land that has developed because of the imagination and enterprise of several people," says Mathur. "Imagine the British bringing seeds by ship all the way from the West, knowing that they would grow and green a barren land in the Deccan plateau!"

The book throws up some fascinating facts. For instance, we're introduced to the fourth island on the Cauvery formed by the crossing of pipelines carrying waters from Cauvery to Bangalore and the Arkavati returning waters from the city to the Cauvery .

"The future of city is suggested by this incredible past and in the wonder of its terrain," points out da Cunha. "Everyone talks about the chaos of the city today. People talked about London and New York in a similar way some decades ago. But the development will take place. The question is, what will remain of Bangalore after that is done," wonders the city planner. "We have to stop blaming corruption and lack of data for the poor infrastructure in the city. Instead, we need to be more inventive. After the British left there has hardly been anything new invented. It's important to bring new thinking into education, administration, planning and design," he adds.

Tank civilisation

To begin with, the authors suggest we talk to our children about the incredible `tank civilisation' instead of ruing the fact that we do not have rivers. "What the mind takes for granted, the eye takes for granted," says da Cunha. Hopefully, Deccan Traverses, with its beautiful view of the tota or flower garden of K R Market, its linkages between the land and the people that make it, and its unique presentation will change the way we look at a city. The architects and their little daughter are now dreaming of traversing the unknown depths of the Sunderbans next!


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