A nifty escape route is all that we look for while rattling through the streets of Bengaluru to avoid the cacophony, the dirt and the dangers of it all. Quite the contrary, streets mean different things to different people, especially to intellectuals and artists who look at them as no less than theatre of life with a medley of dynamics on display – be it political, social, economic, cultural, or religious.
This is what came to the fore when a workshop on streets was organised by the Urban Research and Policy Programme of the National Institute of Advanced Studies (NIAS) in collaboration with Art, Resources and Teaching Trust (ART) on January 2nd at NIAS. Film screening and photo exhibition were held at Venkatappa Auditorim and Venkatappa Art Gallery, respectively. The events explored a diverse set of issues on streets in India – from planning of streets, the politics of streets, appropriation of streets for religious rituals, and forms of embodiment that people create, and the experience on the streets.
Streets of Bangalore
As for the streets of Bangalore, experts laid bare how some important features like its architecture, infrastructure, the current crisis arising out of the Metro construction that is tearing the city fabric, and even communal harmony lend their own designs to the life on streets.
Curt Gambetta (Rice University, USA) attempted to analyse how the architecture of the city and its infrastructure have shaped each other. Lalitha Kamath (TISS Mumbai) delved into the history of Bangalore’s CMH Road Merchants’ Association and its fight to gain a meaningful position in the construction of the Metro. Annapurna Garimella and Fiza Ishaq’s (ART) paper analysed Muharram processions at Johnsons Market in Bangalore and how the community is both united and divided on the street.
Streets of Mumbai and New Delhi
Similarly, experts from various backgrounds explored the streets of Mumbai where life is at its transient best. While Ravi Sundaram (SARAI –CSDS, Delhi) talked about the failure of the street planning models designed in the 1950s and the current remaking of urban streets in India, Nikhil Rao (Wellesley College, USA) talked of how, in late colonial Bombay, plans for urban development were introduced and streets and roads were rebuilt for the betterment of “public health and economic development”.
Prasad Shetty (CRIT, UDRI Mumbai) examined the present-day streets of Mumbai, the idea of public and common space, boundaries, and the defining and recognition of property. He presented images of several establishments lining the streets of Mumbai where “positions change, edges mutate, and spaces morph”. Jonathan Anjaria’s (Bard College, USA) paper focused on lived experiences on the street; how people inhabit these “marginal spaces” by examining hawkers. Zainab Bawa (CSCS, Bangalore) looked at two projects for road-widening and railway tracks in Mumbai and the effects of the same on inhabitants and how displaced people found ways for remaking their lives and asserting control.
Similarly, Shveta Sarda (Cybermohalla Lab, LNJP-SARAI) talked about the negotiations made by the inhabitants of Delhi’s LNJP Colony to hold on to their settlements and the politics of bureaucracy.
Presenting vivid images of life on the streets, photographers and artists Shantamani Mudaiah, Vivek M, Ravi Kumar Kashi, Kaiwan, Mehta, Shibu Arakkal, Clare Arni, and Vivek Mathew captured the diversity of the street experience and the changes happening in the name of “development”. These artists weaved together various aspects including people on the streets, urban debris, historical structures, and the transition of streets.
Shantamani’s collages of the urban cultural landscape explored several layers of urban remains which are often neglected but are essential to the street’s infrastructure. Vivek M’s work presented urban ironies where slums are juxtaposed with high-rise buildings even as solar power runs an otherwise modest house. Ravi Kumar Kashi’s mixed media work titled “Why not have it all?” consisted of a sloping table with pictures of everyday street signage and advertisements. Encased in cheap plastic frames, they made a statement on the current consumer culture. Images by Kaiwan Mehta were taken from his recently published book Alice in Bhuleshwar. These images documented the history of the streets of Bhuleshwar and showed how history co-exists and is everywhere in the present. Shibu Arakkal’s work rendered timeless historical places and relived the memory of place and its atmosphere. Clare Arni’s work showed the demolition and reconstruction of Gulbarga. Vivek Mathew’s images had people who inhabit or temporarily appropriate space on the street.
For many film-makers, capturing streets on the celluloid has always been challenging and rewarding too. The films screened at the workshop underlined the same as they focused on the varied perspectives of street artistes, anthropologists, historians and architects among others.
While Mira Nair’s Salaam Bombay used fiction to narrate the lives of people on the street, Moments of a Long Pause (Blank Noise) directed by Jasmeen Patheja as part protest and part autobiography contemplated streets in gender-specific terms. In Flower Carrier, Sonia Khurana used the act of walking on the streets while tenaciously looking at the tip of a flower as a study of the self in the city and the polemics of being in the world. Her simple performative act drew critically on a variety of concerns while allowing her to establish a relationship with her inner experiences. The film Once Upon a Time in Bangalore by Gautam Sonti and Usha Rao addressed the shaping and preserving of Bangalore’s identity by bringing to light issues about the transformation of a cityscape through constant restructuring for an imagined future.
Other films screened include K M Madhusudhana’s Self Portrait, Dziga Vertov’s The Man with a movie camera, Puspamala’s Paris Autumn, a documentary on street artistes from Sebastian Pieters Guerilla Art, Venkatesh Chakravarthy’s Chennai the Split City and Pavitra Chalam’s Reclaim Bangalore. ⊕