Thursday, August 18, 2011

Mental Map

Ever since in architecture school, the process of mapping (reading and drawing plans) has been a frequent one. In these years, the little architecture of the world that I have exposed myself too, figuring spatial patters, etc. has been more than an interest, a habit. It would be very difficult to detach it from my perception today, free myself of the prejudices that my mind has, when I look at places now. So, I chose to map, my place of residence for 14 years, an industrial housing colony, sitting in an anonymous piece of rural India before I moved to the city when I was 15. I was not born here but started walking here and spent my formative years in this self sufficient oasis in the middle of nowhere, but that part didn’t matter to me so much.

The things about the place I remember the most were, perhaps, the ones that were suddenly taken away from me by the bigness of life city. Every morning, we would leave for school at 7:30 AM from my home, for school that began at 7:40 AM. We would walk (run usually; I have always had a major punctuality issue). The shortest walking path to school would cut across through the employee’s Club House and garden, pass by a different row of houses and a little piece of land always shaded in a thick canopy of trees. And on your way, you’ll meet all your friends from the neighborhood. Everyone (mostly) was your friend. Everyone, at least knew everyone. There was ease. There was familiarity (or maybe I just got used to that life). Mostly, everything was at walk able   distance, clean metalled roads (only the main ones two lane) with virtually no cars. We only needed to drive to the nearby city (an hour and half away) to buy clothes and other things that the local market won’t keep (for example Hershey’s chocolate syrup). Cycling in town was easy; I would cycle to my math tuitions in the other side of the town.

The journey to my math tuition was the only time I would venture into the ‘other side’ of town. As soon as I would cross the main road, it would start getting unfamiliar (not uncomfortable though), the density of houses increased while their sizes of plots and front gardens shrunk. Except for a few school friends’ homes, I can’t recall the rest of it today. But I remember the main road being wide enough to notionally cut across the sparse settlement. I faintly remember it being two lane, but giving an impression of four. But along with that opinion also appears the fact that all public utilities, the main market, the hospital, the bigger school, the swimming pool, the stadium, the auditorium, the main temple, the Durga Puja grounds, were all along this main road, the central axis that brought the two towns together, I realize on afterthought. It dawned on me only recently; the dynamics of designing Industrial townships, providing inclusive living environments for the both the executive and technician designations, and the place didn’t do a bad job of it.

 The main road would also transform into a linear Mela ground, during the time of Dussehra, the only time the nearby villagers were allowed inside the tall boundary walls. The walls were tall enough to never let us see the other side of the story, and only use imagination to paint the picture. It gave a sense of protection and insecurity at the same time, perhaps the latter more intensely than the former, a peculiar but distinct memory. But outside the gates were also the subzi mandi and the sugarcane juice wallah that our parents would take us to, once in a blue moon. Despite the main market stocking all consumables, an occasional trip to the mandi was certainly refreshing, perhaps our only encounters with the realities of earthy rural (natural) life. Going too far away from the sight of the main gates would also be intimidating too, only increasing the unfamiliarity and discomfort factor exponentially.

Familiarity was in the linearity of things around, the rectangle-ness, of the single storey bungalows with front and rear setbacks the size of the apartment I live in presently, in the comfort of single lane roads lined with big trees on either side, and hierarchy that it followed for more public areas (whatever we later studied to be the ideal Grid iron pattern of settlement layout), in the uniformity in the color combination that every house was painted in. in the same window grille design and door handles for every house, so shifting houses didn’t hurt that much.

What surprises me the most is the fact that, today in the apartment block I live in, my comparative physical proximity to the neighborhood has increased potentially, but it has only inversely reflected on my social interaction with my surroundings.  Was it the success of everyone’s parents working with the same company? Was it the lack external engagement opportunities then? Other complicated planning theories and principles that affected my behavioral patterns as an individual growing up in the neighborhood? Or, simply put, am I just not a kid anymore?

Rohan Patankar