Our brief affair with the winter was over, ending abruptly in a steamy heated atmosphere that engulfed the city in that last week of March. As we crossed the iron millipedes that wound across the bank of Hugli , our gummy faces were met with a sudden coolness of the riverine breeze and beaming smiles of the four bright and gay persons standing by the riverfront in our welcome. Debarati Chakraborty our friend and fellow architect, the liaison officer of the entire study program, Prof Fukami,.and a very jovial Asakawa , our photographer, carrying a monstrous tripod for his frail frame, Canon 5D quietly slinging by his side.
The delegates from Japan have come to study about the people in Kolkata and the next instant we saw ourselves standing in front of the Asiatic Society Building heading eastward along the most celebrated street of Kolkata.
PARKSTREET had been our muse ever since we have studied Urban Design, the necklace of Kolkata had surpassed beyond her spatial continuity, infused with tales and fantasies,food,music,night clubs and with an ever lying undertone of forbidden ecstasy rooted deep within the densely packed fabric. As we amble our way through the colonnaded arcade, our Japanese friends wanted to get up close and personal with the residents. they wanted to unlock the hidden treasure of their stories of life,migration and settlement. The transformation of Park Street ,the once residential refuge of British officers and administrators to her present avatar as one of the most important commercial and entertainment hub of Kolkata , was a matter of our interest too.
It is here we were faced with the gravest of challenges, like most Indian cities, Kolkatans have a natural affinity to shy away from any survey or study interviews although they would happily participate for a film shooting. Anybody puffing a smoke otherwise had no time to spend a few minutes for a questionnaire. After some futile endeavors God was kind and we bumped into a security officer in one of the celebrated apartments of the street who quite unexpectedly and much to our delight spoke fluent Japanese. the affluent people as we found out were always busy so on his suggestion we visited the service quarters and a stepped into a new world.
The building itself was an oblong box with flanking verandas abutting a string of rooms that lined up along the central axis. Each room had spun a new story, each room had its own people, mixed ethnic and religious families indulging into a harmonious cohabitation. We talked to some of them, a middle aged gaunt gentleman. He agreed to show his house, which is basically a single 100-120 sqft room and which slapped us and stripped us from our cherished institutional knowledge of multi-utility space.
The room is their bedroom, living and dining room, washing room and kitchen. Yes everything that a house needs was suffused within that cube.
Surprisingly the room does not only contain the bare necessities but also happily holds a refrigerator and a television and is quite clean by its own standard. What was interesting was the intelligent use of the space exploiting the high ceiling for multi level stacking. It also made it evident that the use of the space if plotted against time will reveal a clockwork discipline around which the residents had to work.
Yes like most of us. But their needs , expectations and aspirations were more distinct and simple.
It presented us with a very hackneyed question. Our pedantic notions of Euclidean morphology and of a universal order of aesthetics and functionality, does it not defy the very natural order of this seemingly disheveled development? It is therefore quite evident any pedagogical solution will not contribute to their well being. We need to have an empathetic outlook at life being carried out here and synchronize any solution accordingly.
The experience presented us a new world , sitting amidst one of the highest priced parcel of land their world remained hidden from us for most of our time ,hiding amidst the gorgeous Victorian mansions, plush eateries and smoky nightclubs.
Holi had just gone, and while we were returning they presented us pristine white smiles that sat over their brilliantly colored faces. As we made across the winding dimly lit staircase our last question was regarding global warming.
Cars create smoke and heat.
And do they cherish having cars someday?
The people waved us good bye.
Car is a luxury.
Walking is much better.
Photo courtesy : SQUARE CONSULTANCY SERVICES
We remain thankful to
Ar. Debarati Chakraborty,M.Arch ( Urban Design,JU)
Dr. Fukami Naoko, professor,Organisation for Islamic Studies,Waseda University,Tokyo
Prof. Shin Muramatsu,professor,Institute of Industrial Science,The University of Tokyo
Mr Asakawa Satoshi