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Free Thinking : The world

From New Delhi, writer Rana Dasgupta

I Have Seen The Future

  • Rana Dasgupta
  • 3 Aug 06, 05:58 PM

Desert.jpg

Yesterday I went to Gurgaon for a day. Gurgaon is the town to the south of Delhi that has absorbed most of its overflow corporate energy. It is a new town, built for corporations and middle-classes to escape the chaotic memories of the city, and to provide enclosed modern living for the newly affluent.

When suddenly a significant percentage of a city of sixteen million have money and want part of "new Singapore" (the advertising slogan for one of the new developments) it takes a lot of space.

The monumental apartment blocks have strange ziggurat forms and stretch for miles, surrounded by gates that could make you think of Buckingham Palace. Their pastoral names ("Hamilton Court") do not compensate for the desert-like feel of this place, despite the ongoing monsoon. The apartment blocks, skyscrapers and shopping malls, many of them still under construction, impose a water burden on this arid region that it may or may not be able to sustain.

Many of the major corporations are building major installations here. Microsoft, Alcatel, Dell, Nokia... The place is full of cars and businesspeople. It is the new current of India. It is New New Delhi, a chance to forget New Delhi, and Old Delhi, and build again, according to the times. No pavements tempt people to walk around and clutter up the place. No public transport yet exists between here and the main city, 25km away, so only the people who should be here are.

Glass.jpg

Easy to see why it is also a place of forgetting and oblivion. Several previous capital cities have been abandoned because they couldn't generate enough water for ther courtly residents, and perhaps this historical relic will come back to haunt this place. Huge glass buildings are built as if the architects were willing themselves to forget that they are building for the north Indian plains, where summers reach nearly 50 degrees, and where glass is the most illogical material. Having trapped the burning sun, however, they do know how to air condition these places back to a chilly 19 degrees again, and the sound of air conditioners rivals that of traffic in places.

Living.jpg

The idea of what the future Delhi will look like is a patchwork of other places. Singapore and Dubai provide the most proximate models, with snatches of New York and Tuscany thrown in. There is a complete departure from all the centuries of local architectural experimentation, designed to battle the heat. The British were part of that tradition, in their building of the cloistered Connaught Place. The new, corporate empire, however, insists on a certain kind of architectural consistency all around the world. And here it is, in the desert.

Comments

  1. At 11:05 PM on 03 Aug 2006, Roberto Carlos Alvarez-Galloso,CPUR wrote:

    This kind of architectural consistency is boring.

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  2. At 12:23 PM on 04 Aug 2006, jason wrote:

    The future is ecological disaster, aint you heard of global warming ?

    www.vhemt.org

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  3. At 01:47 PM on 04 Aug 2006, Candadai Tirumalai wrote:

    Between Old Delhi, which I know, and New New Delhi, as you aptly call it, which I do not know but which I can picture, there must exist a chasm--material, cultural, historic--as huge as any in India. In my days in India, before 1960, the role of the Government and officialdom was pervasive . Now the corporate imprint seems unmistakable. The challenge may be to create a suffficiently deep and integral culture, which is not a mere imitation of developments elsewhere.

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  4. At 03:38 PM on 04 Aug 2006, Pascal Roberts wrote:

    This place looks so souless. It seems like the kind of place that new hyro-electric dams are being built for, to provide water for wealthy people, in the process relocating other people from their homes, and destroying wildlife habitats. The cost of such new developments is immeasurable, on the people who live there, and the suffering caused in order to be built. Singapore is like a big shopping centre, and one of the most repressive and strict societies in the world.

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  5. At 06:58 PM on 04 Aug 2006, Fitz wrote:

    It somewhat reminds me of boys playing with their new leggo set - just let your imagination go wild. For milleniums humans have learnt to build their environments to match the seasons in which they live not to challenge those seasons. When we do we inevitable fail and it usually costs us lots of money.

    Yes I would agree that this new Indian experiment will eventually fail - for many reasons not just cost - humans are herd gathering people - we may like some privacy at times but also enjoy socialising - these sort of cities are short on socialising features.

    I remember visiting high rise apartments built many years ago outside of Liverpool, UK to house the poor and impoverished city dwellers. it was a disaster and many people tried to move back to the city only to find their housing had been demolished.

    We seem to have such short memories and get so caught up with the new technologies just because they are new and exciting for the moment - back to my leggo example.

    The original Indigenous inhabitants of Australia had no time for wealth - they lived off the land and built "humpys" which were pratical and cheap - see the film "10 Canoes" for a snapshot of their lifestyle then.

    But they were essentially 'happy' wellfed and comfortable - certainly no less than we today and today it costs us heaps to achieve the same!

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  6. At 12:56 AM on 05 Aug 2006, Richard O'shea wrote:

    On the one hand I'm happy on the other sad and I sensed the same dichotomy in the authors language. It does look so terribly sterile and not at all like the organic India that most westeners consider. There is a sense that India will be another victim of globalisation and greed, that while some will prosper others will suffer greatly and that India will loose some of her identity to the corporate greyness of capitalism.

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  7. At 11:33 PM on 05 Aug 2006, Fitz wrote:

    Yes we need a few more Ghandis back in the world!

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