Interfering lines of different cities

By Shveta Sarda

We are a gathering. It's evening now. Imagine, a man walks through this
gathering with an axe. It's evening, and a man walks through the
gathering with a wheel barrow. And then, again, in this evening, a man
walks past with a spade.

All three have different searches.
All three will find different things in this same location.
All three will have different ways in which they search.
All three will be perceived differently.
All three will find themselves in a different set of relationships.
All three will find their image amongst those who behold them is different.

One will chop, one will gather, one will dig. Seeing the three
implements pass, we who watch them will have a different image of what
our tomorrow will bring. The sounds that accompany these images will
give different senses about the approach of tomorrow.

All of us live in different cities. Cities in which we carry with us
different senses about the approach of tomorrow. The acceleration of
movements, technological ensmeshment and change of scale compel us to
continuously change the co-ordinates of our ways of thinking urban life.

In India, Mumbai dreams of Shanghai. A total transformation into the
other city, without malformations. The textile mills in Mumbai, where an
80 year old industry that was in the doldrums in the late 70s
rediscovers itself as a global entertainment space and is now redrawing
the lines of entertainment and leisure.

After you've walked 30 minutes at a slow pace in a straight line along
the road, you've barely touched the two ends of the mills. A large
shopping complex has been constructed, where thousands throng everyday.
Signs painted in red on the now defunct chimneys of the mills announce
names of new restaurants, malls, discotheques and art galleries.
Somewhere, construction is still on and entry is denied. Elsewhere, the
old buildings made of stone are still being pulled down. You can see a
vast expanse of land that has been emptied out, and in one dense corner,
a tall chimney, the inside walls of what was probably a warehouse and a
lone wall that doesn't contain space any more. This part of the mills
seems haunted by the city's future. As you watch and walk, the emerging
city landscape comes in the way. The city continues its battle over the
remains of the mills.

Concurrently, the city generates its fresh crop of what are officially
named "PAPs". The two Ps in PAP stand for project and persons. "A" is
the relationship between them. Now, the relationship "A" between
"Project" and "Persons" can be generic, and there are few words in our
dictionary for that. The "A" in "PAP", the hyphen between "Project" and
"Persons" could be anything - PAPs could mean project associative
persons, project affective persons, project arranged persons, project
augmented persons! There is in fact a world of PAPs around us. The city
is a strange landscape of paps...

Now there is also something called the "PAP smear". It's a test to
detect cancer. When a body and its cells get into an antagonism. The
test determines whether this antagonism is bearable or aggressive to the
body. And here we have two more PAPs - the project aggressive persons
and the project antagonistic persons. Now, however, PAP has its own
designated full form in the city - it stands for Project Affected
Persons. Persons - working class persons - moved, relocated, removed for
new developments. The city gives them share money for new houses, or it
builds houses for them which announce - Hiranandani (builders) building
8304 houses for project affected persons. But the fact remains, that the
contemporary is increasingly about the ingenuity and innovativeness of
these PAPs, and a large creative industry can live off this.

Lets return to Beijing, where I have now been for a week. There is a
central axis that runs through the city which forms a kind of organising
principle. The Games City (where the Olympics will be held), the
Forbidden City and the upcoming Media or Film City are located along
this axis.

Around this basic principle, it is possible to sense, there are many
cities wrestling inside one city. They all have their own morphologies,
temporal rhythms, world of things, spatial practices.

There is the speculative city. Buildings with apartments that no one
lives in. Apartments that lie vacant for those who will purchase them at
a higher cost next year, another time. A making of ghost structures in
anticipation of wealth. It's a kind of alchemy with buildings - the
conversion of concrete into gold. It's a story very similar to Gurgaon
in Delhi. Gurgaon is a satellite city built to accomodate factories,
build call centres, malls and high security residential colonies. It's a
kind of "security city". A city afraid of its many millions. Once I
wandered onto the roof of my grandfather's apartment in a 15 storied
building in Gurgaon when my grandmother was very unwell. From the roof,
I remember seeing a vast landscape of concrete, where the incremental
ordinary city tussled with the anticipated city.

In our cities, the process of the construction of a "leisure city" is
also underway. Compression and dispersion are played out producing
various effects. In Delhi, a riverfront that gave home to a million in
30 years can disappear in 4 years, to give way to something in 3 years.
The incremental ordinary city is being overrun by an anticipation city
based on imagined speed and speculation.

This opens up the city's frontiers, to set up a "frontier city". The
zone of administrative ambiguities, relocations, spaces still in
formation. The frontier is a zone both of contact and of contagion.
Possibility and threat. It contains this ambiguity, this ambivalence.
Ambivalence is a threat. It is sought to be contained and tamed through
legal seizure and naming. Now the world had a very different
relationship with ambivalence in the 19th century. Creative was an
ambivalent term in the 19th century. You could create a Frankenstein
with your imagination. This was creased into smoothness by the end of
the 20th century. Today "creativity" is a value in itself. It is like an
emergency ward. Participation is a given. The "creator" is no more the
trickster, capable of immense disruption.

Or is it really so?

The old, inner city of Delhi has built a life around recycled economies
and old crafts based economies. Here the old meets the recycled. Now
this old city was designated a slum very early into the history of
independent India because of its density and illegibility. Around it and
also ofcourse huge distance from it, in colonies formed for immigrants
into the city as a part of urban planning, are different markets that
transact in second hand hardware, copied music, pirated software. There
are deeper pockets of all night musical recitals and programmes, and in
the process, the making of the bards of the new immigrant city. The
"pirate city" is a part of a reality of copy culture and defiant access.
This city - the pirate city - is volatile and open. It borrows the
traditional and both transforms and relays it through the encounter with
emerging techno-spaces. What comes with this access is reprimand and
admonishment. The pirate city throws up sharp questions about our
nomenclaturing around authoring, creating and how "How You Are
Constituted" determines the frame of narration. This applies for both
the negative - that is the pirate and the positive - that is the author.

For me it is important to remember, the contemporary moment remixes, it
recombines and it also throws away a lot in its acceleration. What
happens when the dispersed, tenuous, fragile, sites which contain both
possibility and threat interfere with the cartographic stretches of the
creative industry of the established economy? Sites which produce and
tune into different frequencies of the sound of the future, along with
and sometimes in antagonism or with aggression towards that of the
established economies?

There are multiple ways in which we encounter our various cities. There
are more ways than I have time to evoke, recall or list. Our imagined
city is a contour drawn from various interfering lines of many cities,
not knowing when they will override the other. Each of these multiple
cities holds many lives dispersed in the city. Each has its own core
spatial location and then it disperses into various pores.