Confounded: The Story of an Urban Planner in an Age of Excitement for all things Urban and Indian

By: Vitasta Raina

Illustration by Author


Now, begin as I might try at the end of a sermonizing or descriptive analyses, perhaps even a quaint equation of things Indian and Urban, I have come to a distinct realization, that the only truth I know about cities, or citizenry, or the machinations of urban space, and the songbird that is India, given my peculiar misfortune of having become gradually muddied and befuddled trampling along in the progressive developmental swamp of the Bright Green Offices of Empire India in their convergent missions and agendas to clarify and riddle with boredom all manners of human settlements in the country, is quite honestly, nothing.

I guess what I am trying to say, and in more words than I should perhaps, is that very often in the middle of the night, I sit in a small balcony on the fourth floor of my housing block and stare at the balconies of buildings encircling mine. And I think, sometimes, about my job, and my pet dog, and my neighbours, my daily commutes, and then sometimes I think only of the people I met, threads of conversations that came my way, or the billboards and signs and cars that passed me by, and I think of god at times and the polluted skies at other times, but never do I find myself thinking in one clear stream of thought about the city, or the unknown attraction we all have for finding that ghost behind the machinery, or that siren that sings soft songs of allure, or history that is not akin to my own.

Perhaps the only reason I would stray into such discourses as assigning meaning to vast subjects as culture, or urbanity would be to stumble and fall prey to the web cast by the Giants, those curses of educational wisdom and professional wizardry  that make us emboldened in our feeble faith and unlearned tongue into thinking that we can perhaps resolve this issue of finding a sort of finality in figures and laws, in relics and in maps that govern our homes and our streets, that make us believe that we, the future urban scientists of a society not yet sanitized, can come up with some sort of passable excuse for executing mass and confoundingly spectacular miracles on geographical things, such as landscapes, and trees, and the climate and the built form that a generation before us left behind for us to rot within.

But could such things as ghosts exist? Could then perhaps a city? Could any serious scientific journal publish a research paper on apparitions, as they do when they do so for papers published in Referral Guides to Creating Cities- cities as fragments of history, or films, music and drama, and literature, cities as creations of human endeavours to conquer Earth and outer space, cities as laboratory experiments, and induced street plays, or playgrounds for architectural enterprise. Each generation, each movement in history, each beginning and every end, played out over the skies and the streams and the gutters of the city, fat, paint-soaked brushes crudely making burgundy balloons over the naked bodies of men and women and children, dogs and cats and crows, and young minds feeding, like cooped chickens in a poultry farm that reads “Smart Urban Futures Ahead.”

But such thoughts seldom enter my private space: my city, where I am King, my balcony, where I am God. And sitting there in my little space, with my narrow slice of the bigger picture, with my focus on other balconies and windows, and the people I know, and my maps  made of matters significant by my accord to my limited understanding, and found within the sentences of the books I read and in the lyrics of the songs that I listen to, I try and believe that I too know of things that are yet unknown to me, that I have tasted the world outside when I leave and upon my return, in the city of my sleep, I too can govern with ease all matters of concurrency and ascent. And that in the surreal landscapes of dreams, I too know of secret worlds. And perhaps, those sitting in their small balconies, looking into mine, know secret worlds of their own.


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