Thursday, April 17, 2008

Hum bhi Modern hain

I think I want to write, to write about the new India, as seen through the eyes of an architect. I will not go into Indian politics, religion, caste, history, (post)-coloniality, sociology or historiography- any of the myriad things that people associate with India (I won’t even talk about the snake-charmers and elephants!). This is a biased, subjective and prejudiced perspective, of an Indian (though what that means is also not sure) architect (again, what does that mean).

Let’s call it the viewpoint of an onlooker, observing changes in the Indian urban landscape. Interestingly, I have reviewed three different types of building typologies, emerging in the globalized modern India, and have found that each is but a manifestation of the same process, a new avatar, a new face, a new body, but the same thing. What do we call this multi-headed hydra? Globalization? Americanization? Consumption? Liberalization? Greed?

The first was the shopping mall- yes; I’ve reviewed them so thoroughly that I can recite facts about Indian shopping malls in my sleep. I’ve written papers (okay, just one) on them. And I see the grasp of consumerism slowly expand its tentacles to get a hold inside the minds of the population. How consumerism has become the mark of status and existence. How where you shop is more important than what you buy and how you use it. How being in the mall makes you modern. The mall stocks western goods and commodities, which are bought by the new breed of Indian ‘transnationals’. The class that is transnational because they have been to that mysterious place that makes one more than human: abroad. The glitz, glass and chrome all shimmer invitingly. Yet, am I being too cynical? Is the mall really a sign of modernity?

Let’s talk about the second type of modern building- the ‘commercial’ office complexes. The glass palaces of the software czars. The modern edifices dedicated to outsourcing. The huge information technology parks. Which are redefining modern for the people who work there. Indeed, this is where the ‘transnational’ class is created and this ‘transnational’ place is where it works. So, does being a software engineer working in one of these enormously attractive buildings make you modern? It is a bit of the West supplanted in the Indian city. It is an offshoot of a western company. By extension, the westernity rubs off on the inhabitants?

Talking of inhabitants, I want to come to the final resting place: the home. A home in one of the most exclusive, entry-by-invitation, community of ‘like-minded’ people. The new gated community. That promises round-the-clock electricity, water, cleanliness, air-conditioning, clubs, roads and gymnasiums. It promises isolation- from the filth and squalor that is India. . Most importantly, it promises ‘abroad’- a piece of the world in India? Something that can be bought at ‘world-class’ prices by ‘world-class’ people. Yes, indeed, the home for transnationals. For it is only by living in such a community that one can preserve being an Indian in India: I am home, but who wants to see its ugly face?

Isn’t this what being modern in India means? What relation does modernity have to a way of thinking, mature self-growth, enlightenment or education? As long as I wear a pair of jeans and shop at the mall, I am modern. This makes me wonder. So one does not stand a chance if one does not live in a gated community, work in a MNC and shop at the mall.

After all, hum bhi ‘modern’ hain!!

1 comment:

Blue Bike said...

What you've written is so true !!
If only money could make you modern, Rakhi Sawant would be much more modern than you and me :)