Authored by : Dr.S.S.Bhatti
The readers may wonder what this weird-sounding article is all about. Weird, indeed, it is. How? Five thousand years of recorded history contains everything: innumerable scriptures and faiths, countless places of worship, umpteen theories, and any number of “isms”. Yet peoples of the world are showing no signs at all that we are moving towards any Order of Civilisation. Much to the contrary, what the cities have, indeed, produced is the “Urban Savage”. Urbanity has a maverick metaphysics that extols “Savagery” which the city-dwellers take pride in possessing as “Smartness”.
Our excitement about Technological Advancement with Smart Phones and WhatsApp is mindlessly misplaced. It signifies that as we advance along these lines of perverted progress Humans will become more and more “Robotised” while “Robots”, not surprisingly, get more and more “Humanised”.
By ‘City’ I mean an ‘Urban’, as opposed to ‘Rural Centre’, where ‘Urbanity’ as refined courtesy or politeness, and suavity is cultivated. ‘Humanity’ is the Essence of Man that encompasses ‘humaneness, kindness, benevolence, goodwill. ‘Man’ stands for all members of the species Homo sapiens collectively, without regard to sex. We move to cities for many reasons, but the metaphysical ones are the human values we define and cherish as the crowning features of Humanity
The making of Chandigarh, which is a good example to illustrate the theme of this article, is an irony of history. It was created out of widespread chaos and destruction, and symbolises the indestructible spirit of Punjabis and Punjabiyat and their indomitable will for significant creation. Chandigarh is a “world city” not merely “world-class” city. It has become the Mother City for several 20th-century capitals like Islamabad, Dacca, and Brasilia.
Unfortunately, politicians, bureaucrats, and technocrats have together with the citizens’ anonymous indulgence contributed to the ruination of the city’s original concept.
For instance, there was no third phase in the master plan. Le Corbusier had suggested “Re-intensification” of first-phase sectors for accommodating the growing population.
I had pointed out in an article published in The Tribune in 1991, how the “City Beautiful” was turning into a shanty town. But nobody paid any heed to the SOS that I gave. Later, I spelled out in a special symposium in 2006, organised under the auspices of First Friday Forum, how Chandigarh was Modern Heritage. On the basis of my PhD thesis earned in 1991, I drafted the Chandigarh Administration’s Heritage Report that was approved by the Centre, and the rules notified for implementation.
We are quite excited that the ‘Capitol Complex’ has been added to the UNESCO’s world heritage list (in utter ignorance of the crucial fact that the monuments which it contains have significance only with reference to the city as a whole). Rather than jump around like frolicking brats on this long-awaited news, we should have committed ourselves to safeguard Chandigarh from incurring irreparable damage by political interference and bureaucratic bungling. For the past many years I have been propagating the idea that the Government of India should set up a high-powered, autonomous “Chandigarh Heritage Conservation, Design & Development Authority” headed by a farsighted architect, with the UT Urban Planning Department, the Municipal Corporation Chandigarh [MCC], and Chandigarh Housing Board answerable to it. The local MP [Member of Parliament, Chandigarh Administrator or his representative, and Mayor] would members to give inputs concerning the citizens’ aspirations and wants; administrative problems, and civic issues. Chandigarh administration job would be to proved funds for new projects as well as conservation of heritage buildings, furniture, etc. besides the maintenance of law and order, traffic management, with the Engineering Organisation looking after construction, etc. MCC would manage city services, maintenance of parks, etc.
Chandigarh fondly nicknamed the “City Beautiful” has rapidly assumed multifaceted ugliness that apart from disfigured buildings and monsters produced by wilful violation of the Building Rules and Zoning Plans has generated and promoted crime of various kinds. Shouldn’t this discomfiting fact wake us up to ask “What has gone wrong and why? What is it that gives the politicians and bureaucrats to have their way in this unseemly adventure? Why have professionals failed? What can be done before it is too late to retrieve the City’s pristine glory that was once reflected in its peaceful ambience and beautiful environs?”
My quandary is suicidal. Although I have not yet resolved to kill myself I have the material ready for the suicide note. “How could innocent migrants from the villages become criminals and nasty individuals when they come to live in the same city with their educated and smart urban brethren? Why should tragedy show up when we have perhaps the best amenities in all spheres of human life: education, health, sports, art and culture, transport, and what have you? I am resigning myself to utter helplessness by attributing full responsibility to my fellow citizens. Rather than somehow prevent the powers-that-be from killing the Soul of the City that had put India on the world-map of Modern Urbanism indulge in mass uglification of their ‘City Beautiful’ as if they were playing Holi on the progressive success of their wanton vanity.
Are cities designed and meant to turn innocent rustic souls into “Urban Savages”? Or, are they motivators and movers of people to become “civilised”—which means “having advanced beyond the primitive savage state; to be refined in interests and tastes; to be self-controlled and fair-spoken”; above all, to become embodiments of ‘Humanity’ as the ‘Essence of Man’”. Why have we become schizophrenics—split personalities who think something quite different from what we do, self-alienated from our thoughts and words? To me, ‘City’ means ‘Civilisation and culture Inspired and invigorated by Truth as the primary attribute of God in the bipolar working of the Yan-yang principle during workaday existence, everywhere, all the time, for everybody.
The case of Chandigarh should be a befitting example to illustrate the moot points involved in the view sketched before. Chandigarh was conceived to be an administrative city, its chief function as the capital of the bifurcated Punjab. Le Corbusier called it a “finite city” with a precise aim. The projected population of 500,000 was to be accommodated in two phases: first, for 150,000 and the second, for 350,000. There was no third phase. The master planner suggested that more people could be accommodated by “Re-intensification” of the upper low-density sectors. As you may know an attempt at this exercise was made when the high and mighty of Chandigarh met Sonia Gandhi and successfully thwarted the scheme called Apartment Act. This brings out our intrinsic dishonesty in making Democracy a reality. We continue our congenital tendencies to discriminate against the poor and the underprivileged without any sense of shame for our anarchic attitude towards the interests of ‘Civil Society’ as a whole.
We don’t even know that Le Corbusier authored the historic document the “Statute of the Land”, in which he defined the city’s concept and its expected use by the citizens, with the administrators regulating and monitoring its growth according to the master plan.
The duty of an authority is to be honest; it is to control things which belong to a regime of rules (existing and understandable) which have to be created by the will of a collectivity. In other words there exists true merchandise, which has to be sold to true customers and which will never lose their primitive value in the case of arbitrary decision coming later.
Is it possible to conserve such realities during the IT Era which has been hijacked by India’s greedy, luxury-loving élite?
Nothing of the kind envisioned by Le Corbusier has happened—thanks to the conceit and confusion of the powers-that-be. The so-called third phase of Chandigarh has come up as an act of expedience containing sectors beyond Sector 47. No data has been collected and compiled over the years to see what went wrong where and how to stem the rot.
The precise function of the city is gone. Now you have Malls in the Industrial Area. There is so much noise about the introduction of Metro—an unaffordable public service that is out of place in a city like Chandigarh. Mohali was the first to violate in a big way the Periphery Control Act (1952) to which the Punjab Government was the original signatory. From the State Capital it was made a Union Territory without any attempt at understanding its repercussions. Some wild brainwave prompted the politicians to keep four villages within the planned city without any plan to conserve the original Chandigarh—creating a repulsive rural-urban pot-pourri.
Population fixed at 500,000 was intended to maintain such quality of life as you expect from a city planned by the 20th-century’s greatest architect. PGI [short for Post-Graduate Institute of Medical Education & Research] that was established by Chief Minister Partap Singh Kairon to outclass AIIMS has come down to the level of a General Hospital from that of Tertiary Health Service, vitiating its role as a centre for advanced research and higher medical education. The population has risen to 12 lakh. Open spaces now have permanent Rehri (push-carts) Markets. Violations of the Building Rules are galore.
Our 1,000-year-old slavery has impoverished us in body, mind, and soul, so much so that hunger, nudity, and homelessness haunt us. Our baser instincts have mutated into perpetual land-grabbing. To add fuel to the fire, various Chief Commissioners, with the sole exception of Dr MS Randhawa, and Administrators of Chandigarh have come and gone leaving behind monsters upraised to personal glory. The first Prime Minister’s rhetoric of “Socialistic Pattern of Society” was nowhere in sight from the very beginning, and the North-South Divide among sectors and citizens has only aggravated to repulsive ugliness.
First 10 sectors, leaving the Capitol Complex or Sector 1, have 25,000 persons on 1500 acres, which is a density of 17 persons per acre.
First Phase in the original Master Plan was planned for 1.5 lakh on 8,000 acres [19 persons per acre]; the Second Phase was to accommodate 3.5 lakh on 6,000 acres [58 persons per acre]; and the monstrous Third Phase would house 4 lakh on 2,000 acres [200 persons per acre]! Six-storey buildings are allowed now, but this height would go up to 10 storeys, the height of Secretariat building.
If you don’t like what I have said, please ask for a SANE, not SMART, City that calls for our collective creative contribution—beginning in SANITARY minds. The word ‘Sanity’ is distinguished from ‘Sanitary’ only by two letters: ‘a’ and ‘r’ which stand for ‘Active Reason’, meaning thereby such Sanity as finds its ultimate consummation in Reasoned Action, not noisy debate or theatrical declamation.
In 1991, we had a population of 5.75 lakh on 14,000 acres [41 persons per acre]. Now we have four lakh people doomed to live on 2000 acres when only 25,000 persons live on 1500 acres in the first 10 sectors. This qualmless discrimination puts a question mark on the sacrosanctity of PREAMBLE OF THE CONSTITUTION OF INDIA that promised to secure to all its citizens: “JUSTICE, social, economic and political…”
The crime of various kinds little known until two decades ago is now rapidly growing reminding us that the Preamble is hollow rhetoric fit only for political debates—far removed from socio-economic reality. It makes Chandigarh a modern monument of chronic sickness.
It brings alive Darwinian imperative of ‘survival of the fittest, the weaker must go to the wall’, the scary difference it demonstrates in perverted power of crime as the handy weapon of the deprived and the wilfully neglected to claim their space in the rapidly shrinking Space that is telling upon the health of Sun and Verdure, Le Corbusier had fancied to be the three Principles of Town Planning.
But how do you expect Humanity to strike root in the sordid soil composed of real-estate greed, laissez faire, polluted air, congested roads, haphazard parking, road rage, discriminatory overcrowded housing, etc.
The blame game, though easily available, enthusiastically engaged in, and enormously enjoyable, will not avail because we are all party to the unmaking of humanity, and we hail from the same source—a lingering legacy of indiscipline, unbridled ambition, mythological mindset, political egotism, bureaucratic barriers, professional incompetence, industrial exploitation, traders’ willfulness, and tropical lethargy that we sorely mistake for a spiritual endowment.
Let us celebrate our grand, if unenviable, victory in Urban Planning: We have made the City by Unmaking Humanity.
Is there an alternative to this damning doom? Yes. We should build more and more cities. Urbanising India would require 2,000 cities of the size of Chandigarh. If we build 40 cities at 25-year intervals we will be busy for 1,250 years. As the example of Chandigarh has proven “Urbanism” sells, which substantiates my thesis that the making of cities is the surest way of creating evermore jobs of all kinds for the largest number of people. However, keeping in view our great tradition grounded in ‘Forest Culture’, I have developed the concept of Van-Urbanisation (Van means ‘forest’), which is the planting of all kinds and scales of forests from the national to the regional to the state to the district, down to the level of the neighbourhood. Such a holistic plan requires that we superimpose on the country’s map 60 kilometres by 60 kilometres grid to plot the location of new cities.
The Directive Principle of our national urban-planning policy should be to ruralise our cities rather than urbanise our villages. This approach would ensure that our centuries-old culture is kept vibrantly alive. Our national trait is rusticity, not sophistication, that remains rooted in our ‘Collective Unconscious’ as a living tradition of humaneness, compassion, camaraderie, and informal lifestyle sustained by undiminishing love of Mother Nature!
Equipped with our Holistic Humanism that had taken birth with the Vedas centuries ago and our fertile imagination for innovation not only can we accomplish this formidable task gloriously well but also show the world a model that subsumes all the ‘isms’ associated with the correction of things gone awry by unbridled lust for creature comforts made available by soul-consuming greed.
If charity is to begin at home let us start with Chandigarh, appreciating the aesthetic charm of its Built Environment and resolving to conserve it as the world’s most significant Modern Heritage—beyond the capricious urge for UNESCO’s certification.
Let me wind up my weird verities by my two Urdu quatrains which I have rendered into English verse for the benefit of the readers who cannot read Urdu script even though it is an Indian language.
Chaarchaand in neylagaayehainwaqaar-i-watanko
Shaihr-i-zeibaanhai log kaheinjisey Chandigarh
Chandigarh blooms in Life’s Garden like a Beautiful Flower
As a pampered Beauty dwells Chandigarh in every soul
It has enhanced the country’s glory manifold
What people call Chandigarh is, indeed, the City Beautiful
Hai tamaddunkeehaseenrooh ‘imaaratiskee
Its very building is the beautiful Soul of Urbanity
Its generosity makes the heart feel a touch of wealth
City Beautiful is the Heritage of entire Humanity
It’s our collective duty to protect its aesthetic health
Founder-Teacher and Former Principal, Chandigarh College of Architecture (1982-1996)
Dean, Faculty of Design & Fine Arts, and Senator, Panjab University, Chandigarh (1984-1996)
[T’ameer Chandigarhi for Urdu Poetry]
FOUNDER, FIRST FRIDAY FORUM.
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