Mehrotra’s tour de force on architecture since 1990 deals with the great leap upwards of post-reforms India. He is a fit chronicler—and messiah—of both, the egotistic spoor of what he calls ‘impatient capitalism’ and the forces of resistance. He has been more realistic, and less arrogant, than the post-independence star chamber of Correa, Doshi, et al. This tome describes the ‘plural landscape’, which is the result of India’s reactions to globalisation.
Post-’90s urbania appears to be all about the mall-ing of Indian architecture. The spectacle of FDI Unbound brought in an uncapped investment in global architects. They are a far cry from those who created the Nehruvian aesthetic—Le Corbusier, Louis Kahn, Frank Lloyd Wright and Buckminster Fuller—because the patronage has now changed from the Sarabhais to software giants.
But India is too ancient and too diverse for its new identity to be expressed monotheistically. And Mehrotra is too cerebral to make the easy, use-based distinctions such as airports, corporate spaces, etc. Instead, he has divided post-’90s architecture into four emergent landscapes: Global Practice (The Architecture of Impatient Capitalism); Regional Manifestations (Local Assertions); Alternate Practice (Towards Sustainability); Counter Modernism (Resurfacing of the Ancient). Each section features a trend-tracking and analytical essay followed by an extensive folio of a selection of the buildings which typify that genre. These are not just brochure-grade photographs but also draughtsman’s drawings, cad blueprints and the cutting-edge technology that has become the trademark of our more flamboyant architects.
Mehrotra is an acknowledged crusader for identity, in his books, buildings and urban conservation projects. He is also where he is—including the chair of the department of urban planning and design at Harvard—because he has an opinion. Happily, it is not the ‘my way or the highway’ brand of most of his august predecessors and contemporaries.
So while he is fastidious in his documentation, and open to the technology revolution, he is underwhelmed by some of the ott atrocities committed in the name of innovation. The Hafeez Contractor school and the Charles Correa school have always stood at opposite—and mutually disparaged—ends. Mehrotra acknowledges Contractor’s seminal contribution to the 21st century urbanscape, but still makes the broader point about the ‘reverse outsourcing’ of India’s globalisation genre and more so, the trend in which irrelevance of context has become a must-have rather than the no-no it should continue to be.
There are many eye-openers. The way unheard of towns and new patrons are breaking the classical ‘spine of architectural awareness’ which ran through Chandigarh, New Delhi, Ahmedabad, Baroda and Bombay in the ’60s and ’70s. The way Chitra Vishwanath has extended the earthy philosophy of the Nari Gandhi-Laurie Baker legacy. The way in which such disparate expressions as Surat’s Ashwini Kumar Crematorium and Jamia Millia’s Romi Khosla-designed Castro Cafe have reinvented conventionally uninspiring spaces. The way in which growing religious resurgence has resulted in some of the most monumental projects of 21st century India.
The diverse sweep of architecture in this book both endorses and challenges Mehrotra’s belief in the ‘kinetic city’; where the role of ‘spectacle’ is not vested in the built environment but in the imagery of Ganesh immersions, tazia processions and Ramlilas. Pictor could not have found a worthier debut publication. Though I do wish they would’ve found a less taxing typeface.
Thank you to all those who have taken the trouble to read the article and share their thoughts. Out of the arguments made here, there are two that perhaps need answering. So here they go.
1. The first part of the article compares outcomes (relative percentages of population of the religions concerned) irrespective of the process that led to those outcomes - whether immigration, relatively faster population growth or conversions. This was for two reasons. One, to put the figure of 2.3 per cent in "numerical perspective", as the article itself explained. The second reason was that outcomes are ultimately what the crux of debate is about. The rest of the article in any case dealt with process - or conversions in this case, from both a contemporary and historical perspective.
2. Some commenters have tried to cast doubts on the reliability of Census 2001. Those who do this should bear in mind that Census 2001 was conducted by a BJP government. Considering the extreme importance that BJP gives to this issue, it would be reasonable to expect that IF it had perceived a problem with the methodology that was distorting the numbers, it would have fixed it. As the article mentioned, BJP or BJP-supported governments have been in power for 10 of the last 40 years, or about a quarter of the time, and the only reasonable conclusion one can arrive at is that any misreporting of numbers, real or perceived, would be marginal and hence, not of importance.
To all other arguments made, my answer is the following: Please read the article again, with particular focus on the quotations of Vivekananda and Monier Williams, and the history of the missionary efforts in Bengal and their outcome.
After the capital was moved to New Delhi in 1911, the buildings surrounding Dalhousie Square in Calcutta were neglected. Some were even demolished and grotesque buildings like the Telephone Bhavan was built in their place. That trend was halted around a decade-and-a-half ago when local preservation groups began advocating restoration and revitalization of the locality. The Dalhousie Square stands as one of a few remaining city centres of its kind in South Asia and has still retained many of its original colonial-period buildings.
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