22 July, 2008

I woke up with a sore throat and a slight fever on Sunday. I took immediate measures – got standard fever pills, took a cold shower, had hot clear vegetable soup, and when I felt better I went out into the burning heat of Delhi which was soothing. I had some errands to run – groceries, sending faxes, etc. Later that day, Uday took me and his friend Parth to watch a play at the India Habitat Centre.
Photos from the day can be found on Flickr.com by clicking here.

The Inida Habitat Centre is a dynamic center for the arts, with exhibitions, auditoriums, outdoor spaces, etc, and I definitely want to go back there to see everything. Particularly, its architecture struck me. In it I could read elements of modernism – the bridges reminded me of Groupius’s Dessau Bauhaus building, and the windows, with their use of pattern and color, reminded me of a Kandinsky painting, and the fusion of brick, concrete and other materials was very Venturi.

The play was being performed on the special occasion of the Columbian Independence day, and was an Indian adaptation of Gabriel García Márquez’s Eréndira and her Heartless Grandmother. It very powerful in execution, and moved me with its drama, passion, music and inherent tragedy. It was performed by a group of actors who would change roles, and orchestrate scenes through narration, dance, and by using techniques to created movement on the stage. The play was full of color and had beautiful costumes, masks, and symbols that could take you on a flight of imagination because they were so loaded with meaning. It was almost like watching the fireworks at Versailles, and like that time, this great performance created a bond between those who experienced it.

The auditorium was full of “froofroos,” a term coined by Parth for rich, well-dressed (usually in traditional clothing), educated Indians, who are progressive, who love the arts, and who, according to him, love the Pakistanis. We made fun of how the froofroos were a little pretentious, but then admitted that it was not a derogatory term and that we were froofroos too.

Yesterday I went to the Red Fort, the Jama Masjid (mosque), the Gandhi Darshan and Mandi House, where there are some art galleries. It was a long day, and I beat the heat by stopping to drink water, or lemonade that I got from a street vendor. Later I wanted something else to read (after my iPod met its tragic fate, I have turned to reading on the metro etc.), so I bought a copy of Uday’s mother’s latest book Weed - “We are Kashmir’s weeds. Wild, unwanted children.” I can’t wait to start reading it.

The Jama Masjid is enormous, gorgeous, and ornate, and it was a great delight to experience its architecture, complete with skillful technique, choice of material, and the exquisite use of color, on this day. I climbed up the minaar (tower) and the view was comparable to the Eiffel Tower’s. Here I could recognize landmarks in the city and study the cityscape as a whole. I was interested in the tops of buildings, and how they meet the sky, and Delhi is as interesting as Paris in that regard. I am excited to work on a related study.

I wanted to go next to the Gandhi Darshan, but the auto drivers didn’t quite know what that was. So I asked for Firoz Shah Kotla, thinking I could walk from there, and showed it to the driver on a map. That was a mistake, because he thought I had no idea what I was doing, and started off on a long, patronizing speech about ho I should go to the tourism office and ask them to help me out. I said okay and left. I had learnt a lesson. I went to another auto driver and just said Firoz Shah Kotla. It was perfect. I also realized that I had just to go ask for a ticket in Hindi, and I would get the rate for Indians (Rs. 5 as opposed to Rs. 100 for foreigners), because clearly I am not white and therefore not a foreigner!

The Kotla was something I stumbled on, but it turned out that these were ruins from the citadel built by Firoz Shah Tughlaq in 1351. It was a strange experience to walk through the complex – many of the arches reminded me of the Roman arches we had studied at Princeton. These were different but worked on the same concept of arranging stone so it is in perfect compression. It felt bizarre that these structures had survived for so many years. Architecture, like poetry, really is a way for transient humans to immortalize themselves; I thought maybe I should become an architect.

The Gandhi Darshan was located near the bank of the Yamuna River and there was a museum with a chronological presentation of Gandhi’s life. I have been a great fan of Gandhi, ever since I read outside the textbooks taught in Pakistan. His vision of non-violent civil-disobedience got a great nation its independence, and to the end of his life, he worked for humanity. I spent a lot of time reading about his early life, which I knew very little about.

During the day, to cover short distances, I rode the bicycle carts (I don’t know what they are called). You see them all over the city, and yet I felt at first it would be wrong to ride one, because it’s human labor that pulls you along while you sit and enjoy the view. Something about it seemed very colonial – or like a remnant of the caste system, far from equality. However, with the intense heat, and with so many of them looking to earn a living I fell for it and hopped on. It was a bumpy ride but an excellent opportunity for photography. I don’t know if I should have done that though…

Photos from the day can be found on Flickr.com by clicking here.

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