Writings of Mr. Das


A collection of writings of

Yashwant K Das,

architect and planner.

I thought that the best way of celebrating his 85 years of purposeful life would be to

bring together his writings under one cover for his family and friends.

He first wrote a small piece on a 'Lota' for an English architectural magazine, way

back in 1967, but he became quite prolific between 1988-91 when he wrote a regular

column for a Bombay daily under the byline 'Thinking Aloud' on subjects as varied as

architecture, cities, slums and political and social issues.Many of the articles in this

notebook may be read in context to that period, though most are relevant even today.

He has an uncommon ability to see deeper connections in everyday objects and

happenings, which many of us just give a pass. A Bombay daily in an introduction to

one of his columns described his approach - 'He has a broad vision of life and goes

easily from the history of architecture to its sociological implications and then comes

up with all sorts of practical solutions to the city's many problems : the proliferating

slums, the snarled traffic and the commuting travails. It is difficult to pin down Das

who could best be described as a down-to-earth dreamer'.

Those of us who have worked with him know of his concern and commitment to

common places and common purpose. These are amply reflected in his works and

writings and are best exemplified in his designs for his sister's house in Lucknow and

in his own weekend cottage. Perhaps, it all began with the Angan of his family's house

in Allahabad where he spent his formative years.

Appropriately, this notebook starts with his piece on that very Angan.

Happy reading,



1. Outer Space 1

2. Whom are we building homes for? – An Interview 4

3. Don't nibble at our parks 14

4. How vital is the architecture? 17

5. A Historical bias 21

6. Vistara – Exhibition Review 27

7. The Vitality remains 32

8. Our Decaying Cities – An Interview 36

9. Wanted : A Beetle building 44

10. Office Office 47

11. A New Look –Book Review 51

12. Home is where the heart is 57

13. The Responsive House –Book Review 60

14. City should be seen as a verb, not a noun – An Interview 64

15. A Mahatma, true to his name 74

16. What the Indian reality is 77

17. Declining quality of our elected representatives 80

18. Bureaucratic Republic of India 84

19. No laurels for our achievers 87

20. Frankly, it stinks! 90

21. The eternal cycle 93

22. Things seem pretty messy 96

23. Sloth makes it worse 101

24. If there were no politics 105

25. Petty lies and small misdemeanours 109

26. Kick out sports' bodies! 112

27. 'Kursi' – the only concern 116

28. Design for what? - Knife, Axe and Mechanical Saw 119

29. Do we need Japanese help to think? 123

30. Avoidable tragedies 126

31. Travails of train travel 129

32. Black is not so beautiful 132

33. Mourning in the morning 135

34. Make directories functional 137

35. Who needs Pepsi Cola? 141

36. Perks should be banned 144

37. The clock is indispensable 147

38. Glimpses of Goa 150

39. Spaced Out? 154

40. Reflections 161

Outer Space

Reminiscing over the mystical qualities of the angan…

I grew up in a sprawling colonial house with a large angan. We literally lived in it.

Mother would cook there, sisters would wash and dry their long hair sitting out in the

open, sarees fluttering on the clothesline. When I returned from school, I remember I

would sit at the stone table and eat my meal with a bamboo stave in one hand to ward

off diving eagles!

In the summer holidays, my sisters would visit us with their children. At night, string

beds covered with white sheets would be spread out all over the angan. And we would

pass the hot summer nights drinking iced milk and playing cards.In the daytime, when

the elders stayed indoors to escape the lu and the scorching sun, the children would

romp around in the angan, climb the guava trees and steal from the earthen pots filled

with pickles, which mother had left there to mature.

So central was the angan to our lives that children were reared, festivals were

celebrated and weddings performed there, and the angan embraced all of us like a

mother. We literally grew up in there. Even after decades, whenever we meet, we

share sweet memories of the angan. And I have often wondered about how much the

angan has contributed in keeping our large family close together.


When we returned to India after living abroad for over 10 years in closed boxes, we

invested our last paisa in a terrace flat. We tore down the wall between the living room

and the terrace and put up glass doors in between, grew a patch of grass on it, planted

a bougainvillea and a bamboo. The ambience was great. It was our pride and our

neighbours' envy. But somehow, we never made use of it as much as I thought we

would. We would have an occasional cup of tea or drink, but then, it was more

convenient to sit in the living room. The fridge was close by!

Slowly, it dawned on me that life had changed and so had the character of the open

spaces. Consumerism had taken over and gadgetry had arrived. Gadgetry, which is

tied to the umbilical cords of piped services like electricity, water and gas.

A TV or a VCR cannot be easily plugged on the terrace. The gas cylinder can't be

moved about at will. Expensive clothes are no longer hand-washed and dried in the

sun, but are dry-cleaned. Hair is no longer washed and dried in the open. The beauty

parlours have taken over. Weddings take place in 5 star hotels. After all, what is the

status value of a poor angan!

Further, it dawned on me that more than humans, it is their belongings that need the

built boxes. In the past, a string or a few pegs sufficed to put up the clothes, but now,

only large wardrobes can fulfill our requirements. Where a simple chulha was the only

adornment in the kitchen, now deep freezers and microwave ovens have to be


accommodated. As our belongings increase, with it increases the pressure on open

spaces. Consequently, rooftops get built over, terraces covered and balconies enclosed.

Even window grills are extended to provide a ledge for potted plants or store odds and


Commerce has ensured as it has ensured so many other things in our lives that today,

open spaces are either for the very poor or the very rich. Very poor because they

hardly have any belongings to put into the 'boxes'. And the very rich because they can

afford all the boxes they need for their belongings and still have something spare to

afford an open space. The rest of us are condemned to live and wither in our 'boxes'.

Leaving aside the utility value, a terrace or an angan may have in the present scheme

of things, it retains a quality which is hard to match by any other architectural element.

It brings people and places together. It is bright and it is shaded. It is open and it is

closed. It is warm and it is cool. It is where the man-made and the natural overlap. It is

nothing and it is still so much. This duality, this ambiguity, invests it with a unique

quality, which is almost mystical whether it is a piazza in an Italian town or a roof

terrace in a Rajasthani house or a traditional courtyard with a tulsi in the middle.

THE INDEPENDENT – 8 th August 1992


Whom Are We Building Homes For?

An interview for The Times of India by Anil Dharker

In a recent article in 'Seminar', you have said that architectural education in India does not

serve our real needs. Can you elaborate on that?

The point I was making was that our education, attitudes and values are determined by written

history. History should deal with everything. But you find that it emphasises a very narrow

area: it is concerned with the exploits of the well-off and kings. It never concerns itself with

what life was for the majority of the people.

Similarly, architectural history as taught in our institutions - and as it was taught to me - deals

with buildings for the privileged. I was taught about the Parthenon and Fatehpur Sikri and

about palaces and other monuments. We didn't study the evolution of villages and towns

which were built by common people for themselves. That is why I ask how our present pattern

of study is relevant to the problems we face today- low-cost housing, squatter settlements or

the growth of urban areas. Our attitudes have been conditioned in such a way that when we do

low-cost housing, we make it look like a smaller version of an upper-income house, although

the problem qualitatively is quite different.

But given the fact that we need solutions urgently and you can't rewrite history or change

attitudes overnight, what do we do?

If, we are aware of this problem, that is the first step.


And the change in attitude must occur not just among architects and town-planners, but

society in general. After all, an architect can do only as much as his client allows.

When you come to the main problem we are talking about – that of mass housing- who will

be your client? People living in shanty towns are not going to employ you, so it will have to

be the state.

It does come to that. But the real client will still remain the person whose needs we are going

to satisfy. It may mean that we satisfy his needs through a government institution but I regard

that only as a conduit.

But is the user really going to have any say? He hasn't much choice – in his limited budget,

he can only afford a single room.

That's why we have to ask him: because we are providing him with so much less, that 'less' has

to be so much more! If I am designing a house for a rich man, I can afford to make some

mistakes. Suppose I design his bedroom with poor ventilation, he can stick in an airconditioner.

But if my client has one room, there's literally no room for a mistake, is there?

That's where the broad question comes in of whether I and other architects are of any real use

– given our present education, the way we are organized, the way we charge our fees.

For instance, our fees are based on the total cost of the project – the higher the cost, the higher

our fees. I don't want to cut my own throat, but one can safely say that the less an architect

works, the higher will be the cost of the project and therefore the higher the fees! In India


especially, we should be working harder to lower costs but that means reducing fees and that's

why architects cannot afford to work for the masses.

Prof. John Turner, of M.I.T. during his recent visit here, was telling us of his experience in

Lima, Peru, where it was found that it was much cheaper for people to purchase their own

material through co-operatives and build their own houses. Perhaps a system like that can

be evolved here. And a body like the Indian Standards Institution with the help of architects

could evolve simple plans and methods of construction as guidelines.

Another thing which was observed at Lima and elsewhere, was that left to themselves, people

built houses of the size they required at that point in their lives. A young couple may require

just one room, a young family two or three rooms, an older couple when their children have

gone away, one room again.

Isn't the present system of bye-laws obstructionist and vested in the sense that there are so

many municipal permissions required that the services of an architect become absolutely

necessary? A poor man who can't afford an architect, therefore cannot build legally.

That's right. All squatter settlements are 'unauthorized constructions' because their plans

haven't been sanctioned. And even if the plans were taken for sanction, they wouldn't be

passed because they do not meet the bye-laws.


When the dwellings of a majority of people do not meet the bye-laws, which is wrong? The

dwellings or the bye-laws? The bye-laws have been made by the elite for the elite. There's a

need to change them drastically.

And greatly, simplify procedures. Nowadays, architects spend a lot of time running around

getting various 'No Objection' certificates – from the highway authorities, the airport

authorities and so on.

What can be done, especially for residential buildings, is that the corporation can suggest

certain standards, even typical designs and leave it to the architect or the owner to follow

them. The municipality can say ' As long as you meet these standards, you don't have to come

to us. But if you don't adhere to them, we will take strong action against you'.

Isn't the problem of architecture mainly that it is an 'urban' concept whereas India is

largely a rural country?

Yes, but why restrict yourself to architecture? It needs to be recognized in a general way that

if you want to do something for the people, we must go to where people live. And unless we

do enough for people in rural areas, they are going to migrate to urban areas making the

problems of urban areas so acute that we can't manage them. It becomes a vicious circle and to

break it, we have to go to the basics.

Otherwise, what we do may be well-intentioned, but it will never go beyond the surface. I'll

give you an example. Take the ten most populous cities in India. You will find that their total


population is only about 5 per cent of India's population. If the work of architects is confined

to these cities as it is today, they are doing something for only 5 per cent of India's population.

In fact, it's not even that – when you have taken out squatters, slum-dwellers and all those who

can't afford architects, you are left with barelyone per cent of India's population.

We can always be 'successful' architects by living in Bombay and having a large practice. But

let us not fool ourselves that we are being relevant to the problems of society.

Would you then say that architecture is socially irrelevant?

As it is practiced or organized today, yes. Many of us think – perhaps from guilty conscience

or because it is fashionable to be socially committed, that we must design low cost housing.

But the fact remains that no architect in India has come out with anything of value.

How have people managed so far in rural areas where they have been building their own

dwellings for years without professional help?

They have managed quite well by seeing and learning – the methods have evolved over a

number of years. That is part of the problem of town-planners today – the growth of towns is

so rapid that there is no time for feedback and learning from our mistakes.

Why can't some of the knowhow from rural areas be transferred to towns? For example, we

know that any large city has a large number of migrants from rural areas. Provided we gave


them some land, access to materials and other facilities, they could build their own


That would be a very positive step, rather than creating institutions like Housing Boards to

build tenements. When you build flats through institutions, they are obviously going to be

more expensive than if people built them themselves.

Not only that but you are then imposing a lifestyle which is alien to them and which there is

no reason why they should adopt.What does one do about immediate problems? We cannot

be callous and say that since we are embarking on a new programme of rural uplift, we

damn the present generation of urban poor. Surely, we can take some measures to alleviate

the problems of pavement dwellers and provide minimum facilities.

I agree. We tend to look at things in an institutionalized way and say that everyone must have

a roof over his head. But many of those sleeping on the pavements have good reasons for

doing so – they don't have a permanent job, they can't yet invest in a house and for nine

months in a year, it's pleasant to sleep outside. So let people sleep on railway platforms –

many are not being used at night. Provide lockers for their belongings, plan toilets and

showers for this extra population and not just passengers.

Similarly, schools or college verandahs and other public buildings can be used at night.

Someone told me that the Bombay municipal corporation used to have benches in parks.

When they found people sleeping on them, they changed the benches to chairs. I find this


absurd – what's wrong with people sleeping in parks? We should have more benches. This

attitude results in walls being built on the highway from the airport so that tourists can't see

squatters. Who are we designing cities for?

We have disposed of architects, or at best found them useful in a limited way. But aren't

town-planners required to decide about the overall planning of cities?

I have my doubts about the usefulness of the town-planners in today's India. When there is so

much uncertainty about the availability of funds for development programmes, can he really

plan a town and will the town grow according to his design? We know the case of Chandigarh

which hasn't worked in spite of the best town-planners.

This has happened elsewhere too. I am told that Brazil's new capital is not one but two cities –

the planned Brasilia and the real Brasilia just outside where shanty towns have sprung up.

People in the planned Brasilia motor down to the real Brasilia because things there are that

much cheaper.

There are a lot of limitations on the part of planners to plan, foresee and control. This is where

I come back to what I was saying earlier. Our focus on urban areas must change. Urban areas

are very capital intensive and we just don't have that much money. Take an example – the

BEST in Bombay is taking a substantial loan from the World Bank. But this loan will

replenish their aging buses, not increase BEST's carrying capacity. Then again, no one knows

who is to meet the cost of the proposed rail corridor on the suburban railway system.


How long is our system going to work on subsidies and borrowings? In the last few years, our

growth rate has been 3-4 per cent and our population increased 2-3 per cent. The recent World

Bank report says that over the next ten years, our growth rate will be 3 per cent which will be

about the same as our population. So we will be where we are. I don't understand then how we

are going to find funds for financing urban areas. If funds are found, it can only mean that they

have been diverted from rural areas. So rural areas will get poorer, the rural poor will migrate

to urban areas and urban problems will again get out of hand. We must break this vicious

circle if we are to get anywhere.

I don't think the answer lies in stopping industrialization completely. It must lie in

decentralizing industry and perhaps in another kind of technology.

Obviously, industry for us must be labour-intensive and economically viable in smaller towns.

Our scientists must work out a new technology. Sophisticated technology inevitably leads to

urban concentration because of the need for skilled manpower, universities, research

institutions etc.

Democracy means doing the kind of things people understand, which they can do, which they

can control. We must, therefore, have a technology which the majority of our population

which is illiterate can control. Otherwise, we will always have some kind of exploitation –

whether by politicians, capitalists or technologists.

Illiteracy is going to be with us for years and years. Under the Constitution, we should have

had compulsory primary education by 1965. Now the date has been pushed forward to 1980.


But the fact is that today, there are more illiterates than in 1947. Though education has spread,

population has grown so much more. Illiterates are going to be in the majority for 40 to 50


It's a situation like 'Alice in Wonderland' when you have to keep running to remain in the

same place. With the changed technology must also come a reorientation of education to

learn about more relevant technologies like gobar-gas plants.

I'll give you an example of our lopsided thinking. In the field of transportation, we are all

agreed that given our population, we must have mass transportation. But we confuse it with a

highly technological and capital-intensive system. The main argument is – car vs bus vs

suburban train. But as we were saying earlier, if Bombay city which is the richest in India,

cannot afford to even maintain its present fleet of buses without massive loans, what hope is

there for other cities? We must think in terms of smaller towns where you can walk, or cycle

to work, and forget about all this talk about reserved lanes for buses and so on. This is what is

being done in Hanoi or China.

We must keep asking – what can the majority of population afford?

THE TIMES OF INDIA – 16th November 1975



Don’t nibble at our parks

London, a city of seven million, is known for its open spaces and innumerable

residential areas are known by their parks, commons, greens and heaths. Two or threestoreyed

residential buildings are invariably planned on four sides of an evergreen

square and most buildings have a small garden in the front and a backyard. All this, in

a climate which is not too inviting for outdoor life! And it is not just the numbers, but

the sizes of these parks and green areas are enormous. Hyde Park, which is right in the

middle of the city, has an area of 340 acres. Hampstead Heath approximates 800 acres

and Regent Park is 554 acres. These are just a few examples. And nobody ever thinks

in England that these open spaces should be nibbled at.

In Bombay, a city of over 10 million and still growing and in a climate where one

would rather be outdoors than indoors, the number of parks in the city can be counted

on one's fingertips. Residential buildings have strips of land around them, which are

either used for parking cars or dumping garbage. Open-to-sky terraces are disallowed

by the corporation and now that the balcony area is counted in the FSI, the builders

have stopped providing it.


The few parks left are always nibbled at, either for holding an exhibition or a political

conference and specious argument or the other is always found to allot land within the

non-development zone – the most favoured argument currently going in tourism.And

the insidious ways in which open spaces are nibbled at in our city is exemplified by

the reported decision that the Drive-In cinema site at Bandra-Kurla can be developed

for commercial purposes. Drive-In theatre was essentially an open-air activity for

entertainment and enjoyment of large sections of public.

Hundreds of Dharavi residents, who could not afford to buy a ticket to get into the

theatre, would sit along the road to watch the film on the big screen. If the cinema has

become an uneconomical proposition, which it has, it should be developed as an

amusement park or an open-air art and culture centre, thus maintaining, in principle,

its original purpose.

And the insidious ways in which one land use is changed to another and to a more

profitable one is exemplified by the recent attempts by the cinema owners in the city

to convert their sites into commercial complexes. The city is woefully short of cultural

and entertainment facilities. Let these sites be developed for libraries, experimental

theatres, art galleries and new-wave cinemas and nothing else.

The Urban Land Ceiling Act, which has dampened the building activity in the city,

offers a unique opportunity to restructure the city. Thousands of acres of vacant land


are available in the eastern and western suburbs, where the city is growing the most.

The government does not want to acquire these plots, as it does not have money to

build and private developers will not touch them because the guidelines of the Act

make it economically unattractive for them to build.

But what is stopping the government from acquiring some of them for laying out

extensive parks and greens? Lakhs of trees can be planted on these, thousands of urban

employed can find jobs, planting trees and tending greens and social forestry will get a


Around these parks and greens can be planned residential areas by subdividing land

into small plots, which small co-operative societies can develop on their own. This

may even help lessen the hold of big developers in shaping the city.

Parts of the city will always degenerate with time and economic changes. This is part

of a city's life cycle. But degenerated areas should be used as an opportunity to

rejuvenate and restructure the city rather than strangulate it further. More than the

legal interpretation of rules and procedures and even expert opinions, what the city

needs is understanding, caring and nurturing, but alas, this is what is missing.

MID DAY– 7 th July 1989


How vital is the architecture ?

When we architects meet, we show each other colourful slides of our buildings and

talk eloquently about the big thoughts which went into creating these. But I have often

wondered how important is this kind of architecture for most of the people.

Gandhiji was born in an innocuous looking house and most of his life, he lived and

worked from buildings which were not architecturally very distinguished,though they

became distinguished later because of his thoughts and actions. The house Jawaharlal

Nehru was born in, In Allahabad, became part of a red-light area, soon after the family

moved to Anand Bhavan.

Though Anand Bhavan was a distinguished piece of architecture, Nehru's most prolific

years as a thinker and writer were spent in the jails. Similarly, the mathematician

genius Ramanujan lived and worked in an ordinary looking house. Now of course,

these people were highly talented, who perhaps would have been what they were

irrespective of the kind of buildings they lived in.


I spent formative years of my life living in a large colonial house with a large angan

attached to it and my most vivid memories of those years is of lying down at night in

the angan looking at the stars and even today, I sometimes feel like tearing down the

roof of my bedroom. The form or proportions of the house have a very small place in

my memory.

Once in London, we had asked about a dozen architects to draw the elevation of the

office building they were working in. Only one of them could do so with any kind of

accuracy. Many did not even know the number of windows it had!

I also know of friends who spent most of their enterprising and creative years, living

and working out of homes and offices, which were not only ordinary, but were almost

rundown. It was only after they had made good in the material world, that they

renovated their places. Having done so, I know they have enjoyed greater physical

comforts, but I doubt if their enterprise or creativity has appreciably increased.

If you look at the institutions, almost the same thing prevails. Oxford University has a

set of very distinguished buildings so has Cambridge, but Harvard does not. Still

Harvard is at the frontiers of knowledge. Similarly, at the MIT, most of the pathbreaking

research is done in rooms which are no more than four walls, two windows

and a door strung along dark, dingy never-ending corridors. And the guidance system

for the Apollo Mission which landed the first man on the moon was designed in a


disused warehouse. MIT does have a few distinguished buildings designed by Aalto

and Saarinen, but they are hardly talked about and I do not know how much they have

contributed to the creativity at the MIT.

Taking examples nearer home, we may ask if the Punjab High Court dispenses more

justice because it is housed in an architectural masterpiece, or if Punjab and Haryana

are better administered states because their secretariat was designed by the world

renowned architect Le Corbusier.

Recently, I read an interview of Charles Correa in which he reminisces about Le

Corbusier and says that there is a colossal difference between construction and

architecture. But I wonder why it has to be so. And it was not always so. Only in the

recent past, villages and towns were built by people with shared knowledge and

experience. Building, like eating and clothing, was a community act. Buildings were

built by people who knew their needs, knew the materials they used and also knew

how to put them together. And they put them together with love and care. And it

created buildings which not only worked but looked good as well. Till of course, such

time that master builders and architects came along and created this colossal

difference between construction and architecture and there is something quite

nauseating about a society which perpetuates such gross disparities, be they economic,

social or architectural.


The saddest part is that we architects take so much from our villages and towns –

monumentalize folk and vernacular architecture for our five-star projects, but give

back so little to these people and places.

MID DAY – 12 th May 1989


A Historical Bias

Architectural profession today is accorded a status much below others, for its

relevance to deal with the problem facing the society, is in question.

In our society, with millions of people and majority of them living below subsistence

level, providing shelter to these homeless and basic environmental facilities in large

urban and rural areas is the most urgent task, facing architects and planners.But are we

equal to the task? Does the formal architecture, in the vocation of which we are trained

and the practice of which produces the type of buildings which are mushrooming all

over our cities, provide the answer?

Clearly, it is no. But why?

To understand the present state of architecture, we must look back into time, for the

root of formal architecture lies in written history. A history which deals with the

privileged and the powerful, their exploits and symbols of their authority. But, which

largely ignores the common man, his efforts and achievements. Not surprisingly, the

source of inspiration for both, the public and architects has been historical monuments

– palaces, temples and capital cities – artifacts built by master builders for their

patrons. Creations of anonymous builders – houses, hamlets and villages remained

unacknowledged and unappreciated.


This historical bias has conditioned the socio-cultural thinking and has established the

architectural frame within which the architects view their role and the public forms its

sense of appreciation. It has produced a value system which encourages monumental

architecture and has determined to a large extent, the architects' pre-occupation with

image making and visually dramatic forms, and it can't be said that this pre-occupation

belonged to ancient and middle ages only.

At the turn of the present century, hinging the art of architecture on the newfound

technology and materials like concrete, glass, steel and devices like lifts, electric

bulbs, architects designed buildings with large spaces, wide openings, straight lines

and clean surfaces, devoid of ornamentation and applications. These buildings had an

appearance of machine made products, thus creating an illusion of rationality and

functionality. This illusion was further reinforced by the fact that increased use was

made of new-found building materials and techniques – products of industrialization,

which itself was considered to be an outcome of scientific and rational thinking. But if

looked into deeply, it would be observed that the difference was more in style than in


In the words of Ranyer Banham – the noted architectural historian – 'Mies van der

Rohe's Barcelona Pavilion, acclaimed as one of the masterpieces of the modern

movement in Europe was so purely symbolic in intention that the concept of


functionalism would need to be stretched to the point of unrecognisability before it

could be made to fit'.

His later buildings in Chicago and New York follow the same pattern and their

pristine quality can well be compared with that of the Parthenon. Corbusier's Capitol

Complex at Chandigarh is in the same strain as Fatehpur Sikri, awesome and grand,

symbolic of power and authority over the common man. Conceptually, the two are the

same, although the styles differ.

This conceptual approach toward monumentality and visually dramatic forms is not

restricted to Mies or Corb, nor is it exemplified by their buildings alone, for these two

are the giants of the modern movement of architecture and their ideas and works have

not only inspired a whole new generation of present architects, but have also greatly

influenced the cultural and financial elite, who, in almost all cases, are the clients and

critics of architects.

Architects, thus caught between the professional pressures to emulate the examples of

giants like Mies and Corb, and the pressure of the client taste to have buildings which

are 'unique', indulge in design exercises, which vary from pure plagiarism to feeble

attempts at 'originality' – in most cases arrived at by clever manipulation of forms and

other design elements. The pre-occupation remains with the end product and what is

visible. The more substantive questions of cultural and socio-economic relationships


with the built environment are lost sight of, if not totally ignored. Nothing would be

wrong with this approach if all of our clients were the privileged and the powerful

with ample resources, but when most happen to be poor and under-privileged, with not

enough even for the essentials of life, irrelevance of this approach becomes obvious.

Clearly, need is for change.

The prevailing attitudes need change so that professional services can be made

available to the masses in the larger interest of society. Professional ethics must also

change to favour social needs rather than individual interests. The need is for

architects to lower their sights to reach the humble, at times sacrificing quality for

quantity and making marginal improvements for the benefit of many, in preference to

total accomplishments for the use of the few.

Architects must divert their attention to innovations and design standards, which will

have wide application and which can be adopted to advantage by builders, artisans and

home-owners. Cumulative effect of small improvements to our environment can create

a revolution.

The emphasis must shift from the end product to the process which creates built

environment and in which, factors other than architectural, and people other than

architects, participate. In the process, the architects must be prepared to lose some of

the control which they like to enjoy over the end product.


The realization must come that buildings and towns are not the exclusive preserve of

architects or products of their efforts alone, nor do they have any exceptional insights

into these problems. In fact, in the past, most of what has been built (much good with

some bad has been built) is the outcome of the continuing activity of a whole

community using shared experience. Architects must become part of this common

enterprise using their specialized knowledge to stimulate and help development in the

desired direction, providing missing links where necessary. The approach must be to

support and encourage community initiative and effort and not to provide a substitute

for it.

There is much that architects can learn from the villages and small towns of our

country, from non-descript dwellings in old parts of our cities, built over a period of

time by their owner-occupiers with the help of artisans and mistries; from the

bungalows built all over India by English engineers and administrators who certainly

had a better understanding of our climatic conditions. Much can be learnt from a

typical Bengal village built around a pond, creating an almost perfect ecologically

balanced system; from pols of an old Ahmedabad city, grouping dwellings around a

common space, forming a cohesive social group; from town dwellings of Rajasthan

making extensive use of courtyards and terraces; and from the innovative genius of the

people of Hyderabad Sind who created 'Badgir' to provide ventilation in their homes.

Much can be learnt even from the bastis of Calcutta and Bombay. No doubt, much is

wrong with them and much can be improved there, but it can be hardly denied that


they are the only examples of mass housing in India which the people living in them

can afford.

There are innumerable such examples of built environment created by anonymous

builders, which are functional – and some even aesthetically satisfying. These

examples are closer to the problems with which we are faced today and more relevant

to understanding the process of development, than temples and palaces of the past,

from which architects have derived their knowledge and inspiration, so a beginning

must be made by rewriting history; a history which will emphasize the efforts and

aspirations of the common man through the ages, his accomplishments and his

artifacts; history which will remove the distortions in our perception and change our

value system, for without it, the relevance of architects, in solving the problems

staring us in the face, will always be questionable.

SEMINAR – 1 st February 1978



Exhibition of Indian architecture - a review

VISTARA is an exhibition of Indian architecture, organized by the Festival of India

Committee at the Nehru Centre in Bombay. Charles Correa and his colleagues

conceived it, and worked for over two years to collect and organize the materials now

on display. Mounting an exhibition of this range and scale – it includes examples of

architecture from Vedic times to this age, and everything from temples to hutments - is

a daunting task. Thousands of architectural works have to be identified, researched

and photographed. Moreover, many unique and diverse examples of architectural

works have to be coalesced into a form of display, which is at once comprehensible

and appealing, both to the architect and the layman.

Correa and his colleagues have done this with considerable success. To start with, the

name of the exhibition, 'Vistara' itself is very expressive: rich with many meanings.

The exhibition's logo, which shows a mandala with a bindu in the centre, is

graphically very appealing. The cutout of purusha, covered with gold-leaf, which

greets you at the entrance sets the mood of things – Indian. Banni houses show the

rural heritage of India and display its beautiful craftsmanship. A copper plate depicting

sri yantra, symbolizing the union of Shiva and Shakti, gleaming on the floor under a

black canopy, with soft hypnotic music in the air, creates a feeling of mystique. Then


on to sub-terrain architecture, perhaps one of the most unique of its kind in the world.

The inevitable Taj and other grand structures of the Moghul era. The ambience of the

colonial Raj. The dominating structures of Le Corbusier followed by works of Louis

Kahn and of several Indian architects, some of whom were inspired by the works of

these giants of the modern movement, and who have dominated the architectural scene

in India for the past two or three decades.

The theme of the exhibition attempts to relate the manifest with the non-manifest – the

belief systems of a culture with its architecture. In all cultures, belief systems mould

architecture. When the Americans build skyscrapers in gleaming stainless steel and

glass, it is a manifestation of their belief in excellence. In India, beliefs are deeprooted

and diverse. Our manifest world is small and infirm: therefore, it shapes our

architecture in a different, unique manner. I would say, however, that all architecture

is essentially the people's response to their climates: beliefs grow out of necessities.

Religion and philosophies only sanctify them.

Therefore, Indian architecture is quite different from the Western model in the way it

organizes and uses spaces. Modhera can be seen as a space within the womb of the

space. Fatehpur-Sikri is a series of spaces interconnected; spaces which are formed by

pushing the buildings to the edges; Bulund Darwaza opens into a space. This concept

occurs all through our architectural history, in monumental buildings as well as in

humble houses built by people themselves, with courtyards in the middle and rooms


around. Wadas, chowks, angans, chabutras and barsatis have a special place in our

architectural vocabulary.

The concept of space within space is deep-rooted in our minds. A child draws a circle

in the sand to instinctively define his space. Even today, in many homes, a Brahmin

cook draws a line with a piece of coal to demarcate his mythical 'pure' space of work

from the 'polluted' area beyond the line. In the Ramayana, Lakshman draws a circle

around Sita to create a protective space. He chooses not to build a wall. This idea of

space is so deeply rooted in the Indian mind, that even today, no sooner a wall is built,

than people and their activities spill out. Our minds define space, not our buildings.

The exhibition suggests that modernity came to India with Le Corbusier. But

modernity came with the British Raj. Our minds were opened to liberal thinking,

egalitarianism and rationality. Modernity came to education, administration, judiciary

and architecture. What was created during this period were not just the Raj Bhavans

and the ambience of the burra-sahib lifestyle but, for the first time in our history,

rulers built buildings for public use on a large scale – district courts, civil hospitals,

schools, police stations and a host of dak bungalows. These were ordinary buildings

for the use of ordinary citizens, built with local materials and they responded well to

the climate of the place and functions of the institutions. Public architecture in India

was being democratized.


It is not a mere accident of history that Le Corbusier came to India about the same

time that Gandhiji left to us his few possessions filled with profound messages. But,

we had made our choice.

The modern movement of architecture in Europe, of which Le Corbusier was one of

the founders, was essentially a response to the new materials and technology of the

late 19 th century. Its intellectual underpinnings were rationality and functionality. But,

with Le Corbusier and later with Louis Kahn, the modern movement came to India in

a highly stylized form. It was heady wine for our nascent profession. While Europe

was busy rebuilding its war-ravaged cities and thousands of houses for the homeless,

we, in India, were set on a course, which kept a whole generation of architects

occupied, for almost three decades, with a form of architecture, which neither gave

expression to our cultural heritage nor to the aspirations of our people.

It is no wonder then, that most of the contemporary works of architecture in the

exhibition are described in architectural terms: 'expression of purist spatial order', 'a

bold expression of cubist aesthetics', 'a bold statement of urban form' etc. They are

seldom described in terms of people and places. One is tempted to call this a period of

architectural colonization and what a paradox of history that it began when we had just

got our political independence.


By the mid-'70s, this phase of architecture in India had run its course. A period of

introspection and re-assessment began. One set of architects, fascinated by the forms,

images and symbols of our traditional architecture, started looking for a new form of

expression and this process of the 'Sanskritization' of architecture is evident in some of

the works of the later '70s at the exhibition. Yet another set of architects, concerned

with the problems of growing cities and the homeless, have started looking towards

vernacular architecture – which is as rich and varied as formal architecture – for

solutions to some of the problems facing the built environment. The search is on. And,

some time, the two must coalesce to form the truly Indian architecture. And what

better example can there be, than the Mahatma himself; who would read the Gita as

well as look through a microscope!

Recalling the images of Gandhiji's possessions almost four decades later, one hopes, is

not just a matter of the form of the exhibition, but an assertion for the very content of

our architecture. If this is to be so, we shall indeed move on to a new Vistara, which

will have a far greater impact on the lives and culture of our people than all the

architectural monuments put together.

DEBONAIR – December '86


The vitality remains

A city to survive and thrive…

Bombay must have added a few million people to its population in the past decade.

And it shows. From almost every window, one can see more hutments and pavementdwellers.

The streets are more crowded, bazaars busier. There are longer queues at the

bus-stops and the trains are jam-packed. For those who crave convenience, the city is

bursting at the seams and the crisis is all around us. For those looking for opportunities

to survive and thrive, it is a hub of activities which offers a choice, a chance to make

good in this material world.

There are the few who have chosen to move out to more easy-paced places like

Bangalore and Pune, but the city continues to attract thousands of artisans from

eastern UP, construction workers from Andhra and Karnataka, the drought-affected

from Rajasthan and young professionals from other states, to enjoy the freedom which

only the anonymity of Bombay provides.

And while some of the corporate offices have moved out, their engineers keep coming

to the city to look for someone who will make a machine part as the Yen has gone up

and they can't afford to import it any longer. And they are sure to find someone sitting

on a machine in a dark and dingy gala in Kandivili or Goregaon, who will make it for

them if not as good as the Japanese, almost as good.


With the Urban Land Ceiling Act acting as dampener on construction activity in the

city, buildings are mushrooming outside the city limits. Even New Bombay at last

looks like it's taking off. And one sees more and more advertisements for farmhouses

a few hours away from the city – a pointer of the shape of things to come. But the Act

is no dampener on the growth of hutments and 'unauthorised' construction. About half

the population of the city today lives and works in them. At first, both the thought and

sight of them is depressing, but if one sees how people have improved many of these

settlements against all odds, it is not quite so depressing.

There are more buses on the roads, but the BEST keeps doing a wonderful job of

carrying hordes of commuters every day. There are more suburban trains too, though

the stations remain as derelict as ever. The Maharaja of Scindia has granted Rs. 60

lakhs to face-lift four major stations on the western corridor. It will not pay for marble,

as used at the Gwalior station, but for Bombayites, a fresh coat of paint will do.

The Western Expressway is still being debated, but the city roads have absorbed the

thousands of Marutis without many traffic hiccups. Just goes to show that better traffic

management can also create additional carrying capacity. And the Marutis have added

a little more colour and zip to Bombay's roads.

And Bombay is greener than ever before. Pherozshah Mehta Road is full of shady

trees, so are many of the roads in the suburbs. Trees along Marine Drive and Haji Ali


are taking root and more and more traffic islands are being turned into vibrant greens.

There are more plants in the balconies and indoors, even if some of them are artificial.

Fewer trees get chopped, and when they do, they make for newspaper headlines.

At last, the Tata Theatre got permission to build luxury flats to support its cultural

activities and Prithvi Theatre continues to survive on a shoe-string. And the roads are a

little livelier with street theatre. The idea of having a gallery of modern art is still

gathering dust, but the pavements around Jahangir Art Gallery are attracting artists, art

lovers and passers-by. Small may or may not be beautiful, but it certainly works.

The fashion, the flair and the style of the decade are reflected in the city's architecture.

Hafeez Contractor's buildings and their copies, which are sprouting all over the city

are a testimony to it. They may work, they may not. But they certainly sell. Because

people having earned money are now willing to spend for the label and the looks.

The decade also saw the completion of Correa's skyscraper at Kemps Corner with

gardens in the sky. Few can afford to live in them, but almost everyone can see the

difference between the elegant and the prosaic. Uttam Jain completed the Research

Centre for the RBI, full of architectural symbols and even if most of these belong to

the dry and dusty landscape of Rajasthan, sitting on wet and green hillocks of

Goregaon, it is a worthy addition to the kaleidoscopic images of the city.


In the past decade, Bombay has lost some of its elan and grace, which happens to most

growing cities, but none of its vitality. And it has been brave, even magnanimous. It

braved the police mutiny and the Bhiwandi carnage. It withstood the chauvinism of

Sainiks and Mastans. It took in its stride, the land and cement scandals. And the gang

wars of mafias. It met the greed of thousands and the needs of the millions. What more

could we ask of a city. Salaam Bombay.

MID DAY –27 th June 1989


Our Decaying Cities

An Interview for Youth Times by Anil Dharker

There seems to be a general consensus of opinion that our cities do not work.

Would you say that this is by and large true?

There is no doubt about it-our cities do not work, in the sense that the very large

population in our urban areas cannot be supported by the infrastructure there. By

infrastructure, I mean all the facilities that one expects of a town- transport, roads,

sanitation, medical facilities and so on. For 80 or 90% of our urban population, all

these are simply non-existent.

Urbanisation isnot an Indian invention-it started in the west many years ago. Why is

it then that it is regarded as a problem here and not in the West?

As you say, urbanisation is not a new thing. It started in the West after the industrial

revolution had brought about great changes such as railroads and manufacturing

industries. But what you will find is that in West European countries such as France

and Sweden, cities followed industrialisation. For instance, in France, when about

30% of the country's population was engaged in manufacturing, only 10% was living

in towns. The same happened in Sweden and Switzerland. This means that a great

deal of manufacturing activity was going on in the villages so that when cities grew,

they had enough potential to create jobs for people who might go there.


In India, the situation is rather different-we don't have enough industries and not

enough jobs in our cities. Our cities are growing only because of the population

pressure in villages, and because rural poverty forces people to migrate into cities.

I will give you anexample. In 1951, Bombay had a population of 3 million. In 1971,

this had become 6 million i.e. it has doubled in 20 years while our overall population

is doubling in 35-40 years.Of this population, half is employed in manufacturing

activity. The other half is in 'service' activity. This proportion may be similar to that in

England, but when you talk of service activity for the U.K. you mean not only shopkeepers

but also bankers, financial institutions and-research bodies. Here we have

domesticservants, hawkers, touts and peddlars in large number. They are in a

sense,'parasites'. The net result is that only a small number of people are gainfully

employed. It is people in productive jobs who contribute to the wealth of cities.

Without that, cities have no money to provide the required facilities.

You were talking about industrialisation preceding urbanisation in the west.

Was this made to happen or was it an accident of history? Why hasn't it happened


Urbanisation in the West took place at a slower pace. The population did not increase

as rapidly as it is doing here. Their agriculture was on a very sound footing so there

was not this scramble of people who had to move from villages because of poverty.


People were moving into cities because they had better jobs or something more


An Indian parallel is the Punjab.Because rural agriculture has beenstrong, smaller

towns have sprung up near villages to provide servicing and marketing. They have

developed industries of their own such as hosiery, sports' goods, tractor repairs and so

on. Allthis means that the pressures on urbanisation which we see elsewhere are

missing in the Punjab. There areno large towns bursting at their seams. And towns in

Punjab like Ludhiana, Bhatinda, Jalandhar, do work.In the rest of the country, people

migrate from villages because they are 'pushed' by pressures there, not 'pulled' by job


When you talked about manufacturing activity being present in the villages of

Western Europe, I take it these would be in the form of smithy or ironmongery.

Surely this happens here too.

True. But the advantage the West had was that technology then was not as

sophisticated as it is now. Because we have industrialised much later, we have

suddenly adopted this sophisticated technology. There has been a quantum jump. And

that makes it very difficult for our villagers to adapt to.

Are the problems the same in all our cities whether it is Bombay, Delhi or Calcutta?


They are more or less the same, because their causes are identical. Of the doubling of

Bombay's population, I mentioned earlier, half has been because of rural migration.

Only half has been due to the natural population increase in the city. Thisis similar to

what is happening in Calcutta or Delhi.

The problems of Bombay are very peculiar in many ways because it is a narrow strip

of land and there is no possibility of growth in any direction. Commuting is northsouth,

and uni-directional only. A city, like New Delhi on the other hand, 'is, to a

lay man, well- planned with wider boulevards and lots of open spaces. Would you

say that Delhi works better for its average citizen?

In some respects, it may work better than Bombay. There is less congestion, more

open space. But this very open space causes its problems too. A public transport

system is extremely uneconomical. Bombay at least is linear and densely populated;

transportation can be cheaper. But basically, both are faced with the problem of lack

of useful employment.

Would this be the same fora new city like Chandigarh?

A new city has several advantages-you can plan as you want, whereas in an existing

city, you have to live with a lot of things, which do not suit present conditions.But

planned cities have their own problems-they are capital-intensive, so you have to

invest a lot of money in them, before they develop to a stage, where people will put up

industries in them or come to live in them.


Chandigarh did have the advantage of being planned soon after Partition as an

alternative to Lahore as Punjab's capital. So government offices moved there, giving it

an impetus for growth. But industries are reluctant to go there and its open spaces and

low density is expensive for public transportation.

I think that new towns are only a limited solution in easing the pressures on large

towns. But we have a lot of existing small towns-India's urban population is spread

through 2500 towns with population ranging from 5000 to over 5 million.

Most of these smaller towns have developed,because of their proximity to rivers and

fertile land. Many of them have a reasonably good infrastructure. I think greater use

should be made of these towns as the initial investment is much less than for

newtowns. It is quicker and cheaper to improve an existing infrastructure than starting

from scratch.

A case in point is New Bombay which is being built to siphon off population from

Bombay. But New Bombay is being built on barren land, which,to start with, has to

be developed.

Suppose instead you take a town like Kalyan or Thana or even Nasik which really isn't

so far fromBombay. Let's develop them. Theyare also near the villages of thatarea, so

they could be feeding back to the villages certain kinds of services, provide market

facilities which the villages badly need.


Can you expand on this?

Let's take Nasik as a concrete example. What steps would you take to develop it?

Would you move industries from Bombay there?

Yes, I would move some industries from Bombay. Before that, the infrastructure of

Nasik must be improved to make it attractive for industries to shift. This is being done

to some extent by agencies like SICOM.The transport link with Bombay would need

to be improved to make it possible for some people, who have to stay in Bombay for

various reasons, to commute there in about 2 hours.Simultaneously, Nasik’s

development must be integrated with the development of smaller towns and villages

around it so that it becomes a growth centre. The surplus population of villages will

then go to Nasik, rather than to Bombay.

How does the cost of improving the infrastructure of a small town compare with that

of a large town?

It is much cheaper. For example, studies show that per capita cost of infrastructure

development for towns over 5,00,000 population comes to Rs. 280. For towns between

50,000 and 5,00,000, the figure is Rs. 225. If you go to towns smaller than 50,000, the

figure is only Rs.180. These figures are from a study done some years ago. The actual

figures will be higher now, but the ratios will be the same i.e. if large cities are taken

as the base of 100, the cost for medium cities is 66. That’s a considerable difference.

It is obvious why this should be so. In large cities, because of problems of space, you

need multistoreyed buildings of steel and concrete, whereas you could build smaller


and cheaper structures of brick. Transport in a large town has to be taxis or trains or


In small towns, it can be auto-rickshaws, mini-buses and cycles. Roads, therefore, do

not have to be as good in smaller towns. In large cities, you have to go miles to get a

sufficient quantity of water. Most smaller towns are near a natural source of water.

There’s another important point. Surveys have shown that living conditions are better

in smaller towns than in large ones. For instance, the percentage of people living in

one room or less is 80 in Calcutta. If you take the four largest cities, the percentage is

65. In smaller towns, the figure is 44. In villages, it is 35% i.e. only one-third live in

one room quarters. Two-thirds have larger houses.

Would the kind of industry you would put into a small town be the same as in a

large town or would it be different – a sort of intermediate technology?

That’s a very important question. Very often, the incentives being offered by the

government to industry to move to small towns, do not work because those industries

are not economically viable in a smaller town.

Like the mini-steel plants at Tarapur.

The important point to remember is that our population is increasing while the land

that can be cultivated, is not. So alternative employment must be found for these

increasing number of people. As we have said before, these jobs should be created in


smaller towns. And since most of the migrant labour is unskilled, we must develop a

technology that uses semi-skilled and even unskilled workers. The small towns can

then become a kind of stepping stone to larger cities and more sophisticated


This is an argument about our received ideas about industrialization. For example,

going back to the bicycle now – that phrase gives me away. Most people regard

bicycles as ‘going back’, going forward would mean superfast trains and planesand

all those western symbols of progress. We have been taught to see industrialization

as a thing of the jet-age.

The question is of ‘appropriate’ technology rather than ‘backward’ technology. We

have to face realities. We have a large population, we are short of funds, a large

proportion of our population is illiterate. We have to create a situation where the

majority of our people can work and live. It’s not a question of going backward or

forward. These are static ideas; we have to decide what is suitable for us.



Wanted : a Beetle building

The Volkswagen Beetle is the perfect example of looks in the backseat and utility up

front. The present Indian situation demands that form follow function and not the


In the mid-'50s, when I had entered the architectural school, we were brought up on

the architectural dictum 'Form follows function'. Not that we knew much about the

function of the buildings we were designing, but the discussion among students and

teachers was invariably about how the designs we had done, related to the function of

the building.

Moving to England in the early '60s, when Europe was preoccupied with the

reconstruction of its cities – building schools, housing and hospitals etc – the approach

was more or less the same : how to use space efficiently and materials economically.

Not that looks were ignored, but they somehow took the back seat and came out of a

judicious pooling together of the various building elements. The underlying idea was

to use reason, whatever one could muster, to cope with the reality as it was perceived.

But the building needs of the society and the ways to fulfill them were discussed and

debated among architects and the professional bodies. And, more important, leaving


aside a few dilettantes, most architects felt truly responsible and accountable to


Returning to India was a revelation. Here, form followed the client. It was not his

superior knowledge or longer experience, but his position that was doing the dictating.

In cases where the architect could manage to outwit the client with his seductive

drawings or smooth talk, form followed the architect or to be more precise, his whims.

In recent years, with post-modernism hitting the West and with our desire not to be

left behind, our tempting drawings and clever talk have become even more

sophisticated. In the past, we spoke about means and needs. Now we talk of culture

and aspirations. Building designs come wrapped in cultural images and long wordy

explanations as though buildings are dumb and unable to speak for themselves. The

emphasis nowadays is on style rather than substance. The parallels with the

advertising world here are obvious, where the packaging is more important than the

product itself.

In my view, these forays into our cultural past should be made cautiously. The

educated have a special responsibility to do some soul-searching. Culture is our

collective experience. To the extent that it helps to create a better tomorrow, it must be

used. But to dig into the past and mindlessly appropriate forms, images and symbols,

without understanding and explaining how it is relevant to a better tomorrow is not


fair to a society which desperately needs buildings which are affordable and which


Things which are affordable and work have their own pleasures. Nothing illustrates

this point better than the design of Volkswagen Beetle in the late forties. With the

world war over, industries were looking for new products to manufacture. Volkswagen

came out with a peoples' car which was affordable and which worked. It was not

particularly comfortable and good-looking. But over three decades, millions of people,

the world over, bought it because it gave them the much-needed mobility which in

turn opened up for them new vistas of life. But times change. By the '70s, standards of

living had gone up in the West and people were looking for more than just the basic

necessities. When the Japanese came out with comparable cars which had greater

comfort, style and zip, it was time for the good old Beetle to make its exit.

Similarly, what we need today are buildings which are affordable, buildings which

work and which will open up opportunities for our people. Hopefully, times will

change for the better, for buildings with style and flair and with architectural whims.

But, that time is not now.

THE INDEPENDENT – 12 th September 1992


Office Office

In the past, organizations used to be small and a typical office belonged to a lawyer, a

solicitor or an accountant, with the owner or the boss having a private office next to

the window; his secretary occupying a small partitioned area adjacent to his offices

and other assistants, book-keepers and stenographers in another room nearby.

Essentially, it was an extension of a study at home, where a few reference books were

kept, some paper work was done and an occasional meeting took place.

With the growth of the service industry in the 50's, organizations became bigger.

Corporate offices were set up, with several departments under unitary command and

control. Space requirements increased. Each department had its own functional

requirement of work and storage space. Communications within the departments and

with other departments became long and complex. It was no longer possible to meet

complex organizational needs by just buying more office space, and adding more

desks and storage cupboards.

Planning and design effort was required to rationalize the different requirements,

resolve the contradictions between opposites like greater communication and privacy,

and plan for efficient functioning of offices. Thus entered the architects and designers,

some going on to become specialists in office interior design.


In the beginning, the response of designers was 'more of the same'. In place of one

private office, more private offices flanked along the window wall, guarded by their

secretaries sitting outside their cabins in small glass partitioned areas and the bulk of

the junior offices, assistants and stenographers, in an open hall or, if possible, in

several halls segregated department-wise.

However, the architects' contribution was unmistakable. They rationalized the space

requirements, desk sizes, distances between two desks, the width of aisles and space

required for storage of files and documents etc. Planning modules were established.

Standards for light, temperature and ventilation were set. But the planning was still

largely dictated by rank and status. So a junior got a smaller desk than his senior

colleague irrespective of the nature of their work. The boss always had the largest

cabin with a window, preferably in the corner with two windows! The architect

superimposed his traditional grammar of visual order, pattern and geometry on the

organisation's chart based on hierarchy.

The early sixties saw a sea change in the approach to office interiors. In 1958, a

management consultancy group in Germany looked into conventional office interiors

and concluded that these had a harmful effect on work performance, and rarely

improved the working environment.According to their study, an office layout based on

an organizational chart seldom responded to real everyday needs of work and

communication. The partitioned cabin created a barrier between colleagues at work


and hampered communication, and it was too rigid to meet the modern need for rapid

organizational change.

They came out with an 'office landscape' plan which, according to them, met the

'realities of office work space'! It was not based on any organization chart, but on the

logic of office functions. It did away with partitioned cabins. It was an open office

plan. The desks were staggered to avoid eye to eye contact and the sense of being

watched. Managers were given extra area to symbolize their status (status was not

totally ignored) which was screened by plants and filing units. Rest areas and space for

future expansion was provided. But, the most striking thing was that it did not look

like anything seen before in office layouts. Gone was the geometrical order of

conventional office plans. Visually, it looked random and confusing. When it was first

published, it caused considerable doubts, but its impact on subsequent office interiors

in Europe and the US was unmistakable.

Now offices all over the world are more open than closed. Organisation charts have

not been cast into the waste paper basket, but functional needs of the office work are

paid attention to. Hierarchy is still there, but distinctions have been reduced.

In India, office interiors saw a big surge in the eighties. The country's economy was

expanding and with it, its business organizations. As real estate prices sky-rocketed,

the need was to fit more people and facilities into the same space. (In India, we still


judge efficiency by the number of persons/sq.ft.) The cost equation had dramatically

changed. With office space at Bombay's Nariman Point selling at over Rs. 10,000 per

sq.ft., it made money sense to spend another Rs.1000 per sq.ft on interiors, if in the

process, 10% more could be accommodated. Interiors paid for themselves with

designers' ambience thrown in as a bargain. On the other hand, the social structure of

business organizations was also changing. Organisations were becoming professional.

Bright, young whiz-kids were joining the firms, clerks and assistants were giving way

to management graduates. Graduates who were not senior enough to claim a cabin but

were educated enough to claim a half cabin! Old manual typewriters were being

replaced by word processors. Both men and machines required a new working

environment. Central air-conditioning became a rule rather than an exception. This

meant that the office layout got divorced from the window wall. It gave the designers

freedom to plan, which changed the shape of offices.

That is where the office planning stands today, but what about the future? With

electronic age upon us and fax, video-conferencing, cellular telephones and laptops

knocking at our doors, 'Work by wire' has put the conventional office planning based

on organizational charts and functional relationships on its head. Now, one can be

anywhere and everywhere at the same time as long as one has a video screen and the

right frequency. What it means to the future of office planning, indeed to the future of

office planners, is an interesting thought.

November 1993


A New Look

The New Landscape by Charles Correa – Book Review

In the New Landscape, Charles Correa attempts to look at the ever-increasing crisis of

cities in Third World countries. He argues that the abject poverty in the villages

creates distress migration to cities, and suggests that land redistribution in the villages,

establishment of market towns, and shifting of industry and major offices to middlesized

towns are some of the things that can be done to cope with the problem.

Distress migration is by the poorest of the poor. The question is, will an impoverished

Harijan from a village really get a piece of land to cultivate, as suggested in Correa's

redistribution of land? Will he get a place to sell his produce in the new market towns?

Will he get a job in industries or offices if they are shifted to smaller towns? And will

his skills be of any use in industry?

The essence of the problem is poverty. Distress migration stems from it and

aggravates the problem, but schemes of growth centres, public transport systems and

shifting of industry are not going to make much impact unless poverty is dealt with.

Take the example of the Green Revolution. Who benefitted? The rich farmers. Yes,

we produce more food, but the poor can't afford to buy it. Not only do they lack the

purchasing power, they simply do not have the skills and opportunities to acquire it in


the present system. Therefore, the distress, which forces millions to migrate from

villages to the city, continues in the city. The continuing distress of these poor is the

crisis of the cities.

I am not suggesting that the question of a city's size, its location, or its physical form is

not important. It is. But in the overall context, its importance is limited to the extent

that the answer to it helps to break the process of poverty.

Correa writes on New Bombay, which he and two of his colleagues had suggested in

the 60's, as an alternative growth centre which was planned to relieve pressure on

Bombay. It has not been a success. Many reasons can be attributed for this. I think it is

located too close to Bombay to successfully become an alternative growth centre and

too far to relieve the immediate pressures. Opinions may differ on this point, but it

certainly cannot be made a model to 're-arrange the scenery' at a national level. Such

new towns are too expensive and take far too long to take off. The national strategy

must be to develop existing towns, of which there are many in India, where smaller

investments can show greater results in a much shorter time.

Patrick Geddes' idea of conservative surgery for towns (plus a few 'selective

transplants') is perhaps more appropriate in the Indian context. If this approach had

been adopted in the 60's, for small towns close to the source of migration (by investing


in industries and services with the capability to absorb migrants with their traditional

skills), the 'scenery' today might have been different.

Correa has always demanded that space be treated as a valuable resource in structuring

cities. He is most persuasive on the need for low rise/high density housing, on small

equitable plots with 'open to sky spaces' for living, which lend themselves to

incremental development and in the development of which the owner/occupier can


The advantages of this approach are many, both economic and social, and this is how

most cities in the past were built. Even today, in smaller towns where small plots are

affordable, thousands of people build their own houses using their common sense and

shared knowledge with the aid of mistries and masons. Most of our planners and

architects don't quite see things this way, but the trend from 'mass housing' to 'housing

by the masses' is clearly discernable. There is no better example of this than the tens of

thousands of juggies-jhopris where millions live in the Third World cities.

Some of the advantages of low-rise/high-density housing, like incrementality,

pluralism and disaggregation, which are part of juggi-jhopri development, are

incorporated in Correa's scheme for a housing sector in New Bombay. These

considerations must become part of our housing policy in the future. It is a matter of

some hope that schemes like site and services and core houses are already being


accepted by the housing planners. This acceptance may only be due to economic

reasons, but the schemes have very strong social advantages.

It is on this account that Correa's proposition for very small plots of 45 sq.m. to 75

sq.m. for each housing unit appears to be weak. Since land cost is a prime factor in the

total housing costs, economically it makes sense to have small houses on small plots.

It makes housing affordable and keeps the city distances manageable. But socially it

enforces a small nuclear family pattern for generations to come. Land patterns, which

in turn determine social and even attitudinal patterns for ages to come.

A possible way out of this dilemma can be to go for twin family houses on plots

double the size. Economically, the situation remains the same. Socially, it provides

greater possibilities. A joint family or an extended family can share the whole house,

or part of it can be used for business or trade. Initially, the owner/occupier can live in

one part, another part can be rented out and as the economic standards improve, a

small family can have the whole house to itself.

In any case, rentable housing must become an integral part of any housing policy. As

cities grow, the new immigrants, while searching for permanent work, need rentable

housing. If it is not easily available, the growth of cities suffers. And economic rents,

paid to the owners/occupiers, augment their capacity to afford and build more housing,

which in turn spurs both, the economic and physical growth of cities.More than land


use, mobility determines the city structure and its economic viability. Therefore, a

correct choice of transport and communication modes is of crucial importance for

Third World cities.

Correa illustrates with the example of China, where millions bicycle to work. He

suggests greater use of bicycles in our cities. With the growth of cities as distances get

longer and the viability of bicycles reduces, Correa suggests public transport systems

based on Mass Rapid Transport (MRT).

Correa had developed this scheme of MRT for his New Bombay proposal. Though

theoretically interesting, it is a moot point if it is practically viable. Like New

Bombay, it certainly cannot be used as a model for growing cities of the third world.

Resource constraints and lack of managerial skills make it impractical. Moreover,

urban growth is going to take place in existing towns and cities, where laying of

tracks, whether surface or underground, plays havoc with existing life and property.

(Note the Calcutta experience). Like high-rise buildings, MRT is a big question mark.

A more practical thing would be to develop the whole range of road transport,

including bicycles, two wheelers, cars and buses. Its advantages are the same as of

low-rise housing – incrementality, pluralism, participation, equity and disaggregation.

What is more, like low-rise housing, it has great potential to generate employment in

the informal sector of the economy.


In the last decade, the trend changed from 'mass housing' to 'housing by the masses'. I

would not be surprised if in the next decade, the trend changed from 'mass transport' to

'transport by the masses'. With the design of pollution free cars (doing 100 miles per

gallon) already on the drawing board, the cars may still have the last laugh before the

turn of the century. The least we can do is to keep our options open.

The book contains some of Correa's articles written almost two decades ago. Since

then, the perception of cities (both by Correa and others) has considerably changed.

Therefore, at times, some of his propositions (like New Bombay or MRT and his

allusions to Akbar being a great builder or to the creative instincts of Hindemith) do

not square up with his propositions for housing. Nor do they share the same aesthetics.

But the book is to be welcomed, for it is written and illustrated in a simple and concise

manner. It is accessible even to the lay reader. And it is an important contribution,

because cities concern citizens and not just planners. Citizens must get concerned if

the crisis of cities is to be dealt with successfully.

DEBONAIR – April '86


Home is where the heart is

We often lament the loss of old world charm of our cities – felling of trees, fleeing of

the birds – and rise of concrete skyscrapers all around us.

Living in cities does not come naturally to us. It is tough on our senses and it saps our

energy. We yearn to escape – to nature – our original habitat to soothe our senses and

recoup our energy. But the city is not going to change in a hurry. It has become very

complex. Many hidden hands are shaping and re-shaping it every moment. Not many

of us are lucky enough to have either the time or place to escape to, except to our little

homes in these very skyscrapers which we loathe.

The question is what can we do to make our little homes a place to live in and live


By now, it is conventional wisdom that a home needs to meet our physical as well as

psychological needs. The physical needs of a family like studying, eating and sleeping

are generally understood and can be designed and provided for, by an architect, in the

form of a house. The psychological needs, like a sense of comfort, security and

belonging etc. are more complex and unique to the homeowners and can best be filled

in by the homemaker. Therefore, while an architect can design a house, it is only a

homemaker who can turn it into a home.


Recently, I read a book titled ‘The Architecture of Happiness’. At one point, the

author Alain de Botton suggests that we depend on our surroundings to embody the

moods and ideas we respect and then to remind us of them. He further says that we

look to our buildings to hold us, like a kind of psychological mould, to a helpful vision

of ourselves. This would suggest that if we are fond of reading, then having books on

the shelves will remind us of our interest in literature and knowledge and reinforce our

idea of it. Similarly, if we are fond of art, putting paintings on the wall will reinforce

our interest in the finer things of life. If we are fond of cooking, then having an open

and large kitchen will provide that much more pleasure, thus making us feel fulfilled

and happy.

A word of caution is necessary. Some of us, who do not value books or works of art,

often display them in our homes as part of the décor – as objects to be ‘showcased’.

This ‘disconnect’ between what we value and what we show will not generate the

sense of happiness we yearn for.

When we acquire a place, the place belongs to us in a legal sense. But do we belong to

it? What do we do to get a sense of belonging?

Let me give you a personal example. I have a small garden and have employed a

gardener to mind it. He waters the plants, prunes the hedges and puts fertilizer in the

roots. The garden looks fresh and green and it makes me feel good. But sometimes


(especially when the gardener is on his annual holidays), I water the plants, prune the

hedges, cut flowers to arrange on the table. I derive immense pleasure from it and a

sense of bonding with the plants and I promise to myself that I should do it more


In brief, the point is that if we nurture our homes, the way some of us nurture our

gardens, by dusting a corner, arranging the books, changing the covers of the cushions

and arranging flowers in the vase, a sense of belonging will develop, which will avoid

alienation with our immediate environment and reduce our yearning to escape to


Let us start by tending to our homes, taking care of the skyscrapers and cities, and we

shall find that the trees have started blooming and the birds have come back chirping.



The Responsive House

The Responsive House is a collection of papers presented at a seminar held at the

MIT. The contributors included some well-known architects like Christopher

Alexander, Habraken, Steve Baer and Nicholas Negroponte. And some not so wellknown

but equally concerned with 'the idea that dwellings ought to be fitted to

people; not people to dwellings, that building technologies ought to be flexible and

changeable; and that people ought to participate in the design, construction and

modifications of their buildings'.

Many people in a city like Bombay, who buy flats, before moving into them,proceed

to tear down walls to combine the passage with a room, build new walls to sub-divide

a room, move doors to create cupboard spaces, or block windows to fit airconditioners,

know that dwellings in mass housing, as being built today, do not fit the


But is there a way that it could?

The seminar papers throw ideas which range from total handicrafts to total

cybernation. At one end, arethe architects who believe that people can be taught the

traditionalcraft of building, with which they can build their own houses as they


choose. At the other end, are the architects who advocate for an inter-active computer

that takes only afew hours to assist in preparing a design and which is linked to a

'magical machine' that does the work of building houses.Sean Wellesley-Miller in his

paper, states: 'The average planninghorizon of most architectural firms is five to ten

years. The average lifetime of most buildings is in excess ofthirty years.'

Assuming that the architects can correctly predict and plan for the first five to ten

years, what happensafterwards? Do the users take on the responsibility of arranging

their environment, and if they can do it after ten years, why not earlier?

And if the users, at some time or the other have to get involved with arranging their

own environment, what kind of buildings do the architects design? Or, must

architects expand their knowledge and technology to increase their planning time

horizon to correspond to the life time of their buildings? Is this possible?

And if we think that more information, industrialized construction andhigher

technology have the answer, what Miller and Negroponte have to say is revealing.

According to Miller, most building systems are primarily structural and structure

accounts for only 30 to 40 per cent of building costs -(the remaining, being for

equipment and finishes) -the net savings are about three to four per cent. Major cost


gains are made due to shortened production time, which at best works out to about 12

per cent cheaper than traditional methods. Add to this the cost of inflexibility, lack of

individual expression and functional adaptation. And what does that work out to ?

Negroponte, who has been researching at MIT on architectureand computers, warns

that like architects, computers too can be extremely paternalistic. He says, 'Our efforts

in computer-aided design were, in fact, taking thispaternalism and amplifying it, trying

to get a computer system which would not only amplify your fantastic design abilities,

but would sit there and ring bells and blow whistles to tell you when you had

contradicted yourself, and make, in a sense, a slicker paternalism than existed before.

After a while we realized, that wasn't what we wanted, that we wanted the machine to

participate much more overtly in the design process, and so its role had to be

intelligent. But this could become, in some sense, a surrogate architect, which is

equally paternalistic, and in some sense you'd be no better off than you were before.'

Where do we go from here?

At one point Miller says, 'Mention the advent of total urbanisation to the average

citizen (and) his immediate emotional reaction is to start searching in an imaginary

atlas for a desert island conveniently close to work.' How very true. Does man, inspite

of all the materialism, still remain an animal wishing to be close to nature? How firm

are his roots in the man-made environment? What part did it play in the evolutionary

process of man?


Man has all along lived in nature with his cave or dwelling forming a small part of his

total living environment, and that too for a short while of every day, when nature got

hostile or unpleasant. A dwellingwas not a substitute for nature, only a supplement.

And his experience of living in an almost total man-made environment is very recent.

It is because of this, that man does not find it familiar, does not feel free in it, and does

not respond to it, as he does to nature.

Have we ever looked at a hill and said how awful; seen a tree and talked of its poor

proportions: found a forest in the wrong location and wished it was on the other side

ofthe river? Why? Because nature does no wrong or because man is nature's very


It may not be possible to go back to nature, it may not even be desirable to do so, but

perhaps we can start our search for a more responsive house from the point that it had

all started -nature.



City should be seen as a verb, not a noun :

An interview with Midday

Yashwant Das is an architect and town planner with an optimistic view of the future

of Bombay. He has a broad vision of life and goes easily from the history of

architecture to its sociological implications and then comes up with all sorts of

practical solutions to the city's many problems: the proliferating slums, the snarled

traffic and the commuting travails. It is difficult to pin down Das who could best be

described as a down-to-earth dreamer. Facts and figures tumble into personal

beliefs that verge on the fantastic, as Das holds forth on Bombay's problems and

pleasures. But he does leave you with the feeling that what is wrong with this city

can be put right. All we have to do is try.

You took a course at the MIT in 'town planning in the third world countries'. Can

you tell us about this?

After finishing my studies in India, I worked in London for seven years. I was always

interested in the social aspect of planning. The work I was doing in London didn't

offer any solutions to Third World problems. So I decided to go to MIT, not to study

the regular course there, but to study a special course which, luckily, they were

holding. There were ten of us - from India, Iraq, Israel and Latin America. It was very

free wheeling in the sense we could take subjects like sociology, economics, politics. I


studied Indian politics along with subjects like housing and city development. We had

professors who had studied the squatter problem in Latin America and also its

sociological aspect. As in India, the cities in Latin America had migrating labour and

the authorities viewed their dwellings as eyesores. What I learnt was that there is an

important social aspect to housing, which architects usually don't look at.

What are some of the sociological factors affecting architecture and housing in


Living patterns here are different from elsewhere in the world. We don't, for example,

have a very rigid classification of rooms. Here, a bedroom is also used for playing

games, or say, stitching clothes, entertaining guests, eating. This is not so abroad. So,

it is a good idea to have a ground plus one plan for houses there, so that people can

live downstairs during the day and retire upstairs at night. It is very different here.

When I design a house, I don't label the rooms. In my mind, the lack of demarcation

makes things more interesting.

Also, the family structure and lifestyles in the West are different from here. You can

predict that a nuclear, middle class family there will have a certain sized car, two

children, certain household gadgets etc. Here, families from the same economic

bracket may have very different lifestyles. My wife, my daughter and I live in a flat.

And in the same-sized flat opposite ours, there are 11 people.


What kind of plans, on a macro level, would you suggest for housing the poor in


That's a very loaded question. It is the poorest of the poor who come to Bombay in

search of jobs. A recent parliamentary committee, set up to look into the problems of

landless labourers, found that there are 75 million of them earning between Rs. 3 – 8 a

day. These are the potential slum dwellers in the city. Two things are very obvious to

me. One is that they are here to look for work and are not terribly concerned about

where they live. And secondly, they can only have the sort of housing they can afford.

Of course, society can subsidise for them to some extent. Nothing revolutionary can

happen in the near future. But housing doesn't have to be as poor as it is today.

Why is housing a problem? It is a question of access. For thousands of years in our

history, people have been building their own homes. They know what they want and

also the technique. But they have no access to land or resources. The biggest problem

is land on which vested interests – the land-owners and the builders, are sitting. It is

impossible for people to get land legally. If the land and resources were made

available to them, through subsidy loans or whatever, there would be no housing


That's all very well in theory, but how is it to be done?

What else can be done? We grow enough food and still, people are starving. It's the

same thing. Society has to change; it has to be restructured. This is not an architectural

or planning problem. It is essentially a socio-economic problem.


And the other thing is the motivation of the poor. The government setting up housing

boards, serves no purpose. They do not really know what the poor people need. These

people are capable of getting the raw materials or even raising the funds. They need

not go to HDFC or banks and pay high rates of interest. How do most middle class

people buy houses? By borrowing from here and there. If the government says that it

must build a certain number of houses every year, it never gets done. In the last 40

years, the housing board has built only some one lakh houses, while the estimates are

that 40,000 houses are needed every year in Bombay. These schemes are not working.

What you are saying is that the initiative has to come from the people. But the

people have already shown this initiative. So what happens next?

Land must be made available to the people. The Urban Land Ceiling Act has played

havoc with housing. Its aim was to take land from the big land-owners and make it

available to the common man. But the vested interests intervened and the government

is not releasing the land. But there is enough land available. If you drive around

Bombay, you can see that. If you drive out of the city for a mile, you will find acres

and acres of vacant land. This land must be distributed to people in the form of small

plots. If one thinks in terms of multi-storeyed buildings with 100 flats apiece,

obviously the big builders – the Rahejas and the Lokhandwalas – will get into it. But

individuals could buy these small plots and get small time builders and contractors to

build houses. For the very poor, you can't even plan low cost housing. You have to

have no cost housing, made from scrap material. Once you give the hutment dwellers


a tenure and they know that their structures are there for good, then they will develop

them, make them pakka over a period of time. Even most of us from middle class

families furnish our houses gradually. That's a very natural process. Slum-dwellers

should be given basic amenities. If the government cannot provide a tap for each

hutment, let them at least provide one for ten.

Your contention is that Dharavi is an ideal slum. How do you explain this?

There is no magical solution to the housing problem. The stark fact is that we are

growing at the rate of two per cent per year. Dharavi has its own infrastructure. It is

flourishing. I think we must face up to the fact that the Bombay of the future is going

to be more like Dharavi and less like Cuffe Parade.

And one problem is that we look at the city in a very physical way. The city is about

social, economic and cultural life. We live here not for the skyscrapers but for its

intellectual life. Because life is so intense here. A famous architect has said that a city

is about ideas, about people rather than about its buildings.

You feel that too much is made about the façade of a city?

Yes. And again, why don't we go to Dharavi and ask the people if they like to live

there or not? Its people like us, who drive past it, who say it should be pulled down.


But there are real problems in Dharavi too.

Yes, but they have solutions. You see people easing themselves on the road, for

instance. But that's because they have no toilets. You and I would have done the same

in those circumstances. This is where the government can step in. There should be

many more toilets, even public baths. And the toilets can be attended to, so that they

are well maintained and there are no thefts. We should be concentrating on these small

things instead of making grandiose plans. Take the traffic problem, for instance. Why

not make a rule that no cars can be parked at all on the arterial roads? People should

be allowed to park solely in the bylanes.

There seems to be something wrong in the way architecture is taught in India. Why

are there so few architects involved in low cost housing and other such practical


The history of architecture, the way it is taught here, begins with Rome and Greece,

goes on to the Moghuls and the Taj Mahal and then to Le Corbusier and Chandigarh.

The concept of architecture is that it has to be visually grand. That's how individuals

think too. They want monuments. This is ok for certain public buildings. And so

architects do not think about solving social problems. But again, the housing problem

is not a problem of architecture, as I have said before.

It is a socio-political problem.


Knowledge about architecture should not stay with the specialists. This knowledge

should belong to society. I feel a lot of architecture, which is considered creative, is

contributing nothing to society. It is one shot architecture. We don't need original

architecture in that sense. I'd like to do buildings that people can imitate, adapt.

How do you take the knowledge to the people?

By building houses and buildings that are easy to understand. We need to demystify

architecture. People with average intelligence should be able to grasp how a house is

built, what makes a good house. This is true for other problems like, say, traffic. You

live in this city. You should be able to understand what constitutes the transport

problem and suggest practical solutions for it.

I believe you take an interest in old buildings. How can we go about preserving


I don't look at it from an art historian's viewpoint. The first principle of a poor society

is that it must preserve what it has and add to it. It makes a lot of social and cultural

sense. We must have new buildings, of course, but there is no need to destroy the old

ones to build them. And there are beautiful buildings all around us apart from well

known ones like Victoria Terminus. But we can only preserve things that are

connected with our lives.


If buildings are seen as a social resource, then society would have a vested interest in

preserving them. Painting a building is not merely a matter of aesthetics. It also

prolongs the life of the building. If people could be made conscious of all this… And

there could also be a law that buildings must be painted, say every 2-3 years, then

these two factors – the law and the awareness – could work hand in hand.

What measures would you suggest for beautifying Bombay?

At the very basic level – cleanliness. We are so concerned about personal hygiene but

are not bothered about our surroundings. Municipal wards should prominently display

names and phone numbers of civic authorities, local politicians, the police, so that

people can call up and complain and become more active in keeping the city beautiful.

In Singapore, there is a system that if you plant trees in your compound, you are given

a tax rebate. Similar rules could be framed here to help make the city green. Then

there is the question of noise pollution. We can have processions but the level of noise

could be regulated. We are really the first generation of city dwellers, but some of us

are still villagers at heart. We are used to maidans, bazaars, wide open spaces. But we

have to learn to adapt ourselves to the urban environment.

Instead of the barricades put at road dividers, I believe, to help maintain VIP security

and also to prevent jay walking, there could be raised flowerbeds. They need not take

up a lot of space and they will be more aesthetic. Besides, the barricades keep falling


down. All these measures do not require much expertise or funds and therefore they

are not elitist. Bombay is a beautiful city you know, and there is a lot to be proud of in

our society.

How do you feel about satellite cities like Vashi?

The project is a non-starter. Cities take a long time to grow. A city should be seen as a

verb, not as a noun. It's an activity. Buildings don't make a city. This concept of cities

as places to live in rather than work in comes from the West. Immediately after the

war in Europe, houses had to be built on a large scale as they had been badly bombed.

Concepts like satellite cities emerged then. But our problem is different. Our cities will

have to be built around places of work. This is true for all developing countries.

Besides, a lot of things should be left to the people. Today's city designer cannot be an

architect or town planner. He is more likely to be an economist.

Talking of work places, what can be done about the problem of congested offices

and commuting?

The corporation has allowed houses, schools, shopping centres and hospitals to come

up in the suburbs, but not offices. This was obviously a wrong policy. Traditionally,

our weavers and craftsmen have worked from their homes. And that's a very healthy



Now what happens to the business districts in the evenings? They are dead, even

dangerous. Since they are being used only half the day, they are also being underutilized.

All that electricity and water supply isn't benefitting anyone in the night!

This segregation of residential and business districts is a hangover of industrialisation.

It came about because there were many polluting industries in the past, which would

have been harmful if they had been located near homes. And also, to some extent, the

upper classes wanted to keep the factories away from their homes. They had a vested

interest in doing that. But today, there are many safe industries, like electronics, for

instance, which could be located in the residential areas, to say nothing of the large

service sector.

In fact, there should be office buildings, not homes, along the arterial roads of the city

like Linking or Peddar road. These roads are ideal for offices. The authorities should

open up the suburbs to offices. Not just specific areas like the Bandra-Kurla belt, but

all the suburbs.

MID DAY – 17 th July 1988


A Mahatma true to his name

A tribute to Gandhiji on his birth anniversary

Gandhiji is long dead and almost forgotten. I never had the privilege of seeing him but

my earliest memories are of 1942, when, as a young boy, I used to watch my father

and his friends talk in hushed voices (my father was a government servant) about

Gandhiji's Quit India movement. A few years later, when independence fervour was at

its peak, I remember getting up early, putting on my khadi shirt and shorts and going

on Prabhat Pheris, shouting 'Inquilab Zindabad'. It meant nothing more than that I

was part of the fervour.

Soon after, independence came, Gandhiji died and Nehru's speech that night 'The light

has gone out…' became part of our English textbook. And, Nehru became the moulder

of young Indians. It was in the early sixties in London, when I saw a piece in The

Guardian about some Englishmen wanting to install a statue of Gandhiji, that I

decided to read his writings.

As a young architect, what had caught my attention then, was Gandhiji's view that

written history was heavily loaded with exploits of kings and their wars and said little

about the lives and loves of millions of ordinary people. This had particular relevance

to architecture, for architectural history too is loaded with descriptions of monuments


– temples and churches and says little about the buildings of the common people. As

architects, we sought inspiration from these monuments. Therefore, no wonder

whenever we designed for common people, we often got carried away from reality. In

the past 25 years, things have changed, but not much.But what caught my attention the

other day when I was thumbing through his book again, was the great relevance of his

ideas to many of the problems we face today. Let me give you a couple of examples.

Giving evidence before the Hunter Committee for his opposition to the Rowlatt Act,

part of the questions and answers go as follows :

You agree that the abstention from work should be entirely voluntary?

Yes, entirely voluntary, in the sense that persuasion on the day of the hartal would not

be allowed, whereas persuasion by means of leaflets and other propaganda work on

the other days would be perfectly legitimate, so long as no physical force was


You disapprove of people interfering with tongas on the day of the hartal?


You would not object to the police interfering in the case of such a disapprovable

interference on the people's part?

I would not, if they acted with proper restraint and forbearance.


But you agree that on the day of the hartal, it was highly improper to jostle with

other people and stop tongas?

From a Satyagrahi standpoint, I would hold it to be criminal.

I wonder what Datta Samant, George Fernandes and Bal Thackeray will think of it.

And here is something for feminists and men.

"Had not man in his blind selfishness crushed woman's soul as he has done or had

she not succumbed to the 'enjoyments', she would have given the world an

exhibition of the infinite strength that is latent in her. What she showed in the last

fight was, but a broken and imperfect glimpse of it. The world shall see it in all its

wonder and glory when woman has secured an equal opportunity for herself with

man and fully developed her powers of mutual aid and combination."

That was written in Young India, May 7, 1931. Three generations later, we have a

perspective plan for women, but no plan as yet on men's perspectives!

I am tempted to suggest that Gandhiji's writings should be compulsory reading for all,

but I dare not. Any external compulsion was a form of violence for him. And recently,

when I read of the controversy to install Gandhiji's statue near India Gate, like a

typical architect, I racked my head to think of a suitable place. Having re-read

Gandhiji, I would say, melt the statue. Our short memories have defiled him enough.

Namaskar, Gandhiji. It is not for nothing that millions called you a Maha-atma.

MID DAY– 2 nd October 1989


What the Indian reality is

Early this month, Time magazine had, as its cover story,'Super India – The Next

Military Power'. Certainly, we have come a long way because not so long ago, India

was taken notice of by international magazines, only when there was famine or

communal killings.

Among the informed, it was common knowledge that we had the fourth largest

standing army in the world and that after 1972, the fire power and mobility of our

army had dramatically increased. Our air force outclassed Pakistani air force both in

numbers and its penetrative ability and if the Chinese had more planes, we had the

more modern ones with greater striking power. And the Pakistan navy was no match

to ours.

We also knew that we could hold the Chinese on our northern borders and if they

could occupy bits of our territory because the terrain in certain areas suited them, we

were capable of doing the same to them. And, if Zia of Pakistan did not pour venom

like Bhutto before him, it was because as a wise general, he knew that his Indian

counterparts are quite capable of giving him a bloody nose.

But what many of us did not know was that we have been the largest importers of

arms in the world since '86, spending 80 billion rupees in '87, and what is most


alarming, is the reported news that we are preparing to enter the world's arms bazaar

as an exporter to pay for the large scale imports of defence equipment. Now, if this

report is true, it holds nightmarish prospects for the future. It will certainly give rise to

building of an industrial-military complex as was the case in the sixties in the United

States and the USSR and it is ironical that when the superpowers are moving in the

direction of lower military profile, we are taking steps to escalate it.

I will not go into the consequence of such a policy in the face of declining

effectiveness of our political institutions, for the arguments are complex and

possibilities are innumerable. But, we surely will have our own brand of Adnan

Khashoggis and everything else which goes with their operations. I know moral

arguments don't count much in matters of defence and security of the country, though

I do not understand why it is to be so.

Seeing Super-India – the next military power on Time's cover certainly feeds our

vanity and boosts our ego and now that we are on the threshold of becoming a military

force to reckon with in the region, let us not forget that we still have 300 million

people living under the poverty line. We also have the largest numbers of unemployed

youths and the highest number of working children in the world, 15 million to be

precise, more than the total population of some of the advanced countries. We also

have the highest number of blind people, one of the highest rates of infant mortality

and we have millions of women whom we treat like cattle.


While we can justifiably be proud of our achievements of the past 40 years in the

fields of agriculture, industry and technology, we have not achieved much in areas of

human care and development and in the ultimate analysis,that is what matters.

Some years ago, I had once asked an American, who had lived in India for quite a few

years co-ordinating for the Ford Foundation, what he thought of India's development.

He likened to a glass, half filled with milk and said, you can either call it half filled or

half empty. Perhaps, a more appropriate way of looking at the glass would be as half

filled and half empty, for that is what the Indian reality is. And the irony of this reality

is that with the growing population, the glass keeps getting bigger every day, and as

we fill it with more milk, it also remains more empty.

MID DAY– 28 th April 1989


Declining quality of our elected representatives

The recent amendments of the constitution, lowering the voting age to 18 years, is to

be welcomed, for it adds another 47 million voters to the electoral process. But what is

vexing is the quality of the representation in our parliament. With the years, the

quality has declined considerably and our elected representatives appear to be

promoting the interests of their political bosses rather than the will and aspirations of

the people.

No wonder then that, when the Janata Dal was being formed, the main quarrel was not

on policies and programmes, but on who would be the chairman of the parliamentary

board. Because the chairman has the power to give tickets to candidates who, if

elected, will raise their hands in his favour.

In Britain, just as they have a shadow cabinet, they also have a prospective candidate

in each constituency. The candidates are selected by the political parties, but since

they are nominated well in advance of the general elections, the candidates have time

to serve and cultivate their constituency and the voters too have a chance to judge their

character and conduct.

In the US, they have a system of primaries through which the candidates of the two

parties are selected by the party faithful before the general elections.


Now, the important difference between these two systems and the one which we

practice in India is that the people abroad have a say in the selection of the candidates.

In our country, the candidates are put before the voters by the political bosses as

faitaccompli and we are supposed to vote for one or the other.

If I had anything to do with the electoral reforms, I would insist that all candidates

register with the Election Commission at least three years before the general elections.

During this period, candidates of the registered parties should be given funds by the

state to meet their expenses for telephone, transport and basic secretarial services. This

will give them an opportunity to put before the people, their programmes and policies

and it will afford an opportunity to the people to judge the candidates.

Much debate has been going on regarding funding of elections by the government. I

don't quite agree with it. It is bad enough that downright corrupt, communal and

criminal elements stand for elections, but if the government had to finance their

elections as well with tax payers' money, it would be like rubbing salt on the wounded

sentiments of the people.

I would also insist that the candidates stand only from the constituencies where they

are registered as voters, to avoid a frequent replay of Buta Singh standing from

Rajasthan because he can't get elected in Punjab and Shiv Shankar from Gujarat,

because nobody wants to vote for him in Andhra.


I would also prohibit candidates standing from more than one constituency. Since

constitutionally, one cannot represent more than one constituency, there is hardly any

point in standing from more than one. It is a waste of money and candidates should not

treat elections like a lottery ticket.

I would also insist that a candidate once defeated in the general elections cannot be

elected to the Rajya Sabha or be made governor of a state or hold any public office for

at least three years. All political parties in power have been guilty of insulting

the judgement of the electorate and it is time people reasserted their primacy.

Furthermore, a candidate who loses his deposit should be barred from contesting in

another general election for at least six years. This should eliminate the non-serious

candidates. In the recent by-election from Allahabad, the ballot paper was as large as a


Last but not the least, I would ban posters and hoardings. They are a waste of money

and deface the towns and cities for months.

If a candidate is not well-known in the constituency, he has no business to stand for

the elections and if he thinks that he is some kind of a soap or toothpaste which can be

pushed into the electoral market, he is not fit enough to sit in parliament.


Let us remember and let us remind our so-called leaders that we elect our

representatives under the Representation of People's Act, and not under the

'Representation of Politicians' Act'!

MID DAY – 20 th January 1989


Bureaucratic Republic of India

A few weeks ago, the prime minister, addressing a conference of railway porters, said

that out of every six rupees that the government spends on the development projects,

only one rupee reaches the people. The other five go to support the bureaucracy and

the administration. This reminded me of an experience which an American professor

related to me almost 20 years ago.

He was on a lecture tour of South-East Asian countries, and he decided to spend a few

days in India on his way back to America. His interests were in cities and slums, so he

chose Calcutta as his first stop-over. He went to see some of the bastis there and met

members of CMPO, who were, at that time, busy preparing a plan for redevelopment

of the city. One afternoon when he had some spare time, he decided to stroll through

an art gallery.

He was looking at some paintings when a smart young Indian, with a camera hanging

around his neck, got talking to him. The young man appeared educated, cultured and

smart. In the course of their talk, he showed an interest in the camera which the

professor was carrying, and asked if he could have a closer look at it. The professor

unhesitatingly handed it over to him. No sooner did he do so, than the young man ran

away with it. The professor was aghast and for a few moments did not know what to

do. He went back to his hotel, brooded over the incident and decided to forget about it.


Next morning, he took a flight to Delhi and visited his old friend John Kenneth

Galbraith, the American ambassador to India. Galbraith recommended a day off in

Agra, and thence he went. Later, he went to Fatehpur Sikri and hired a local guide. As

they were climbing the steps of the Buland Darwaza, the guide offered to carry the

professor's briefcase. The Calcutta incident flashed before his eyes. He hesitated for a

moment, but handed over the briefcase, thinking that he ought not to let one incident

colour his judgement. When the tour was over, the guide returned the briefcase. His

faith in Indians restored, he prepared to take his flight back to the US.

At the airport, the customs office looked at his passport entries and asked him where

his camera was. He said it was robbed in Calcutta. The officer wanted to know if he

had lodged a complaint with the police, otherwise there was no proof that he hadn't

sold the camera, so he would have to pay customs duty on it, if he wanted to leave the

country. The professor was aghast and dumbfounded. He tried to argue his way

through, but with no success. In desperation, he called Galbraith, who detailed an

embassy staffer to sort out the matter. But he couldn't make much headway with the

customs officer either.

The last departure call was announced and the professor got desperate. Eventually, a

compromise was effected. The professor would pay the customs duty under protest

and be allowed to leave the country; he would be free to take up the matter with the

higher officials later.


On reaching the US, he wrote a stiff note to the Ministry of Finance, which was

followed up by the American Embassy. After almost a year of protracted

correspondence, the professor got a dusty letter in a dusty envelope saying that the

Ministry of Finance of the Government of India had, under exceptional circumstances,

decided to refund the customs duty on the camera paid by the professor. The professor

was happy that at last, his honour had been vindicated. Till he read the last line of the

letter. It said please collect the amount in rupees in Delhi, personally.

Of course, we all know that in 20 years, things have changed. Custom officers no

longer harass old American professors, who have been robbed of their cameras – they

have bigger catches to go after. It is also nice to know that our prime minister knows

that it takes five out of every six rupees, to keep our bureaucrats in their chairs, but I

bet he does not know – and I do not think anyone else does either – how much money

an ordinary citizen of the country spends to keep the bureaucrats in good humour and

push an application or get a petty permission, which shouldn't have been necessary in

the first place. No wonder a retired general of the Indian Army calls the country the

Bureaucratic Republic of India!

MID DAY– 6 th January 1989


No laurels for our achievers

From time to time, an advertisement appears in the newspapers hawking import of

foreign-made cars. The government of India allows import of such cars for certain

categories of people like those returning to the country after staying for some years

abroad, five-star hotels and companies engaged in travel business and with foreign

collaborations etc. But the category which takes the cake is the one which stipulates

that an Indian married to a foreigner, is also entitled to import.

It does not take much imagination to figure out who might have made such a rule.

Obviously, a bureaucrat with a small mind. In our country, people in positions of

power always change rules of the game to suit themselves and their near and dear


On the other hand, I also know of a very bright doctor who did his Ph.D. in cancer

surgery from a university in England. When he was finishing his doctorate, he applied

for a job in a medical college in India which offered him a post of a surgeon at Rs.

1,500/- per month. As he was keen to return and had no better offer, he accepted it. On

arriving, he found that the medical college had no staff quarters, so he rented a place

for Rs. 1,200/- a month and his wife's salary, (also a doctor) went to pay the rent

while, with his salary, he met the other expenses.


After working for some time, he wanted a few weeks' leave to go to England to submit

his thesis, but the leave was denied to him as the government rules did not permit

leave so soon after joining. He wrote to the university about his predicament, which

promptly adjusted his submission dates to suit the Indian bureaucratic norms.

Recently, the medical college has given him a two-bedroom flat in a middle income

group housing scheme. So, the message is clear, if you marry a foreign girl, you are

entitled to import a car, but if you get a doctorate from a foreign university, you lump

a two-bedroom MIG flat.

Recently, I read in a weekly that Dr. Reddy, a well-known medical researcher,

working in Philadelphia has done pioneering work in discovering a virus that is

believed to cause multiple sclerosis. But, he was denied admission in an Indian

university as he had completed his schooling at the tender age of 13!

Recently, I also read that the Cambridge University made special arrangements for a

child prodigy to complete his masters in mathematics. Similarly, the eminent

sociologist Prof. M.N. Srinivas, who was very keen to return to India to do further

research after his studies at Oxford, took up an appointment at Oxford, as the

Anthropological Survey of India to which he had applied, did not even care to reply.

To top it, the Oxford University allowed Prof. Srinivas to do field research for a year

as part of his appointment, something he was very keen on.


How is it that we, as a society, are so callous and inconsiderate to our own talented

people. And, I am not suggesting that we should give the kind of salaries which these

achievers can get in the West or even provide them the kind of research facilities

which the West provides. I know, it is not within our means, but surely, it is within our

means to give them decent housing, to bend the government rules a little to give them

leave for legitimate purposes, to say a word of appreciation in recognition of their

work and to send a thank-you note for tasks accomplished.

A society which does not reward and honour its achievers will achieve very little, for

it is only through them that the society can achieve for all its people. Tell me, what

more, persons like JRD Tata, Satyajit Ray and Sam Manekshaw have to do to get the

Bharat Ratna. Guess, join the ruling party.

MID DAY– 17 th March 1989


Frankly, it stinks!

One of the hassles of having an architectural practice in a city like Bombay is getting

approvals of building proposals through the corporation. Not only has one to run

around the various departments of the corporation, but one is also required to obtain,

what are called NOCs – no objection certificates – from umpteen government agencies

like police, fire brigade, Urban Land Ceiling (ULC), civil aviation etc. I am told of a

story and I do not know how true it is, that at one time, the BMC required a NOC from

the civil aviation department for any building over one floor in the vicinity of the

airport, until some sharp and spirited architect pointed to the double-decker buses

plying in the area!

This running around and the attendant hassles make some of the architects opt out of

designing buildings in the city. Others, who learn the ropes and become 'experts' in

getting approvals through the corporation, by humouring all and sundry, find, by the

end of the day, that they are left with little time or energy to do much architecture.

And the result of this is there for all to see in the shape of poor architectural quality of

buildings in the city.

Recently, my hackles were raised when a junior engineer of a local authority, sitting

on a steel chair with two gold rings, a gold watch on his wrist and a packet of imported

cigarettes on the table, refused to approve my proposal for an industrial building as I


had not drawn a section through the septic tank! Now I do not understand the point.

Did he think I do not know what a section through the septic tank looks like? It is a

standard design, which anyone can pick up from the ISI code or maybe he thought that

my client would much rather save the money and see all the muck lying under his

office. Frankly, it stinks!

Imagine, building proposals of internationally acclaimed architects like Correa and

Doshi being vetted by assistant engineers. And this is not all, the same engineers, who

in all probability have a second-class degree from a second-class college also vet or at

least they are supposed to, design calculations of structural engineers, many of whom

have doctorate degrees from premier foreign universities, who periodically teach

there, have written books and who are experts in computer analysis.

And, I have often wondered, why it should be necessary for qualified and experienced

architects and engineers to seek prior approval of their building proposals from the


After all, a lawyer does not obtain prior approval of his line of legal arguments from

the government's legal department. Nor does a medical practitioner ever clear his

prescription with anybody before giving medicine to his patient. Similarly, a chartered

accountant does not clear the returns he files on behalf of his client with anybody.


And in many cases, lawyers and doctors deal with matters of life and death, which

architects seldom do. In most cases, chartered accountants deal with much more

money than most architects can ever dream of.

The standing of these professionals is judged by the quality of the service they provide

to their clients within the framework of their technical knowledge, professional ethics

and society's laws. And, if they ever violate these norms, which some do sometimes

willfully or otherwise, there are always higher forums available for redressal. Then,

why should it be any different for the architects and the engineers?

Building bye-laws are quite simple – where they are not, they can be made so. They

can be understood by the architects, even by most of the clients. In case of an

ambiguity, the matter can always be referred to the corporation for clarification.

Once, I had expressed this viewpoint to a flourishing architect friend, but he would not

buy the argument. Why some of the architects would like to continue with the existing

system, is of course another story.

MID DAY– 21 st August 1989


The eternal cycle

Books have become very expensive, so I generally buy them only when they appear in

paperback. Therefore, it was only recently that I read 'The Great Depression of 1990'

by Dr. Ravi Batra. In 1985, when the book first hit the stands in America, it was a

runaway success. Thousands of copies were sold. This is understandable as Americans

breathe money. Their economy is based on capital and millions of people invest their

life's savings in shares, so which way the share market will go, is a matter of life and

death for them.

But my interest in the book was somewhat different. One, I was inquisitive as to what

would happen to America because, I think, we all take a vicarious pleasure in

speculating the fall of the mighty. Secondly, we are always intrigued by the future. Be

it the concept of life after deathor what the stars foretell this week. Though most of us

do not believe or claim not to do so, I think most of us take a peek at the astrological

columns of the newspapers.

Dr. Batra's thesis of economic depression is based on a rather interesting theory of

laws of social cycles, first enunciated by Dr. P.C.Sarkar, which suggests that events do

not move in a linear direction, but historically reappear with some regularity. Now,

this will appeal to the Indian mind, as most of our beliefs are centered on this concept.


Combining the laws of social cycles with a historical study of American economy of

the past 200 years, Dr. Batra has concluded that economic depression is always

preceded by a concentration of wealth in the hands of a few. According to him, that

was the case in the 1920s in the US, which resulted in the Great Depression of 1930.

Prior to it, great depressions occurred in the US in 1780, 1840 and 1870 under similar

conditions – at almost a regular interval of 60 years.

This theory of Dr. Batra provoked me to wonder if depressions or decay occur in other

fields of human endeavour as well, on undue concentration of power, wealth and

activity in the hands of a few. Of course, politics is the obvious example, where

concentration of power in the hands of a few, leads to autocracy, decay and anarchy,

but then, political power and economic power are closely connected. But, let us say,

could it happen to the arts, music and dance?

We know that India is rich in the arts and I think it is rich and vibrant because it is so

diverse. And this diversity comes because people have an opportunity to express

themselves through their art forms, in their own intimate environment, and in their

own ways. I do not think that this diversity is emphasized just because we are a large

country with varied physical conditions, but because, at least in villages and small

communities, the patronage is available. Art, handicrafts, music and dance are merely

forms of self expression. For their growth and enrichment is required freedom;


freedom from want and prejudice, the exact opposite of a concentration of means and

patronage in the hands of a few.

In this light, we must look afresh at our cultural institutions and programmes – at our

ministry of culture, the several academies, the recently established cultural centres and

the various cultural festivals. And also at our TV coverage, for the medium is there to

stay. Regional TV channels may be politically inconvenient, but, to my mind, they are

cultural imperatives, for who wants to be homogenized by Delhi Doordarshan! A

vibrant and rich art scene cannot be institutionalized or programmed.

MID DAY– 17 th February 1989


Things seem pretty messy!

India Today has gone through a slow and subtle change. Previously, it used to have a

cover story, a couple of special reports and quite a few pages covering current events.

But now, the number of pages covering current events has been considerably reduced

and instead, we get five to six in-depth reports under various headings. This is

understandable, because as a fortnightly, it is difficult to be topical with events moving

at a fast pace in today's world. But, what struck me about its latest issue (June 15) was

that it read like a chronicle of scandals with at least seven such reports :

Dereservation of 285 plots earmarked in Bombay's development plan for public

purposeslike schools, hospitals, parks and gardens, so that private parties could build

expensive housing, hotels and amusement parks to rake in crores.

• The then chief minister of Bihar, Mr. Bhagwat Jha Azad, decided to act against

co-operative mafias. Four of the accused were Congress (I) MPs and MLAs.

When the Bihar High Court formed a full bench to expedite the case, the

government accused two of the three judges of being interested parties. The

case has been going through other twists and turns and, with the general

elections round the corner, there is pressure on the ruling party to let the cooperative

mafias off the hook, as their fund-raising capacity is phenomenal.


• In 1968, the Indian Navy first considered the purchase of advanced

submarines. It took the government five years to initiate detailed studies. It

took another five years for the representatives of the navy to visit foreign

shipyards to examine various submarines. In 1979, the Union Cabinet gave its

approval in 'principle'. In 1981, a formal agreement was signed with the West

German firm, which was not the navy's first choice. And the estimated outlay

of 350 crore rupees went upto 430 crore and an estimated investment of 10

crore on the infrastructure at Mazgaon Docks exceeded 100 crore. Plus, the

charge that the blueprints of the submarines had been passed on to South

Africa in violation of the terms of the contract. And, someone raked in 30 crore

as commission on the deal!

• 'A poor choice of helicopter, insufficient number of pilots and inadequate

maintenance of infrastructure have contributed to make Pawan Hans one of the

most accident-prone helicopter operators in the world' – thus starts the report

on the Helicopter Corporation of India. In 1986, Westland helicopters were

first inducted into operation. Almost immediately, some of them were

grounded for engine failures. In one year of operation, the managing director

of the company reported 357 defects and 63 engine removals. And within two

years of its induction, the civil aviation ministry seriously considered

grounding the entire West land fleet. In early 80s, the Westland helicopter was

rejected as the worst of the four possible choices by a number of committees!


The corporation also has French Dauphins in its fleet. Six of them were meant

for the VIP squadron, but were not used for a single day. Instead, these were

cannibalized for parts to keep other Dauphins flying. Now with the elections

coming, orders have come to get the VIP squadron ready. It means

cannibalizing the fleet which flies to Bombay High to put parts in the VIP


• Vayudoot, between 1982-87, increased its turnover from 18 lakh rupees to

about 14 crores, its operating losses from 67 lakh to over 10 crores. It has

outstanding payments of about 14 crores, plus loans of about 45 crores. Of

course, Vayudoot's high-flying managing director will claim that he is in

business not to make money but to fly.

Here are some samples which the magazine terms as political routes. Within

six weeks of Motilal Vora becoming civil aviation minister, Bhopal was made

a base for planes. Since Bhopal had no infrastructure, a plane had to fly daily

to Delhi for maintenance. Soon after Bansi Lal became transport minister,

Hissar, a town near his constituency, was 'inaugurated' twice. When Shivaji

Patil took charge, a service was inaugurated to his constituency, but no planes

were available for flights for weeks after that. And Arun Nehru's constituency

was put on the Vayudoot map two days after Rajiv Gandhi's government was

sworn in. At times, it flew with no passengers! And it goes on.


• In Srinagar in 1986, the government ordered 907 acres of land to be earmarked

as a city forest. When Farooq Abdullah came to power, he decided that an

international golf course would be more appropriate. So, a fleet of bulldozers

are busy mowing down trees and flattening the ground. And the famous Dal

Lake is polluted by the filth coming out from the city's sewers.

Two-thirds of Nainital's sewage is dumped into its famed lake. In Mussoorie,

multi-storeyed concrete monoliths, including a 12 storeyed apartment complex,

have come up in total violation of the building byelaws. And the dreadful story

goes on and on.

• Last but not the least, 'Poison in your food!' Under a photograph of appetizing

food in a silver thali are these words. 'Indian food is laced with some of the

highest amounts of toxic pesticide residues in the world. Babies too are taking

large doses of these toxins through breast milk and from some infant food. As

a result, Indians face a higher risk of heart disease, brain and liver damage and

even cancer. Yet the usage of pesticides continues to grow.' Surely, the choice

before us is not whether we want to die of hunger or of eating?

Now, India Today is not Indian Express, which can be accused of being biased

towards the government and out to embarrass it. Nor is it a tabloid, which is out to

boost its circulation by bringing out sensational stories. The fortnightly is known for


its balanced and well-researched reports and if it can find seven stories, which amount

to scandals in a fortnight, things must be pretty messy. Or am I reading too much into


MID DAY– 2 nd June 1989


Sloth makes it worse

We often read about the rapid degeneration of our cities. We are repeatedly told how

hundreds of families migrate to Bombay everyday. That about half the population of

the city now lives in squatters and slums. And of the scarcity of public services and of

congestion on the roads. Statistical figures are given to drive home the points.

All this is of course true. But what we don’t talk often enough about is how all this is

compounded to an unbearable limit by the sloth and inefficiency with which we work

and act in our city. Let me give you a few examples.

There is a bus stop on a main road close to my flat. Every morning, I find the bus

stopping in the middle of the road. Scores of cars and three-wheelers come to a

screeching halt behind it, followed by a couple of double-deckers, within seconds.

Further down the road is a newly built school, bound by roads on two sides. Of the

three gates, the one closer to the road junction, where also happen to be two bus stops,

is used to drop and collect children. You can imagine the knots in which buses, cars

and scooters tie themselves in, morning, noon and evening.About 200 metres away is

a posh club recently built. It has roads on three sides, but the distinguished architect

decided to have the two gates to it, bang opposite the bus terminus. There is bedlam

there most of the day. Not far from it is a 5 star hotel, also recently built by yet another

distinguished architect for a public sector corporation. There is a single gate to it from


the narrow main road. During the recent 'Filmfare' function held there, there was a

mile long traffic jam for two hours!

Now, if the buses ply in our city at an average speed of 13 kmph, it is not so much

because of the hundreds of poor people who flock to it everyday, but because of our

poor thinking.

While I am talking about traffic in our city, let me give you another illustration. In

non-peak hours, it takes me an hour and ten minutes to drive to Nariman Point from

my suburban office. The reason: That day, the president is visiting the city and the

police are not allowing any parking along the route. Now, will our learned traffic

commissioner tell us why? Why can't, what can be done for the first citizen of the

country, not be done for the thousands of ordinary citizens of the city?

In any well-organised city, people are on the move, mornings and evenings. During

the office hours, roads are practically deserted. But in our city, the roads are littered

with people all day. The reason: Some are on their way to seek a permission, which

should not have been necessary in the first place. Some are on the move with the

original of the permission, because the officer at the other end does not trust the Xerox

copy. Yet others are on foot to remind someone to open the file to look at the letter

sent weeks ago. The housewife is rushing to the gas agency because the cylinder has

not arrived in spite of three telephone reminders. Then of course, there is that


inevitable chase for the payments, which should have been made months ago. And, it

goes on and on, which prompted a management consultant to remark that we have a

thriving 'Follow-up' industry!

If we did not have such a thriving 'Follow-up' industry, one journey would have

sufficed where more than three are made now. Consequently, our trains and buses,

which carry 10 million passengers now, would carry only three. Queues would be

shorter, trains and buses less crowded, tempers less frayed. It would result in less

energy consumption, cleaner air and healthier life.

'Meetings' is another of our national penchants. I have often attended meetings, which

start with something like 'What do you think of VP Singh' and end with a cup of tea.

Whatever little gets done in between could have as well been sorted out by a telephone

call. But then, as a people, we like to feel each other's presence. The result is, a

meeting takes place where none was necessary. Three meetings take place where one

would have sufficed. But, none came prepared for the first meeting, and everyone

came only half prepared for the second one! One less meeting means at least half a

dozen less journeys.

So, instead of counting the increase in the number of cars since the Marutis hit the

roads, let us count the number of journeys which can be avoided.


I am often asked why New Bombay has not worked. The reason is simple. We only

succeeded in spreading the sloth and inefficiency across the creek and of the worse

kind. Employment in the area – practically nil. Educational and medical facilities –

worse. Public transport – a shame. And, the crying shame is the Thane creek bridge.

Instead of hiding behind generality and faceless figures, let us stop aiding and abetting

inefficiency, which is choking the life lines of our cities.

MID DAY– 3 rd February 1990


If there were no politics

Electioneering is on and the political leaders are in the news. I have often wondered

what these leaders would have been were they not in politics. Of course, Jawaharlal

Nehru was a learned man and had he not been in politics, he would easily have been a

leading barrister or a don at Cambridge. Certainly the vice-chancellor of Allahabad

University in its hey days. Sardar Patel would have been an advocate in the Supreme

Court, advocating in his booming voice, the cause of the poor. Dr. B.C.Roy would

have had a flourishing practice in Calcutta.

But C Rajagopalachari would certainly have been a politician, being the Chanakya that

he was, and if there was no politics around, he would have invented it! Lal Bahadur

Shastri, most probably, would have been a scholar at Kashi Vidya Peeth, exhorting his

students the virtues of simple living and high thinking.

Of our present breed of political leaders, I think A.B.Vajpayee would have been a

professor of Hindi in the Banaras Hindi University or a scholar of Sanskrit. L.K.

Advani would have been a jholawala journalist, probably editing a Hindi daily from a

place like Kanpur and Chandrashekhar, a professor of political science at Allahabad

University, reading out, year after year, from his frayed notebook, the same old lecture

on the historical imperatives of social change. I can't think what V.P. Singh would


have been doing. Maybe, just twiddling his thumb sitting in the verandah of his

dilapidated Aish Mahal in Allahabad.

And, of Indira Gandhi, one is sure that she would have been a plain housewife, a

mother and a grandmother, living in her Mehrauli farm house. And she would have

certainly been alive today because it was politics that killed her. And her son Sanjay

would have also been alive today, because the plane in which he killed himself is

presented only to the Prime Minister's sons. And if Indira Gandhi had not been in

politics, Rajiv Gandhi would still be flying with Airlines and what a blessing in

disguise that would have been for the country!

Talking about Prime Minister's sons reminds me of a story and it is a true one. In the

days of the emergency, Sanjay Gandhi wanted to organize a meet of his Youth

Congress. As civilian accommodation was not available at the proposed place of the

meet, the chief secretary of the state telephoned the army commander, saying that the

Prime Minister's son wanted to use the army barracks. The General growled back,

'Prime Ministers don't have sons, they have only ministers and secretaries. You mean

Indira Gandhi's son wants it. Sorry, the barracks are for my jawans' and he put the

phone down.


I know Jawaharlal Nehru is coming out of our eyes and ears, but let the small acts of

small men not detract us from the great deeds of the great man that Jawaharlal Nehru

indeed was.

I was still in school when I first heard him speak on the grounds of Allahabad

University. Soon after he began to speak, it started to drizzle and one of his attendants

came forward with an umbrella. Nehru waved him away with a royal movement of his

hand. After the speech, when he got into his car, it was surrounded by delirious

students shouting 'Jawaharlal Nehru zindabad, Jawaharlal Nehru zindabad' and it

couldn't move out. A few minutes later, a red-faced Nehru jumped out of the car like

an angry tiger and shouted, 'What nonsense is this'. There was pin drop silence all

around. Students instinctively made way for his car. It moved out amidst renewed

chants of 'Nehru zindabad, Nehru zindabad!' Such was his hold on the masses.

It was years later that I had the opportunity of hearing him again, when he came to

address one of the convocations at I.I.T.Kharagpur. By then, India had become used to

his being the Prime Minister and I guess Nehru had become used to being the Prime

Minister of India. The roads were repaired, lamp posts were painted, buildings were

white-washed and new gardens were created instantly. Nehru came and gave a

meandering speech (those were not the days of speech writers and readers) about

science and industrialization; how the future of the country rests on our (then) young

shoulders. After the convocation speech, he briskly walked from one laboratory to


another, followed by professors and hordes of us students (those were not the days of

black cats either) showing keen interest in what was being done. The atmosphere was

electrifying and one could feel the excitement in the bones.

A few years later, it was in London, that a liberal, middle-class English man – a

colleague of mine, broke the news of his death. He seemed sadder than I was. The

hallmark of the greatness of a man iswhen he can move ordinary people seven seas

across. And Jawaharlal Nehru was one such man.

And, if I had anything to do with his centenary celebrations, I would have done just

one thing. Declare the rose as the national flower and let its fragrance spread the ideals

for which Jawaharlal Nehru worked all his life.

MID DAY– 23 rd November 1989


Petty lies and small misdemeanours

Let me add my hoarse voice to the boom of Bofors.

Much has been said and written about it, and the truth is still eluding us. Whatever

may be the truth, the popular perception in the minds of the people is that there has

been a concerted attempt at a cover up and half truths have been bandied around to

deflect public attention from the central question of who got away with the Rs. 64


Now, with the CAG report and General Sunderji's disclosures, only a die-hard partisan

will believe otherwise, and in any case, in matters of public affairs, it is the popular

perception that counts.

In the past, politicians and bureaucrats have suffered public ignominy for much

smaller misdemeanours and much lesser lies. In the early sixties, in England, Mr.

Profumo, then Minister of Defence in the McMillan cabinet had to resign because he

had denied, in Parliament, his involvement in a sex scandal, which, later on, was

proven to be untrue.

No direct connection was ever established between his sexual escapades and the

national security and no money changed hands. But, the fact that a cabinet minister


told a lie in the parliament was enough to destroy his credibility and that of the

McMillan government.Mr.Profumo resigned, left politics forever and plunged himself

in charitable work as penance. In the next general elections, the Conservatives lost.

In the early seventies, in the United States, the famous Watergate scandal was about a

petty theft of some innocuous campaign papers of the Democratic Party. The dirty

trick was carried out by a lowly minion of the Republican Party. It was not done at the

instance of the Republican administration, state secrets were not involved and no

money had changed hands.

President Nixon's sin was that when the matter was brought to his notice, he advised to

put a lid on it, to avoid political embarrassment in an election year. And later, on

questioning, denied to having so advised. When the truth emerged, he had to resign,

creating the dubious history of being the first ever US President to leave in disgrace.

Many of his cabinet and staff members were convicted. Gerald Ford, an honest and

upright Republican, who succeeded Nixon as the stop gap President, lost the election

to the Democrat.

The problem with small misdemeanours and petty lies is that it erodes the credibility

of not just the persons involved and their offices, but also of the society and the nation

they represent.


A couple of years ago, whenever I read or heard of Japan, the names of Honda and

Sony came to mind and one was awed by their industrial progress. But since the

scandals broke out, forcing three successive Japanese prime ministers to resign in

disgrace, I am increasingly less impressed with the GNP. As we form impressions of

other countries, others do of our country.

It is not Rajiv Gandhi who is in a bind, it is the country which finds itself in a bind.

Mohan Katre, the CBI director tells India Today that when his daughter-in-law was

upset answering the calls, he asked his DIG to send a peon to man the phone. Using

government servants and public money for private use. Yet another example of small


And, three cheers to the Board of Control for Cricket in India for lifting the ban on the

cricketers on receiving their statement of regret. The world knows that the Supreme

Court twisted the arms of the Board for being monopolistic and arbitrary. Yet, another

example of petty lies.

MID DAY– 18 th September 1989


Kick out sports' bodies!

Well, we have done it again! Lost in soccer to a club team from Brazil, three games to

nil. Lost the Indira Gandhi Memorial Gold Cup Hockey – placed third, beating lowly

Kenya. And, we are at the bottom of the table in Nehru Soccer, now being played in


And if we get a thrashing against the West Indies, we should be able to take the

humiliation in our stride, for we will be playing against the kings of cricket, who have

thrashed everyone else in the world. So meagre are our consolations.

Understandably, sports' persons will feel dejected, sports' lovers despondent, sports'

critics will bitch as usual and there may be muffled noises in parliament too. But, do

we really care for sports?

In Delhi, when we built the stadium for the Asiads, we named it after Jawaharlal

Nehru. There, we also have an Ambedkar stadium and a Shivaji stadium. In Madras,

we have a Chidambaram stadium, in Bangalore, a Chinnaswami stadium, in Bombay,

a Wankhede stadium and in Hyderabad, a Lal Bahadur Shastri stadium. Not one

stadium is named after a sports' person.


Now, Nehru was a great man and if Bharat was to be called Jawahar, I would still

consider myself a proud citizen of this country. But to name a hunk of concrete after

his memory is pure blasphemy. And the only connection I can see between Lal

Bahadur Shastri and cricket is that he was as short as Gavaskar and like Gavaskar, he

also played straight!

Then, we have tournaments named after our politicians as well. Sanjay Gandhi

Hockey, Indira Gandhi Hockey, Nehru Soccer… Now, the kinds of games Sanjay

Gandhi played were certainly a topic of Delhi's drawing room gossip and the only

stick which Indira Gandhi ever wielded, was against her political foes.

I can't think of a single sports person, who has been inspired by their acts. It is only in

cricket that we have Ranji and Duleep trophy tournaments: Is it a coincidence that we

appear to do better in cricket than in any other game?

And since the stadiums and tournaments can be named only after dead politicians, so

the living ones find their way into sports organizations. The Maharajah of Scindia is

the Vice-President of the Cricket Control Board, Mr. Jagdish Tytler, Vice-president

(judo), Indian Olympic Association, Mr KP Singh Deo, vice-president (rowing),

Indiam Olympic Association and Mr. Das Munshi, president, Indian Football



In addition, we have Margaret Alva as our sports minister, and with the experience of

Asiad behind Buta Singh and Rajiv Gandhi, we should have the most sporting cabinet

in the world.

If we can't have a stadium after our sports persons, can't name a tournament after them

and can't trust them with running sports organizations, why blame them for

performing so poorly for the country?

In my view, radical measures are required. Abolish the sports ministry and abolish

most of the sports organizations, which are the hot bed of politics. Abolish coaching

and conditioning camps and put a ban on building stadiums. What we have to do is to

learn to enjoy playing the game.

We should take over all the empty plots of land, convert them into playfields and start

playing football, if necessary with empty cardboard boxes, start playing hockey with

dried branches of trees and cricket with soft balls, as most youngsters do on deserted

roads during the bandh days. After all, Dhyan Chand perfected dribbling, playing with

a ball honed out of a stone and Gavaskar perfected his straight drives playing in a

narrow alleyway.

I am sure that if we enjoy playing, we will win. The Caribbean cricketers are an

excellent example of this. They enjoy their game and they win all the time. In all kinds


of conditions, against all kinds of teams, even against all kinds of umpires! And if

even after all this, we don't win, we will not feel so despondent because we would

have enjoyed the mere act of playing in the first place.

By the way, 'Kick-off with Bagpiper' is a logo I see very often associated with sports.

We know what kind of kick they are interested in! I know games need promotion, but

the kind of companies which come forward are the ones who make cigarettes and


I can't believe that smokers and tipplers will make the best sports people. May be Dr.

Kurien of Amul will take note and start promoting sports.

MID DAY– 3 rd February 1989


'Kursi', the only concern

VP Singh became the leader of the National Front parliamentary party as was

expected. But, was he elected, selected or deflected by an ungainly reverse flick

executed by Tau Devi Lal, when many of VP's supporters had expected him to play a

straight drive.

Indian Express, the likes of Vinod Mehta and many of the detractors of Chandra

Shekhar, are entitled to their glee at this discomfiture of finding himself run out by a

direct throw from Ajit Singh hiding amongst the spectators. But, it certainly was not

cricket as was once played by the gentlemen!

Before I get carried away with the cricketing analogies, let me make the point. And the

point is that elections held in broad daylight where men and women of convictions

stand and be counted is the very essence of democratic functioning. Therefore, VP's

insistence that he be elected unanimously was hard to understand. More so, coming

from a person who rightly asserts that unity should not become the tombstone of

democracy! And, Chandra Shekhar's stance 'he is a candidate; he is not a candidate;,

was neither here nor there.


Now, remember what happened in the run of UP chief ministership. Out of nowhere,

Ajit Singh jumped into the fray. In the true Congress tradition, central observers were

sent to Lucknow. Some sort of election took place. Ajit Singh asserted, he lost by 5

votes, Mulayam Singh claimed he won by 35 votes and Madhu Dandavate disclaims

that any elections took place. Now, why are we so coy about elections?

Compare this with what recently happened in England. Anthony Meyer, a back

bencher, challenged Ms Margaret Thatcher for the leadership of the Conservative

Party. Elections took place. (Conservative MPs vote annually on their leader). Meyer

got 33 votes, Margaret Thatcher 314 votes and there were some abstentions. No one

accused Mr. Meyer of being a dissident, a party breaker or a pretender to the throne.

The reason for this was that Meyer stood for a united Europe without reservations,

while Thatcher stood for a united Europe with some reservations. And, the votes

which Margaret Thatcher failed to get, was seen as some opposition to her policies.

Now, this is the vital difference between the functioning of matured democracies of

the west and our fledging one. There, ideas and issues are articulated, debated and

discussed. Here, in our system, they are kept under wrap.


I cannot believe that experienced political leaders like VP Singh and Chandra Shekhar

do not have political ideas and convictions. But, whatever they have, they keep so

close to their chests that people, media included, cannot be blamed for believing that

most of our political leaders stand for nothing else but the kursi.

VP Singh's one liners, exhorting people to cancel the license of Rajiv Gandhi to rule

enthralled his supporters and perhaps, got him some votes, but it did not help the cause

of any meaningful debate. Nor did his first press conference as the prime minister

show much promise. Since he insists that the country's polity has moved from politics

of personalities to politics of issues, let us hope ideas and debates will flourish under

the new dispensation.

And, Chandra Shekhar should get out of his hibernation to tell the country where it

should stand on various issues. It is not for us to tell him that his mentors like Ashok

Mehta, Acharya Narendra Dev and Jai Prakash were known for their ideas about the

society and not for any positions they had held in the party or the government.

MID DAY– 27 th December 1989


Design for what?

Knife, Axe and Mechanical Saw

A triple-edged question…

The difference between the knife, the axe and the mechanical saw lies, not only in

their design or in the varying uses to which they are put, but more significantly, in the

relationship which these tools have had with Man – the designer, the producer and the


In primitive times, we built shelters to protect ourselves from a hostile environment,

designed tools to increase our resources, and developed languages to communicate

with one another. Every design was born from a genuine physical need.

The edge of a piece of hard metal was sharpened to make a knife so that food could be

cut into chunks small enough to be put in the mouth and chewed. Later, an axe was

developed to chop branches off trees, a job which the knife could not do. And as time

progressed and our greed for 'more' increased, the mechanical saw was developed to

fell whole forests. Designs for all these tools resulted from conscious efforts to

increase our material wealth.


The primitive knife was designed, produced and used by one man. The functions of a

designer, manufacturer and user were rolled into one person. If the knife did not

function well or needed a sharper edge or a pointed end, it was re-shaped on a piece of

stone till the desired result was produced. The feedback was instant. There was no

chance for a communication gap between the user and the designer to develop. The

designer had full knowledge of the production methods and consequently of their

limitations and potential. In short, one man had total control.

The axe was designed and produced by the village blacksmith for use by the local

villagers. If the villagers wanted a bigger or heavier axe, they told the blacksmith of

their need. Depending upon the availability of materials, the blacksmith tried to satisfy

the requirements of the villagers to the extent possible. Since he could not satisfy the

requirement of each and every user, he designed and produced a range of axes, which

would satisfy most of the requirements of most of the users.

The three functions of designer, manufacturer and user, which, in the case of the knife

were rolled into one, were now split into two – the manufacturer and the user. And it

may be presumed that while the blacksmith had total control over production and the

user over its use, the role of the designer was shared by both. The blacksmith provided

design input from the point of view of manufacturing and the user from the point of

view of function. Thus, the design of an axe was the product of shared experiences.


Total control by one person over design, production and use was no longer present,

but operations were still within the limits of personal management.

Designing the mechanical saw requires specialized training and sophisticated methods.

Its production involves special metals and elaborate fabrication and testing facilities.

The product itself is so sophisticated, that the user has to take special training in order

to handle and maintain it properly. The three functions of design, production and use,

in the case of the mechanical saw, have become totally separated and are being

performed by three specialized groups which never meet each other. In order to

achieve communication among the three interdependent groups, elaborate systems of

communication have to be developed.

The total control which one man had in the case of the knife, and which was split into

two in the case of the axe, has been further fragmented into three. Furthermore, since

the design, production and use functions spread far beyond the limits of the

manageable ambit of a village, as in the case of an axe, communication among the

three interdependent parties has become less frequent, more time consuming and more

prone to distortion.

Thus, it will be seen that as products become more complex and their operations

larger, relationships among designers, producers and users become fragile. The

smallest communication gap causes designers to design what producers cannot


produce, manufacturers to produce what users cannot use, and users to use products in

ways for which they were not designed. Naturally, the question then arises, 'Design for

what?' Perhaps, the answer lies not in improving designs, but in re-establishing the

relationship between man and his products, between man and man.


Do we need Japanese help to think?

About 12 years ago, I got myself a new Padmini. For the first six months, I drove it

very properly. Looked in the rear-view mirror, gave the left indicator signal before

turning left, gave the right indicator signal before turning right and while stopping at

traffic lights, engaged the neutral gear and pulled up the handbrake.

But, within six months, as the bulbs started fusing and the handbrake cable began to

loosen, my driving degenerated. I would hardly care to look in the rear-view mirror,

gave hand signals only when absolutely necessary and while stopping at traffic lights

or parking, I would keep the car in gear.

Even when the car came back from the garage after periodic servicing, with the

handbrake cable adjusted and the fused bulbs replaced, I would use them only for the

first few days, as somehow, I had lost faith in the system.

Four years back, when I got myself a Maruti, it took me about a week to get back into

the proper mode of driving, looking in the rearview mirror, giving the indicator signals

before turning, flashing the headlights to overtake and at traffic lights, putting the car

in the neutral gear and pulling up the handbrake. I must say that this habit has

remained with me for the last four years. And I observe other Maruti drivers also,


using the indicator signals and flashing the headlights to pass other cars, though

perhaps a few times too often.

Recently, I was being driven in a Maruti van by a rustic driver in the countryside of

Gujarat and I was pleasantly surprised that he too used his indicator signals so much

that when the road curved, he would indicate whether he was going on to the left or

the right curve. And when he wanted to stop by the roadside, he looked into the

rearview mirror, gave the left hand signal, stopped the car, put the gear in the neutral,

pulled the handbrake and put the flasher lights.

The point of this narration is that use of improved and sophisticated technology can be

easily assimilated by the urbane and literate as well as rustic and illiterate and

consequently, it improves the system all round.

Therefore, it comes as an unpleasant surprise that the thousands of three-wheeler autorickshaws,

which are on the Bombay roads, do not have indicator lights, do not have

high or low beams; in fact, their headlights are so weak that one can hardly see

anything in them, don't even have a number plate light and the rearview mirrors are

optional extra! Now Bajaj Auto are the world's biggest manufacturers of threewheelers

and they can't even advance an excuse that they don't possess the required

technology because they also make Kawasaki-Bajaj motorcycles, which have the


rearview mirrors, the indicator lights, the low and high beams and the number plate

lights - the works.

You must have also noticed that most three-wheelers have a thin steel strip across the

right-hand gate to prevent passengers from getting off on the traffic side. Now, this

says something about the ingenuity and resourcefulness of their owner-drivers, but not

much about the calibre of thinking of scores of MBAs and M Techs, who must be

responsible for their manufacture and marketing.

Recently, I read about a small Japanese car, which had both the passenger doors on the

left side. Please, do not tell me that we need a Japanese collaboration to think as well!

You might have also noticed many of the new model Marutis are bashed in at the rear.

And, the reason is that the two number-plate lights project out almost as much as the

back bumper. Slight impact at the rear caves in the dicky door. Here is a chance for

Indian engineers to improve upon the original Japanese design!

MID DAY – 3 rd March 1989


Avoidable tragedies

We all know that every year, thousands of people are killed in England in road

accidents, but what, perhaps, is not so well-known is that even more people die from

accidents in their own homes and many more get seriously injured. I doubt if

comparable figures are available for our country, but I strongly suspect that people

dying or getting seriously injured in accidents in our homes must be much higher than

on our roads. The reasons are simple. Compared to western countries, we have more

homes and less cars. And we care so little while designing and maintaining our

buildings to avoid accidents.

Decades ago, in England, a toddler fell through the balcony of a multistoreyed

building. The cause was that the banisters of the balcony railing were spaced at 15

centimetres, a gap large enough for a young child to pass through. After the public

outcry – in England, such incidents invariably invite public indignation – it was made

mandatory to have banisters no more than 9 cms apart. And, there are many do's and

don'ts to prevent such tragedies.

A majority of home accidents take place in the kitchens. So, simple precautions are

suggested. Like, avoid movement in the work area to reduce the risk of collisions;

counter surface on each side of the cooker lessens the risk of projecting saucepan


handles; place storage shelves at easily reachable heights to avoid falling over. And,

never fix a cupboard directly over the cooker.

Bathrooms are equally accident-prone. And, again the precautions are simple. No

electrical outlets, as they are particularly dangerous when the body is wet. A non-slip

floor is an absolute must in a place which is bound to get wet, and bolts on bathroom

doors should be openable from the outside in an emergency.

There are other precautions to take as well. Open stairwells are a potential danger. So,

it is best to avoid them. Children invariably play on the stairs. Balcony railings should

not only be safe, but must feel safe as well, to prevent people suffering from vertigo,

from falling over. A shallow pond can be a danger to young children. Many drown in

them every year. The doormat should be flush with the floor.

Now, the next time you enter someone's garden, or climb the stairs of a building, or

get into your kitchen or bath, just observe what precautions have been taken.

I know of a family who lost a young child in the lily pond of their newly laid garden. I

know of another family who lost their young daughter, when she fell through the

balcony. I also know of an elderly woman who broke her hip bone, slipping on a silly

step leading to her kitchen. A couple of years ago, there was a mild hue and cry when


a young boy playing in the forecourt of a multistoreyed building was hit by an object

falling from one of the upper floors and died instantaneously.

And one sees so many women of lower working class with burn scars. I doubt if all of

them are cases of bride burning. But who cares to design a primus stove which will not

easily tip over? As a society, we do precious little to avert such avoidable tragedies. In

our midst, everything is dear, except dear life.

MID DAY– 16 th October 1989


Travails of train travel

Even before the Indian Airlines became chaotic in the past few months, I had always

preferred to travel by train. Travelling by train gives you time to relax, sleep, read a

book or just brood. First class AC is an absolute luxury for me, especially when my

clients pay the fares. When I have to pay, I prefer to travel second class AC, which is

so far quite comfortable.

The compartments are new and relatively clean. The AC usually works. And if the copassengers

do not play cards late in the night or are not a young couple with a howling

child, the journey can be quite enjoyable.

Recently, I happened to travel to Lucknow by the superfast train. An eventful one,

fortunately, at least till the train approached Lucknow. When I was all set to get off,

the train stopped at a small station called Amousi, about 20 Kms from Lucknow. At

first, I did not take notice of this – one gets used to it travelling by trains. But when it

was over half an hour, I got out to enquire but nobody really knew the cause. In the

compartment, people started speculating. 'A rail roko', 'No, an accident'…. And so on.

The train started an hour later but stopped again for about half an hour at the outer

signal of Lucknow station. Finally, we reached Lucknow an hour and a half late.


In Japan now, whenever a superfast train runs late, the surcharge is refunded to the

passengers. Of course, we know why such a system is not followed in India.

The next day, I saw a quarter page advertisement in the National Herald, inserted by

the North-Eastern Railway, apologizing to the public for the delayed arrivals and

departures of Lucknow trains. It said that they were in the process of computerizing

the signaling system and it would take another two to three weeks to set things right.

Now, that was very thoughtful of the Railways, but I wonder why they didn't

announce it on the public address system at Kanpur, warning the passengers of the

likely delay or ask the station master at Amousi station to inform the passengers of the

reasons for the delay.

The open secret of that quarter page advertisement in the National Herald is that,

except for the public sector organizations, nobody else advertises in the paper and in

the Nehru Centenary year, Nehru's paper has to be financed somehow, even if it means

spending the taxpayer's money.

After a week, I was returning to Bombay. I expected the journey to be uneventful. But

it was not to be so. I had a computerized ticket issued from Bombay VT. As soon as I

got into the train and occupied my berth, the conductor checked my ticket and said

that my berth number was 45 and not 3 as indicated on my ticket. I protested, but he


was not impressed. 'It is not on my chart', he said, 'This is the Kanpur quota. The

return quota is number 45, 46 and 47'.

I reluctantly moved, protesting and asking for the complaint book. When the

conductor came to check my ticket again, I reminded him of the complaint book. He

settled down beside me and went on to explain, at length, his difficulties. He said that

Bombay VT had taken no notice of his advice that the return journey quota berths are

45, 46 and 47 and not 1, 2, 3 and 4. He asked to be considered my younger brother and

be forgiven. Now, we Indians melt at these words and I let him off.

But the thought of not insisting on the complaint book nagged me all through the

journey. I know the virtues of tolerance and forgiveness, but I also know that, unless

we become a little more intolerant of the inefficiency and shoddiness around us, things

will not improve. And what better place to begin with than our own little offices and


MID DAY– 31 st March 1989


Black is not so beautiful

Some time back, I saw an advertisement of an international airline enticing tourists to

Bangkok with a beautiful photograph of hordes of multi-coloured umbrellas.

Juxtaposed was a photograph of black-coloured umbrellas – the subtle suggestion,

being that while other cities are grey and dull, Bangkok is colourful and lively.

This set me to observe what it was like in Bombay. The monsoons had just set in and I

had gone to a departmental store. I noticed that about 60 per cent of the umbrellas for

sale were black and about 40 per cent were coloured. About half of the coloured ones

were brown, grey and blue and the rest were in bright colours of red, yellow and


Soon after, on a rainy day, I happened to pass a bus stop near a school. The school had

just closed and students and their guardians were waiting for the bus in the pouring

rain with their umbrellas and rainwear. What I saw confirmed what I had seen earlier

in the departmental store that black, dull greys and browns dominate over the bright

and the multi-coloured.

And this set me to wonder why, in a country where black is not beautiful, we have so

many black and dull umbrellas and rainwear. Inherited aesthetic sense apart, black is a

colour which absorbs heat, and therefore, is ill-suited. Purely from the point of view of


comfort, white or light colours reflect light and heat and are more suited to our


I may be wrong, but I have a strong suspicion that we inherited the black umbrellas

from the British. And if Bangkok is full of multi-coloured umbrellas, it is because

Thailand was ruled by the French!

And I think we inherited not only the black umbrellas from the British, but also black

taxis, black gowns of judges and lawyers and the black coats of the railway staff.

Now, the black coats of the railway staff made some sense in the days of the steam

engines and coal dust. But with the electrification of the railways, it surely calls for a

change. Similarly, gowns of judges and lawyers must be changed to something more

suited to our climate and cultural ethos. White is what we associate with purity and


And, why insist that all taxis be painted black? If it is just to distinguish them from

private cars, it can be easily done by putting a colourful strip across or having a

coloured number plate. Taxis of different colours will certainly make our roads look

that much livelier. And just imagine thousands of three-wheelers of different colours

zipping across like butterflies rather than like cockroaches as they appear now.


And talking about colour on the roads, I have often wondered why the authorities

decided to put metal barricades on road dividers. Kilometre after kilometer of the

same monotonous design which is poor in aesthetics and construction. The same

purpose could have been so wonderfully served by having flower beds as is being

done along Marine Drive. And imagine different coloured flowers blooming in

different seasons. Kilometre after kilometer of roads all over the city.

When one goes out to the countryside, especially during the monsoon, one is struck by

the colour all around. I know, cities will never be as colourful as the countryside, but

they need not be as dull as they tend to be now. Take care of the small things and the

cumulative effect will make a big difference.

MID DAY– 7 th August 1989


Mourning in the morning

It was not just last Sunday and its not just The Times of India. Every morning, day

after day, all the newspapers bring us gloomy stories of corruption, deceit, agitations,

of accidents, murder and rape.

I will leave it to psychoanalysts to tell us what this does to our collective psyche. But I

have a strong suspicion that this subtle never-ending assault on our sensibilities numbs

our senses and after a while, ceases to move us. After all, how much can the mind

take? In due course, we become cynical and on reading about a new case of corruption

saying 'Chalta hai' and on seeing another photograph of murder, say 'well, it is all a

part of life'.And if the world is really so gloomy, why do we wish to live and enjoy our

lives in this world?

Write about gloomy happening by all means, if they do occur, but present them in

proper proportion and perspective. After all, we laugh more than we cry, so why not

tell us about some funny things which happened the previous day? And surely, there

are more births than murders. Why not have pictures of proud parents beaming at a

new born, rather than of relatives grieving over a mutilated body. Surely, more people

make love the night before than commit rape, so why not give tender stories of people

who find joy and happiness in each other's arms. More flowers bloom every morning

than trees felled the previous day. So, why this gloom morning after morning?


The same Sunday as the above cuttings, I found one news report, which cheered me no

end. It said : Global fusion power in a century 'inevitable' – WASHINGTON, (AP).

The year is 2089 and fusion power plants are energizing the world, bringing the

benefits of virtually unlimited electricity to countries everywhere.

Earth's sky has slowly returned to its normal crystalline blue, purged of the pollutants

that soured the atmosphere a century before, when fossil fuels were civilization's main

energy source.Life is returning to lakes and streams, that previously were acid-filled.

Concerns about acid rain and the global warming trend called the 'greenhouse effect'

are now only academic curiosities.

Such is the world that scientists and engineers envision with the advent of fusion, the

process by which atoms are fused together to release energy.

This exception just goes to prove that there are cheerful happenings in the world, only

the newspapers must bring them to us every morning.

MID DAY– 26 th May 1989


Make directories functional

Recently, Bombay Telephones had invited designs for the cover of the new telephone

directory. I am not too good at graphic design, so I have not sent in an entry, but I do

venture to make a few suggestions.

I can think of three functions which the cover of a book or directory serves. One, it

keeps the inside pages together; two, it tells the interested, at a glance what the inside

pages are all about and three, it attempts to wean the interested away from the other

competing titles.

If one looks at the cover of the present telephone directory, one would notice that it

holds the inside pages together well. Directories are used very roughly and I have yet

to see a copy which was falling apart. It also conveys well that it is a telephone

directory, if anything, a bit too loudly. The chance that it can be confused for anything

else is remote. But the illustration on the cover showing a folded map of Bombay held

together by a telephone is totally unnecessary and wholly avoidable.

A cover is a handy space and therefore valuable, which should be used to provide

useful information. If I were to design the telephone directory, I would reduce the size

of the typeface which proclaims 'Bombay Telephone Directory 1988'. The message

can be conveyed in a more modest manner. I would make the size of the typeface of


emergency telephone numbers big and bold so that in emergencies, one does not have

to search for spectacles to check the telephone numbers.

And, I would scrap the illustration and put in its place, the telephone numbers of

public utilities like hospitals, ambulance, railway and airline enquiries etc. In other

words make it more functional. And all this can be done in an attractive manner using

different colours to highlight the important from the less important.

Similarly, the back cover is a valuable space. I do not know what most people look for

in a telephone directory, perhaps the Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Limited (MTNL)

should carry out a survey, but I am always looking for STD codes. And I would put on

the back cover, STD codes at least of those cities which are most used.

And between the covers, there is lot which is superfluous. To start with, the letter from

the general manager 'presenting' the directory, and how many subscribers are

interested in knowing the organizational structure of MTNL? Then there are two pages

with 58 columns for keeping record of inspection of telephones. That pre-supposes

once a week visit of the telephone inspectors. Surely, MTNL has more confidence in

their system! And then there are three pages with over 100 columns for subscribers to

jot down frequently called numbers. I wonder how many jot down frequently called

numbers in the telephone directory and how many call 100 telephone numbers



One thing which the present directory gives very well is the information regarding

international subscriber dialing. It gives the country code and city codes and also the

time difference and graphically explains the sequence of various codes to be dialed

and is supported by a world map showing the international time zones. But, I will not

mix it up with organizations and commercial information.With STD becoming

increasingly popular, I would add a section giving telephone numbers of important

public utilities of other metro cities.

Similarly, I would also have a section in which subscribers from other metros could

insert their telephone numbers. This should be popular with hotels, travel agents, carrental

agencies, even some multi-national companies and large corporations.

And lastly, I would suggest that the directories should not be 'presented' but sold at a

nominal charge to the subscribers. It is not so much to raise additional resources for

the MTNL but to avoid waste. Look at it this way. Most offices have more than one

telephone, so do many homes. And the system of distributing directories for each

telephone connection is wasteful, as all the directories do not get used.

Only the other day, I saw a set of directories lying in a corner on the floor of an office

which looked fresh and untouched. I do not remember having used in the past six

months even once the telephone directory at my home. In my small office, it does get

used, but more often to check addresses and pin codes than to find out the telephone


numbers. If I had to pay, I would buy just one set for the office. The 2,940 pages adds

up to a lot of paper, which could be well used for printing scores of text books.

MID DAY – 25 th July 1989


Who needs Pepsi Cola?

I have read of many reasons for which Pepsi Cola should not be allowed in the

country. But my reason is a more basic one. I just don't think we should export food to

the outside world. Yes, we have licked the problem of starvation and widespread

famine, but there are still millions of our people who go to bed half-starved or if you

will, half-fed.

We know there is no absolute surplus of food. Yes, there is a relative one, because we

do not have a proper distribution system and the perishable food does not reach the

people who need it in time and at prices people can afford. So, if the food rots, it is not

a sufficient reason for us to export it. Instead, we should try to reach it to the people at

prices most can afford.

Remember, a decade ago, when the market of the Gulf countries opened up and we

started exporting meat, fruits and vegetables, the prices of these items went up in the

domestic market. And even for many of the middle class families, a good dish of

chicken or mutton became a treat for special occasions. And, I am not even talking of

the famous Alphonso mangoes or basmati rice, though I do not see why we should be

denied indulgence into these small luxuries.


Another point, when prices of the better varieties go up, the costs of lesser varieties

creep up and in the end, it is the very poor who pay by denying themselves the very


Now, I am not against import of technology per se, provided it helps the very needy. If

Pepsi Cola or someone else has got a technology of, let's say, mixing potato powder

with soya bean flour, packing it for the needy in the villages, who do not get enough

protein, yes, by all means, import the technology. But, to export potato chips for the

rich and to import Pepsi Cola concentrate for the poor, makes no sense. And, if

someone thinks we are surplus in potatoes, let me give you a few figures. In India, per

capita availability of potatoes is of 16.5 kg, which is only one-fourth of the global

figure of 62.8 kg. And in Poland, it is 982 kg per capita per year!

And who needs the colas anyway? In our country, we have a vast selection of cold

drinks, lassi and mattas. We have various kinds of sherbets. Every household has

sugar, salt and lemon readily available. What more does one need to make a cold

drink? Potable water. That's what most of the households do not have – and after 40

years of independence. How sad!

Many other arguments are given in favour of the project. It will create 50,000 jobs,

provide employment to the 'misguided' youth of Punjab, earn foreign exchange etc.

But it is only a thin end of the wedge. Already, one can see that Godrej is talking to


Coca Cola to get into India and Zuari Agro is thinking of exporting tomato ketchup,

tomato puree and other canned food.

To me, it is not a question of a cola. It is a question of a culture.

See the ad. We now make toothpicks with foreign knowhow. Guess, if an American

cola cork ever gets stuck between the teeth, we can always depend on the West

German technology to push it out.

MID DAY– 21 st December 1988


Perks should be banned

Our national flag carrier – Air India – is once again passing through turbulence. The

reason this time is that the management has decided to deprive some of its employees

from travelling first class. Travelling first class for the senior employees with their

families was a perk which was given to them.

Now, in our country, perks are really a racket. Air India employees can travel at a

concessional rate in first class or economy class according to their status. They can

even get a discount on travels on Indian Airlines. And, I guess Indian Airlines staff

can do likewise on Air India. We know that in railways, mostly it is the railway staff

and their families who travel in the first class. Bank employees can get loans at

nominal interest as if the money belonged to their forefathers. It is like my claiming a

flat in every building I design! But then, I am self-employed. Perks are an anarchist

practice, which has turned into a racket in organized sectors, both public and private,

but that is another story.

Someone I know runs two multi-crore plants in India. He lives in a three bedroom

house on one of the plant sites and his house is similar to the ones in which ten other

colleagues of his live. When he gets to the other plant site, he lives in a 10' x 15' room

in the company guest house. He washes his own clothes, he polishes his own shoes, he

dines in the same dining room as the others. And he runs the two plants like an


autocrat and spins money for his group. Not a telex message flutters the two

companies without his knowledge.

The question is, how come he can function like an autocrat. It is simply this, that even

when he takes decisions which are inconvenient to his colleagues and subordinates,

they understand and appreciate the fairness of his stand, for he denies to himself first

what he denies to others later.

If Air India and such establishments were to take a leaf from this example, and I am

sure this is not the only one in India, they would not be in such a mess. But what the

directors have done, they have kept the privilege of travelling first class for themselves

while denying it to the others. Understandably, the others don't accept it.

Yes, it is good for the MD to be a whiz kid – it helps, but it is more important for him

to have the moral authority to lead his colleagues and to command his subordinates.

That obviously is absent. Otherwise, Air India wouldn't have been passing through this

turbulence now and then.

I wonder why the directors of Air India couldn’t decide to travel economy class

themselves and thus set an example for their colleagues and staff. Or they thought, that

not having champagne one night will give them constipation the next morning! And

why not abolish the first class altogether? After all, there are only 16 seats, for which


the quarrel is. When airbuses were first introduced in the Indian Airlines, there used to

be only one class, but soon they introduced an executive class. What for, one does not

know. Perhaps, because some who consider themselves VIPs do not like to travel with

plain Ps.

We create classes where none exist and then wonder why the system does not work.

MID DAY– 30 th November 1988


The clock is indispensable

Lewis Mumford was an American sociologist and city planner, whose lifelong interest

was in understanding the cause and effect relationship between cultural attitudes and

technology. That is how some cultural attitudes in the western society gave rise to

certain technologies, which in turn, effected the cultural attitudes, indeed the whole

life pattern of the society.

He wrote several books, including 'The Culture of Cities'and'The Conditions of Man'.

But perhaps his most seminal work is 'Technics and Civilization' written in 1932,

which still holds tremendous relevance, for it deals with the very basic issues involved

in the embiotic relationship between man and machine. And what fascinates me most

in this book is a brief chapter called The Monastery and the Clock.

According to Mumford, it is the clock and not the steam engine, which is the key

machine of the modern industrial age. And it all began in the monasteries of the West,

where the desire for order and power first manifested itself after a long uncertainty and

confusion,that followed the breakdown of the Roman Empire. To enforce order, it was

decreed that the bells of the monastery be rung seven times in the twenty fours to

punctuate the seven periods of devotion of the day. The monastery became the seat of

a regular life. The habit of order and the regulation of time had become its second


nature. It gave human enterprise the regular collective beat and rhythm of the machine.

And the first modern mechanical clock was invented by a monk who later became a


Peeling of bells gave way to 'modern' clock towers in towns of the 13 th century. It

brought a new regularity into the life of the workmen and the merchants. It almost

defined the life in towns. And as Mumford put it, 'Time-keeping passed into timeserving

and time-accounting and time-rationing. As this took place, eternity ceased

gradually to serve as the measure and focus of human actions'. And in this working

order, he sees the origins of modern capitalism.

In due course, the clock became an embodiment of standardizations, automatic action,

accuracy and mechanical perfection in gearing and transmission, which contributed to

the success of quite different kinds of machines.

The division of an hour into 60 minutes and the minutes into 60 seconds gave a

framework of divided time within which most people thought and worked. And

abstract time became the new medium of existence. Organic functions got regulated

by it. And as Mumford puts it, 'one ate, not upon feeling hungry, but when prompted

by the clock; one slept, not when one was tired, but when the clock sanctioned it'.

Mumford also says that the orderly punctual life is not native to mankind and that

many eastern civilizations have flourished on a loose basis in time. However, he


concludes that a modern industrial regime could do without coal, iron and steam easier

than it could do without a clock.

Now if you remember, the Britishers always built a clock tower in an Indian town, but

soon enough, we turned it into a landmark and lost the meaning of the chimes of the

clock. Maharaja Jai Singh built Jantar Mantar at Jaipur and Delhi to measure the

positions of the sun, moon and the stars, but soon enough, we turned them into picnic

spots and lost the meaning of quantitative measurement. And today, many of us wear

exquisite looking expensive imported watches, not so much for the time they keep, but

for the status they indicate. After reading Mumford, it is obvious, why it is so. For, the

clock does not have the same place in our cultural ethos as it had in the West.

MID DAY – 14 th April 1989


Glimpses of Goa

Sun, sand, sea and much more…

After a long drive from Bombay, I reach Goa late in the night. The place I am

recommended to stay in, has no vacant room, so I drive round the corner and find, in a

large compound, a large and elegant old house with some rooms to let.

A young man shows me the room with obvious pride. He politely suggests that I take

off my shoes so as to keep the sand out and insists that I see the bathroom. Its walls

are painted with scenes of hills, beaches and coconut trees. All of it, his doing. He

apologises for the dim lights. I like the ambience. Haggle about the rent. Pay the

advance and crash out.

It's morning. The matronly looking mother comes to ask me if I want tea. Also asks

what rent I am paying to the son. Then goes on to tell her life story. How she built the

six rooms, one each for her sons and daughters. How she sweeps, cleans and manages,

while they keep the money. That her husband is old and useless, does not do a thing;

he is stupid and stubborn. If he says lunch at 12 noon, it better be 12 noon. That one of

her sons is on drugs and how sometimes, she has to put him in a hospital. When I ask

if sodas are available nearby, she replies, 'Here, you can get everything – drugs, sex,

bad girls and even AIDS. This place has gone to hell'.


It is afternoon. Sitting in the verandah, I sip my rum and soda. Suddenly, the silence is

shattered by a loud yell in the house. The mother comes rushing out with a tin of paint

and starts painting the timber posts. And, I am reminded of the oft-made feminist

claim that in our society, in most families, it is the women who bear the burden of the

house. Here appears to be a case which fits the claim.

It is evening. I decide to walk on the beach. A young white woman is lying on her

stomach, getting a massage from a tel-malishwala. A bunch of boys stand around

giggling. The woman's male companion appears amused at their giggling.

After a walk, I settle down in a nearby shack to split a bottle of beer with an

Englishman, who is visiting India after a lapse of seven years. He notices a lot of

changes. More cars. More flights. Fewer seats. But the telephones, as bad as ever!

The shack is run by a German couple. She cooks and he serves. Their two-year-old

with pants hanging on the hips plays in the sand. I am reminded of a ga-ga tale told to

me by a young Indian, who recently immigrated to the West about how her five-yearold

plays with the latest educational toys. One need not argue which is better – playing

with sand or educational toys. Enough to understand that our world offers choices and

what is heartening, that the younger generation is increasingly willing to choose.


A bricklayer from Finland has moved into the next room. He wonders if the travellers'

cheques he is carrying are safe on his person; whether he can get a safe deposit locker.

He has to work very hard in Finland, but in four months, he can earn enough to live

for eight months in southern Europe without working.

When I mention that for a hundred rupees a day, he can eat well in Goa, he says that is

what he earns in twenty minutes back home!

A friend wants me to advise her on the new house she plans to build. I go to the site

and find the old house being demolished. Looking at good solid houses around, I

suggest that the old house could have been renovated. She is not impressed. Her

husband is in the Gulf and with Gulf money come Gulf architectural dreams. Pucca

construction, flat roofs and Islamic arches.

It is market day. I decide to drive to the nearby town. Goa is a wonderful mix of

Indian and Western; of Hindu and Catholic cultures. The shop selling liquor could be

anywhere in the Mediterranean. And the silversmith next door selling silver anklets in

any of the peths of Pune. Driving back, I wonder how I cheerfully pay hundred rupees

for the liquor and haggle for a few rupees with the poor women selling the earthen

pots. I notice I am driving slowly. The road is narrow. There are no appointments to

keep. But, perhaps, more significantly, there is no one to overtake!


Driving around, I notice a sticker on a two-wheeler 'Good girls go to heaven. Bad girls

go everywhere'. Obviously, someone is worried somewhere. But I have a faint

suspicion that more than a few gigolos stalk the beaches of Goa. And no one seems to

be worried.

It is time to get back to the grind. I stop at the check post. The inspector writes down

my car number, licence number and the destination; and directs me to the excise

official who puts down more or less the same information in his register. I am waved

through the barrier. Ten yards away, I see a beer bar. I back into the compound and

order a cola. Seeing an array of liquor bottles in the shop window, I ask about the

prices. They are five rupees more than in Goa, but still about half of Bombay's. I order

half a dozen bottles and drive off.



Spaced out?

Make your limited area feel unlimited

Small may or may not be beautiful,

but small spaces are certainly, today, a fact of life.

And, they will become more so

with, we, multiplying

and the land remaining the same.

Living in small spaces is nothing new.

In traditional parts of cities,

most families lived in

and some still live in small houses of two to three rooms.

But, these small houses were part of larger groupings

of a mohalla, a pol, a wada or a chawl.

And the neighbours

were a part of an extended family or a clan or a community.

Everyone knew each other,

lived and grew together.

Doors and windows remained open.

Otlas, verandahs and chabutras were shared with friends.


Indeed, gullies and roads were used

to meet, to chat and play.

- small houses did not feel small.

Today, we live in cities

which are melting pots.

Life is impersonal

and neighbours - strangers.

We keep our doors shut,

windows closed,

curtains drawn.

- small spaces feel smaller.

Open windows,

withdraw curtains.

Strangers become familiar.

Familiars become friends.

Staircase landings become meeting points.

- small spaces feel larger.

A small space, is indeed, what it is.

A small space


and physically, it will always remain so.

But, the sense of space

- the feel of it,

can be enhanced or constricted,

depending upon how the space is treated.

In a room,

if the window is closed

and curtains are drawn,

the room ends at the window.

- the room feels small.

Withdraw the curtains,

open the window.

Look out.

Look at the trees outside,

at the garbage dump below,

and at neighbours’windows beyond.

The same room ends at the neighbours’ windows.

- the room feels larger.


We are indeed monarchs,

of not just what we possess,

but of what we survey.

And, there is no law against visual encroachment!

As floor areas contracted,

many of the fittings and furniture

like bookshelves, cupboards and dressing tables,

climbed up the walls

- freeing the floors.

But, not for long.

Parkinson’s law caught up.

More fittings and furniture filled the floors,

partly due to the acquisitive nature of modern life,

partly due to the traditional value system,

wherein one loathes to discard things.

An opportunity lost.

- small spaces remained small.


Floor is the most versatile element of a small living space.

One can sit,





and make love on it.

It is bed-cum-sofa,

It is chair-cum-table,

It is storage.

Traditionally, that is how floors were used.

But, modern chairs and tables,

have so contoured our bodies,

that we cannot sit cross-legged on the floor.


And, free the floor of the clutter.

Lay marble,


simulated timber,



or chattais -


whatever you may like,

let the floor be the king of the small space.

- small space will feel larger.

If some mortals are still wondering, what to do with their 500 square feet, follow my

10 Commandments :

1. Expand windows.

Lower the sills.

Withdraw the curtains.

Let the outside in.

2. Reduce walls.

Punch openings in them

Let the spaces flow.

3. Let ceilings sail uninterrupted.

4. Keep only necessary furniture,

and keep it low.

5. Limit belongings.

Have more space for living - less for belongings.

Use floor for living.

6. Use soft lights.

Light the corners.


Banish fluorescent tubes!

7. Use light colours.


living areas with bright cushions,

walls with paintings,

the dining table with a bowl of fruits.

8. Remember,

the famous words of the famous architect Mies van der Rohe,


- small space will feel larger.

9. Remember,

the Biblical saying


- small space will feel larger.


- small space will feel larger.

HOMEDGE – THE HOME MANAGER – 1 st October 2004



Chance, coincidence and turning points

In 1944, Bhai went to Benares Hindu University to become an engineer. He joined the

army. So it was my turn to become an engineer!

Math was not my strong subject, so I applied to IIT Kharagpur for architecture and

naval architecture. After a few tests and an interview, I got a call for architecture. That

was 1954. It was a new phase in my life and also a new way of life. Bhai used to send

me 120 rupees every month. After paying for my fees, mess charges and other

essentials, I was left with a few rupees for, which, these days is called discretionary

spending. This, I used to spend to subscribe to a daily newspaper and on a monthly

treat. The treat meant putting on my best clothes, cycling down a few miles to the


Kharagpur railway station. There, in the cafeteria, I would order a plate of vegetable

cutlets – I was a vegetarian then, and a cup of coffee. Cutlets cost 12 annas, coffee 2

annas and 2 annas I left as tip, for which I got a big salute from the smartly dressed


I was falling into a routine, classes in the morning, sleep in the afternoon, library in the

evening and working on the drawing board at night. I thought I worked hard but it was

not enough to get more than B/B minus grades. That year, in the two months of

summer vacation, I joined the PWD office in Lucknow as a trainee. For my efforts, I

got 120 rupees per month plus some drafting practice and a lot of time to think of how

to break the barrier of B/B minus grades, for if I didn’t do it soon, I would be

condemned to it forever.

In the second year, the first project was to design a swimming pool. And that was a

challenge, for how much could one do with a swimming pool. A pool is just a big hole

in the ground, one could make it kidney shaped or oval, or just a plain rectangle. What

more, what else. I was struggling. One evening, sitting in the library, browsing

through the sections of the swimming pool, an image of a ship flashed through my

mind. I went to the drawing board, drew a section of the pool and a thick line at the

bottom for the ground. And voila, I had my design! A swimming pool over the

ground, not under. I added stairs to reach the deck and diving boards. It started to look

like an aircraft carrier.


When I put up the drawings for marking, the professor looked at the design, then

looked at me and asked if it was my design. I said an emphatic yes. He scribbled A

minus on the sheet –minus, for not believing my emphatic yes. Then on, I never got

less than A. The barrier was breached.

Same year, I once happened to go to Calcutta. I walked into a bookshop on Park street

and picked up my first book on architecture ‘An Introduction to Modern Architecture’

by FRS Yorke. This book cost me 7 rupees. Yorke was one of the pioneers of modern

movement of architecture in Europe. He was to England what Walter Gropius was to

Germany. As luck would have it, a few years later, I was to get a job in his office in


By now, I was being recognized as one of the good designers in the class. Seniors

would come to my drawing board to see what I was doing. I felt confident and


At the end of the third year, I was selected to go to Gangtok, to have my 6 months of

practical training, with a group of architects, who were working on the development

plan of the city. We had an issue of ‘Architectural Forum’, an American architectural

magazine devoted to Frank Lloyd Wright’s works. Of all the masters, his works – low

rise with sloping roofs, were closest to what we could take inspiration (copy) from. So,

we would thumb through it, and try to do our best, but somehow, it would not quite


match the simplicity and spontaneity of the local architecture, which sat in harmony

with the green hills and blue skies of the then Gangtok city. These six months of some

work and much play, left me with a nagging feeling that architecture, as being taught

to us, lacked something somewhere. What it was, I did not know then.

Back to the Institute, our project was to design an engineering college. During

research, I came across a college design in Wales, which was a template for

engineering colleges in UK, setting new design standards and planning parameters. It

was a design prepared by F.R.S.Yorke. In my design, I incorporated some of the

principles suggested there. Call it chance or coincidence, a few years later, as the

youngest project architect in the office, I was to work on the expansion of the same

engineering college under direct supervision of F.R.S.Yorke, the master himself.

One day, a senior, also a friend asked me to prepare his design project, as he wanted to

go on an extended pujaholiday to Calcutta. I felt flattered and agreed. On his return,

when he submitted his project, he got an ‘A’, but someone squeaked. I was called by

Prof. V.N.Prasad, Head of Department, to his office, and given a dressing down. I

came out, chastened.

The five year course was coming to an end. I had selected ‘Child Guidance Clinic’, a

school for emotionally challenged, as subject of my design thesis. Eric Foster, an

English professor who had recently joined the Department, was my thesis guide.


When I showed him a synopsis of my thesis, he looked at me in surprise and said that

his wife was a psychiatrist and a trained ‘child guidance’ counsellor. After that, I

would go to their house and over a cup of tea, both would critique my design.

One day, in the corridor, I crossed paths with Prof. Prasad. He called me to his office.

I went in gingerly, wondering what it was this time. He directed me to sit down and

asked what my plans were after graduation. I mumbled. He offered me a job on the

faculty. I came out happy and with a spring in my stride.

By now, I was clear in my mind that I must go abroad for a few years to gain further

education and experience. Teaching did not take much of my time, as it was about

giving what I had got in the five years. So, rest of the time, I spent in preparing my

portfolio and CV etc. In the library, we used to get an English architectural magazine

called Architectural Journal, which had a regular column of ‘Situations vacant’.

Referring to it, I applied to three offices in London. One replied, no vacancy, one

wrote, come, we will talk. The third offered me a job at 750 pounds a year. It was the

office of F.R.S. Yorke. I was elated.

I borrowed 800 rupees from a friend to book my ticket. Prof. Foster lent me some

more pounds and loads of advice and with that, I sailed for London end of 1960.


F.R.S. Yorke’s practice was old and greying at the edges. David Allford, who was

instrumental in hiring me, was trying to bring in new blood from different


David had spent some time in India during World war II and was interested in things

Indian. He introduced me to Satyajit Ray’s films, and over time, became my friend,

philosopher and guide.

Our office had a small library. Its in-charge was a middle-aged Englishman, and active

member of the Labour party and a great admirer of Nehru. He introduced me to

‘Discovery of India’.

Near our office was London School of Economics. Often days, during lunchbreak, I

would walk to it, to browse in its bookshop. One such day there, I picked up my first

book on planning written by Lloyd Rodwin.

When I had gone to London, I had thought I would work for two three years, do some

further studies, gain some experience and return to India, but years rolled by. It was

seven years and time to return, but now I wanted to do further studies and gain some

experience in America before returning. For this, I applied to some American

universities including M.I.T.


Around this time, in the office, I was working on a project of which the principal

architects were SOM – Skidmore, Owing and Merrill, a leading firm of American

architects – who recently designed the Mumbai airport. Its senior partner, Bill

Hartmann used to periodically visit our office to review the work.

One evening, as is the custom in England, after work, I, along with some of my

colleagues, went to the ‘local’ – our regular pub for our 'usual' glass of beer. Bill

Hartmann was there. We got talking. During our conversation, he asked what my

plans were. When told that I had applied to M.I.T. for further studies, he asked me to

see him. Next morning, I went to his office. He called his secretary and dictated ‘Dear

Andy…’ – a letter to Lawrence Anderson, then Head of Architectural Department at

M.I.T. In 15 days, I got my letter of admission. Rest as they say is history.

On my first day at MIT, I found myself sitting across Prof. Lloyd Rodwin, enrolling

for a programme, of which he was the director. It was the same Lloyd Rodwin, whose

book on planning, I had picked up a few years ago at the bookshop of the London

School of Economics.



On returning to India in 1970, in search of a job, I crisscrossed the country visiting

Calcutta, Delhi, Ahmedabad and Bombay. But no job.

Disappointed, I was mentally prepared to go back to my old office of F.R.S.Yorke in


One sunny morning, sitting in the verandah of Bhai's large bungalow in Deolali, I

came across an advertisement for a position of a senior architect. It was a Post Box

address. I applied. In a few days, I got a call for an interview from a leading firm of

architects in Bombay.

I went for the interview. In fifteen minutes, I got the job of Chief of Design.

I worked there for about nine months. However, my heart was set on starting one's

own practice. Having just settled down in Juhu, a chance meeting at my doctor’s clinic

with someone who knew someone, landed us with our first project with one of the

large business houses in India. It kick-started our practice, never to look back.

During the 45 years of our practice, we did several projects for this group and others.

Some good, some not so good, most in between. But we always delivered. We seldom

lost a client. Our clients became our friends. Our friends became our clients and

remained our friends.


People who worked with us decades ago, are still in touch. 25 years ago, looking for

her first job, Aparna came to our office, and she is still around.

85 years of this journey has had its share of surprises. Some would call it chance,

coincidence or luck, others, destiny, karma or even God’s gift. Call, what you may; it

can’t be denied that hidden hands lurk in our shadows to give life a twist, when least


Often, one thinks, what would have happened if something had not happened, but

then, something else would have happened – for life is not lived in a void –what twist

life would then have taken, there is no knowing.

85 years on …..


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