It was just as well we ended upat the Indo-German Urban Mela at Cross Maidan past sundown for, as we walked upto Entry Gate 2 on Vithaldas Thakersey road, near the intersection with VeerNariman road, the night was well and truly upon us and from behind the entry gaterose multi-purpose pavilions glowing in the Mumbai night.
For a moment one could beforgiven for believing one was entering a gigantic jewellery showroom pastclosing time, with precious jewels the size meant for fingers of a species manytimes larger than an average human glowing invitingly to explore them in thedark of the showroom.
A flier said: The gemstone shapes for the pavilions are areminder and celebration of the colour and vibrancy of Indian art and design.
The pavilions could as easily be giganticfireflies in futuristic woods as they could equally be life sized specimens inan open air geometry class, the structures a suffusion of circles, hexagons,squares, decagons and straight lines.
It was perhaps fitting that the Indo-GermanUrban Mela, a collaborative celebration titled Germany and India 2011-2012: Infinite Opportunities marking the 60thyear of diplomatic relations between India and Germany, was themed “StadRaume –CitySpaces” and opened in Mumbai first, for perhaps no Indian city is asconsumed about City Spaces, and subsumed from the lack of it, as Bombay is.
From Mumbai the Indo-German UrbanMela will next move to Bangalore before openingin Chennai, New Delhi,and finally Pune – all major Indian cities rapidly changing from increasingurbanisation, and grappling with its implications ranging from issuesconcerning mobility, energy, sustainable urban development, architecture,cultural space, and education among others.
The pace of change wrought by thedemands rapid urbanisation places at the city’s door is a topic no longerconfined to genteel drawing rooms of the Mumbai elite who’ve ‘lived through’the transformation of Bombay to Mumbai through the 1960s to now.
Instead it’s being played out ingory images of suburban commuters falling off overcrowded Mumbai locals atabout the same time the Urban Mela opened in the rare open space, Cross Maidan,located between Churchgate, and Victoria Terminus (renamed CST), the rail headsfor the Western and Central Suburban train lines respectively and the symbol inrecent days of much that’s gone wrong with the city as bulges ever moredelicately with rapid urbanisation.
Having cleared the securitychecks I headed for the info desk for sundry information booklets including thelayout of the pavilions. The pretty girl at the counter cheerfully apprisedvisitors of the sights around, patiently answering questions put to her. Toretain enthusiasm after a long hot April day, for unlike the pavilions cooledto bearable temperatures, the information kiosk could only rely on the fickleMumbai breeze, was probably down to the due diligence the organisers exercisedin selecting volunteers to help out in the Urban Mela.
I’d have imagined the 15 pavilions,variously dedicated to Planning andArchitecture, Mobility and Transport,Supplies and Infrastructure, and Culture, Society and Public Life, woulddraw on issues specific to Indian cities, like Mumbai for example, andenumerate solutions and contrast similar issues mitigated by careful planningand implementation in German cities.
It’d have helped to have visitorsrelate to issues they face on account of demands put on city spaces by rapidurbanisation and be introduced to possible solutions Indo-German collaborationcould bring to bear. I’d have liked to see solutions offered for immediate localcontexts in addition to the Siemens pavilion featuring a range of interactive experiences to enable visitors to seehow cities of the future can be built around innovative technological solutionsto help “turn grey cities green”.
While Siemens did an excellentjob in demonstrating with interactive experiences a plan for future cities, itwas largely a learning experience for possibilities that new cities can be madeto hold, not immediately apparent to Mumbai residents unsure of what theirfuture holds as Mumbai threatens to unravel at certain levels from rapidurbanisation. The Siemen’s pavilion at the Urban Mela was more of a What might have been if only moment .
Too often, a lack of awareness oflong-term solutions available and inadequate understanding of how other cities elsewherein the Western world are preparing for the challenges of rapid urbanisation isreason why public mobilisation in India, and Mumbai in particular,rarely ventures beyond protesting against immediate issues faced by residentsin Mumbai and elsewhere.
If Indians are to put pressure onthe government and demand a stake in public policy beyond the mandatoryonce-in-five-years ballot, they’d have to build a citizen consensus on a futurethey’d like see for themselves and succeeding generations, and that can onlycome about if they’re aware of the possibilities urban planning and technologyhold.
To that end, the presentationsput out by Siemens, BASF, Lanxess, Bosch, and SAP in their pavilions wererevealing, instructive, and useful to an extent.
While cities like Mumbai, giventhe direction and the distance they’ve travelled over the decades, might havelittle potential to gain from solutions presented, I’d like to believe there’sstill much that can be done to redeem the seemingly irredeemable in certainaspects, most notably in urban transportation, starting with the suburban railnetworks.
Soon a long queue snaked past Lanxessand Cultural pavilions, in the direction of the Beergarden and the Open AirStage where psychedelic lights played on a screen mounted on a raised stage,the venue for the opening concert by the Schal Sick Brass Band, and subsequentprogrammes on succeeding days following the opening of the Urban Mela on 14thApril, including the Indo-German Hip Hop Week B – Boy Cypher & Hip HopChill Out Session, and Pecha Kucha Mumbai #8.
At first I thought the queue,largely youth, and mostly couples, were lining up for beer at the large beergarden beside the gate only to realise that they were queuing up for an eveningof Silent Concert & Disco at the Open Air Stage. They would be dancing awayto music streamed through headphones clamped on their ears while the rest, unlessthey happened to be by the stage, would be oblivious to the event.
has led the way in popularising the Silent Disco, with each partygoer dancing to their own music via theirheadphones.
The Beer Garden
was slowly filling up. Expatriate Germans among other visitors held forth ontables, their sleeves rolled up.
I couldn’t get enough of thepavilions, quite unlike any I’d seen before. Apparently their design allows them to be combined and installed ina variety of ways to form larger structures, assisting them to adapt with thelocal environment.
A booklet further informed methat the largest pavilion is 210 squaremetres and is made up of three self-supporting hexagonal structures, just likea honeycomb. The pavilions takeinspiration from traditional mobile structures like pagodas and incorporatethis with a combination of Indian techniques, textile technology and high-techcomponents from Germany
It further added: Precious gems and stones together with traditional Indian shapes andpatterns have provided inspiration for the layout and colour of the pavilionswith gold, copper, ruby-red and sapphire-blue all key to the aesthetics of thestructures.
Designed by the award winninginstallation artist Markus Heinsdorff, the pavilions are among the highlightsthe Indo-German Urban Mela, and I would surprised if among the well heeled whowalked through the gate, an enterprising soul or two didn’t get their nextbright ‘idea’ for a winning Shaadi KaMandap (Marriage Tent).
There’d no shortage of clientswilling to pay for the Pandal(Pavilion) to see their darling daughter or son take wedding wows.
We exited the Mela by the samegate we’d entered, past the Charkha
, a 30-ft high steel structure formallydedicated to the nation in 2011 by TATA Steel on the occasion on the birthanniversary of Mahatma Gandhi, October 2.
In the night sky, in the backdropof glowing pavilions, the skyward spiral of steel perhaps seemed an appropriateand instructive context to a city simultaneously spiralling upward and down.
As we stepped out and walkedtoward Veer Nariman Road,the Eros, that faithful Bombaylandmark, beckoned. Cine goers were milling about the entrance. A poster of Housefull 2, the sequel to Housefull hungabove the entrance.
If I needed any reminding so soonafter seeing exhibits centred around City Spaces and the challenges rapidurbanisation places on them, the film Housefull did more than an adequate jobdriving home the point that Mumbai is indeed Housefull.
The Indo-German Urban Mela endsits innings in Mumbai late today.