Thursday, December 9, 2010
Life of a City
Cities have life in them. No, I am not talking about the life of people living within them but about the life of the city itself. Trust me, they are just like a giant living organism. They grow, they breathe, they evolve, they adapt, they feel, they react and some even die. They even have their own unique personalities. If a city could write an autobiography, it would have made the most interesting autobiography ever.
Over the past few months, my job has made me closely explore one such city - Ahmedabad. Ahmedabad today stands as a fast growing, rapidly expanding city which is fast gaining on the share of importance for the country. And as a result, it has also become a city whose development rate surpasses that of perhaps any other city in India. The city today boasts of branches of hundreds of important institutions and offices, a magnificent Science City, uncountable Malls and Multiplexes, an ongoing river beautification project which might well be the only one of its kind in the country etc etc. But more than any of its modern achievements, what has intrigued me most has been the story of its evolution - the hundreds of changes, compromises and adjustments that the city had to make in order to become what it is today. Today's Ahmedabad is a youth looking to conquer the world but for once I would like to know about its childhood - the days when it was weak, small, vulnerable but lovable and pristine at the same time. No I am not interested in turning the pages of history. I want to know those small insignificant changes that the city went through which might not have been important enough to be recorded in books or written as poems but each of which contributed towards building its personality. Wonder who could tell me those stories!
Today, a Shahi Darwaza or a Teen Darwaza represents the centre of the city, a highly populated area with dense traffic, narrow roads and a thick cover of dust. But once you realise that each of these Darwazas ( Urdu for Gate) actually at some point of time represented the gates of the city, you can all but be surprised. There is a small fort inside the city which acts as the headquarters of Gujarat Police's Crime Branch. An insignificant and ill maintained structure, it does not figure anywhere in the list of important structures in Ahmedabad. But its walls do tell you that once they had been the ones standing tall on the banks of Sabarmati river and guarding the city and its inhabitants from many external threats. The Sabarmati river itself is fighting a war against extinction but I am sure it is still aware that Ahmedabad's birth owes some credit to its presence. And I am sure these are not the only examples. There must be so many other such examples around, names which are living their old age or some counting their last breath.
Just trying to imagine the role so many of these seemingly insignificant parts of the city might have played in its childhood can inspire awe in a person. I remember a lot of people who played an important role in shaping my childhood but who today are as good as distant strangers to me. I am sure sometimes even Ahmedabad feels the same way. I just hope that like me, Ahmedabad too remains grateful to them for its entire life.