CEE’s Earth Care page in Sakal Young Buzz, March 2010
Vroom…..cough, cough! Vroom… ..cough, cough! This is the condition of most of us city dwellers. Even if we step out of our houses for some fresh air we are immediately engulfed by pollution. This is what set our minds ticking and my partner Girija Bhapkar and I decided to take up ‘Air Pollution’ as our topic for our Environment Studies project with a desire to do ‘something’ about it.
Time seems to have stopped here. This patch of green in the heart of the city is contiguous with Bel Bagh, which is like a sacred grove. There were several gardens in the old city … Hirabagh, Vishrambagh, Ramanbagh, Tulshibagh etc., which now have only shops and buildings. The old houses in Jogeshwari Lane are mostly gone, and tall buildings now surround Hematai’s patch of green, where she lives with her brother, Suhasji. She says, “I was born here and have been living in this house since 1940. With these new constructions around, my house is now a fortress!” Dr Hema Sane was the first woman lecturer of Botany in Pune, in 1962. She retired in 2000, as Head of Dept of Botany, Garware College. She is also an M Phil in Indology. She has authored several textbooks, monographs, scripts and popular articles on plants in and around Pune. Talking about the changing biodiversity of Pune, Hematai says, “Dr Vartak would lead nature walks for studying and collecting plant specimens in the Mutha river bed. Even up to the 80s we would find a couple of species of orchids there. They are gone now.” About her own life and her house, she says, “My life is rich not with things, but with my experiences and my friends, these trees, Rangutai the cat, and the birds. Another thing I cannot live without is music which my radio brings me.”
These photographs were taken as part of the ‘Living in a Changing Environment‘ photography workshop conducted in Pune by Prof Stefan Koppelkamm and Mr Peeyush Sekhsaria, and organized by Max Mueller Bhavan, Pune and Maharashtra Cultural Centre.
The exhibition unites twelve personal perspectives of the city of Pune. Some of the photographers take you on a discovery tour to places which contribute to the identity of their city threatened by the dynamics of urban development and neglect. Others take a critical look at the ubiquitous billboards which dominate the appearance of large parts of the city and at the new urban lifestyle symbolized by glass and concrete buildings which are neither adapted to the climate nor to the architectural and cultural context. The photographers hope that this exhibition will make a visual contribution to a discussion about the future of their city – a discussion they feel is necessary and urgent.
The photo-exhibition is the result of a week-long workshop conducted by Stefan Koppelkamm and architect and photographer Peeyush Sekhsaria. Stefan conducted the Places I Like photography workshop in Bangalore in August 2009, and through the facilitation of MMB Pune, we were able to have the workshop in Pune too.
For me, the photo workshop was a way of exploring the old city. We walked about Tulshibagh, Mandai, Kasba, Tambat Ali, Laxmi Road, Narayan Peth looking at paars, changing uses, buildings being pulled down, new buildings replacing old, mandirs subsumed within new buildings, deep stumbhs now standing neglected, little curving lanes, ferns on old crumbling slim red brick walls, shop signs in chalk … We also had thali lunches, nira, kairi panhe, Dharwad pedhe, hot pattice from New Poona Bakery.
Our photos capture some of this flavour and tell stories about Pune.
Pooja’s photos about the brick kilns outside Pune have a story deeper than what is immediately evident. The location of the kiln was probably a farm, now its just a piece of real estate, already sold for construction. The top soil was probably sold separately to another kiln. And so the city and the built environment expands and eats up the surrounding farm land.
Rainer captures the old and the new; physical structures of glass and chrome replace mud and straw huts though remnants of the village are still strewn about. You wonder what became of the people whose village it was. In another photo, the Bombay-Pune road is the setting for the crossing of the Wari that pre-dates the structures in the background – the British water tower and the modern glass-chrome mall. Some collective memories endure and are longer-lived than buildings.
Snehal’s photos of Taljai celebrate the green patches left in our city, though the skyline of the city just beyond tells you just how vulnerable these patches are. Sujit’s photos of shops and vendors in the old core city speak about a type of economy very much alive, vibrant and colourful – but does the key-maker or the Amrutulya know that Pune’s City Development Plan also speaks about a vibrant economy, but that it might mean a very different economy and a very different perception of ‘vibrant’. These little, ‘low-value’ economic activities have no place in the modern city which measures its success by the foot falls in the malls. Vikrant comments on the larger-than-life bill boards and their empty promises.
Arul and I have more personal yet generic stories to tell – of particular people, and the changes in the city seen through their lives. Prasad captures the dull red gleam of the Tambats’ lives. The Mandai that, with its dark, musty and mysterious light, could be a child’s ‘I Spy’ delight – Bhagyashree yearns to see it full of people and life again.
Other photos also show dilapidated structures, beautiful no doubt, but maybe unsafe? A change in land-use, and an increase in the FSI limit will decongest the old core, but de-congest it of what and for what? To replace it with more glass and chrome? Perhaps the photos can be the reason or the excuse or the backdrop for a wider dialogue on what is our city about, whose lives are at stake, and whose vision is shaping the structure of the city and the destiny of its people.