When you visit a city even with the best intentions of in-depth exploration, you take a map, you mark the important destinations based on extensive web research and you visit them, hoping for the relics to tell you stories of era gone by. The best travel is time travel and we aim to achieve it with whatever efficiency we can. But this is all trying to understand a place via the inanimate. Thinking harder, do you think a place can effectively tell its story? What if I tell you there is a better way to know and understand a city? Via a map that doesn't reveal roads but unravels its lives and the city emerges as a lively being in those stories? Would this not be the portal you want to tumble into?
Dissatisfied with limited things drawings can do on paper a Mumbai based architect Nisha Nair Gupta decided to do things more creatively. When asked about the process, she said “Often in our design process there is a lack of humanities perspective largely in the way practice is conducted. It is largely commerce, statistics and logistics which drive us versus parameters like memories, emotions and many such humane ‘intangible’ parameters.”
Letting her creative juices flow beyond the mundane routine she started an exercise called “The People Place Project” to look at the ‘intangible’ space of existence which is aims to do a narrative mapping of cities i.e. documenting a place through the stories of its people. Their first book or the experiment as Nisha calls it, was on the economic capital of India “Mumbai” which was very well received by the readers motivating her to migrate to the land of vibrant colors “Ahmedabad”. Since Mumbai was her work place and Ahmedabad the city where she studied(one always have fond memories of where one studies and you are probably thinking of your college days now), these cities with their humble beginnings, now coated in a rich urban fabric made the obvious first choices.
(Ellis Bridge Ahmedabad-picture courtesy 123f.com)
However thinking and operating here are two different tasks. This beautiful task needed collection of stories from people located in all the corners of a city, coming from all walks of life, written by different writers yet set in a tone that could reveal the transformation the city went through. This mission was therefore undertaken one step at a time. The first one was collecting writers/stories. This was done via an open call for writing with a decision to stick to ‘story telling through the perspective of a person’ format. The team also was open to having writers already operating in the space.
The team also conducted events broadly called ‘Discovering Ahmedabad’ to engage with people as a whole and ensure the stories came from every nook and corner of the city. These events included treasure hunt, open mic (story telling) and city scripts (script writing workshop).“All of these workshops helped us engage a lot of people to understand the city better by interacting with others, sharing their own experience about the city. It helped us make the crowd aware of the fact that city is just not a city because of its landmarks, famous buildings, the dressing style or the language we speak but also the small pan shops, tea shops, the gallis, the chowks and the people we pass by in our everyday lives, which essentially makes the city, a city” says Nisha.
The team thus having collected all possible stories from a city and then started round two which was short listing, refining. Stage three was editing and final touch.
(The battle between Mughal Imperial Army and Muhhammed Hussain Mirza near Ahmedabad in 1573: Source Akbarnama)
The challenge that emerged with Ahmedabad was an interesting one. It reflected passing of time in one frame, in pieces sown together of the old city and the new. While the 600 year old city had evolved to equip everything 21st century had to offer, at its roots was tradition and community structure. While the new flaunted it’s shine, the old breathed with equal pride. The stories emerging therefore were immensely diverse, a contrast which is also interesting. The book has 55 stories showcasing lives of variety of people who make Ahmedabad what it truly is, like the boatman in the river Sabarmati who saves people who lose hope and jump into the river to die or the man who tries to capture the heritage of the city by weaving them on a piece of cloth or another who sells who tells strangers in Ravi-vari (Sunday flea market) about the importance of reading and owning books for his sheer love for books!
(Rani Rupmati's Mosque (1430-40), Ahmedabad (albumen photograph, c.1880)
The book launch was held in L&P Hutheesing Visual Arts Centre, CEPT, Ahmedabad on the 21st of January 2017 with Mr. Jay Vasavda launching the book for us along with the curator, the writers and the interviewees of the book, People Called Ahmedabad. Side by side, there were two events organised: The Photo Exhibition and the Book Exchange. The Photo Exhibition had lovely photographs of different parts of Ahmedabad in the venue itself, by the entries for the event. In the Book Exchange, anyone could exchange old books to get a copy of People called Ahmedabad at a discounted price. The old book received were sent to AASMAN Foundation for the underprivileged children, who love reading!
The book has already been up for sale on the official website: thepeopleplaceproject.com. It will hit the book stores and the online portals on the 15th of February, 2017.
(The Sabarmati river : Courtesy Wikipedia)
Thinking back about the initial days of creation a nostalgic Nisha adds “The most interesting part of this project is the group of writers that come together from different backgrounds, from students to professionals to free lancers. It helps us explore the diverse styles in writing which allows the reader to have their own idea about the book – as a story book or a travel log or coffee table book. The perk of this approach is that it is open to interpretation, to know more about the place or the people, how one may not have perceived on a general day. It’s through the writers and their way of writing that makes it easier for the readers to look into these intimate spaces of the city which eventually makes the read quite interesting! Hoping you will love it as much as we loved creating it!”
Read more about the project, the team and the book in our upcoming sections. Also hoping you have ordered your copy, tell us your opinion in the comments below.