Thursday, December 23, 2010


Who is Dinesh Chodhary?

During the search for the missing linkages between Khirkee and its neighborhood surfaced these childhood memories of every adult of the locality, memories of coming to the monument to play, study or just to meet up and chat, and the monument being a part of their lives, even if a dormant one. Still living those memories, 14 year old Dinesh, Ashish, Varun and their friends spend a few hours of their day at the monument daily and feel this unexplainable connection towards it that brings them back to it. The most dominant of the lot, Dinesh Chodhary asserts that he owns the monument. Yahaan mera Raaj hai.” Like the bats occupying the ceiling of the monument that line the floor with mounds of their dung, the dogs who live in the monument and bark off unwanted visitors, every adult of Khirkee village who has spent a part of their childhood flying kites on the roof of the monument, playing hide and seek or just coming there to contemplate, Dinesh Chodhari is the embodiment of everyone who tends to claim their ownership on the monument in their own little way. Through the 700 years of its existance, people have come and gone and developed and proclaimed their relationship with the monument and different ways each time.

And the Dog ate the art..

To see if this 700 year process of the monument’s setting undergoing dynamic change could be scaled down to overnight and replicated, an experiment was carried out.  The symbol for the monument, a pink paper square as depicted in the DDA Map (which interestingly the kids identified in no time) was pasted on a white paper context with help from Dinesh and his friends. And the ‘paper Khirkee’ was left on the rooftop overnight under the supervision of the ‘owner kids’. The kids drew and wrote all over, unsurprisingly, Dinesh occupying the centre place. By late evening, as Dinesh recounts, the kids were confronted by a group of drunkards who just wanted to take the ‘Chataai (mat)’. The kids, overpowered and intimidated, pulled the pink monument off the white and ran away. Dinesh says,”baaki sab to phir se banaa sakte hain, yeh phir se kaise bantaa! (Everything else could have been made again, this could have not been!)”. The next morning, the ‘everything else’ was found all over the monument in tatters, some being chewed by the resident dogs. Through the night, the context of the monument kept changing and everyone, from Dinesh to the drunken men and the dogs claimed it in their own ways. But the monument lived on bearing a multitude of associations but still being anonymous and unnamed.

Dinesh (in purple) explaining the series of events on the Open Day 


Our personal assumption that the monument stands neglected in the void of time amidst unfamiliar apathetic people was shattered. For what may seem like a perfect case of de-contextualization of the monument to its ever changing context, it was felt that the association of people with the monument was a far more vital linkage to which even the monument lent itself differently through time. The sense of claiming a space rather than actual ownership of it has kept the spirit of the place alive despite the ambiguity in its purpose. In fact, the apparent anonymity reinforces the people’s personal assumptions. In such a controversial and sensitive fabric, the neutral role assumed by the ASI is only helping keep the equilibrium of the place, making room for conflicting convictions to coexist. The beauty of this bustling urban village lies in the Khirkee monument forming a backdrop to all human activity and remaining conveniently untitled for only the better of the community.

Photographs Credits: Vidisha Saini 

Wednesday, December 22, 2010


UNTITLED SQUARE: A project initiated by Rohan Patankar and Vidisha Saini
as participants of URBAN TYPHOON a KHOJ-URBZ collaboration workshop held in New Delhi in November, 2010.

KHIRKEE: Untitled Square

The epicenter of Urban Typhoon 2010, The Khirkee village in Delhi draws its name from the Khirkee monument, a 700 year old stone structure, generally accepted by historians as a 14th century mosque, built by the prime minister of Firuz shah Tughlaq, one of the most zestful builders of the Tughlaq dynasty in Delhi. Today, the ruins of the monument, the source of the settlement, stand within a 10 ft high fence seemingly disconnected from their context, the bustling urban village of Khirkee,

Walking around Khirkee, trying to uncover the layers of time and history accumulated over monument and the settlement, one suddenly chances upon the Delhi Development Authority’s Guide Map of Khirkee Village where the monument figures as Pink Square in the middle of the village plan. Interestingly, it is clearly evident that the square was labeled as the Masjid and later the labeling painted over on both the square and the index. Further investigation reveals that the majority composing powerful Chauhan population believes the monument to be an extention of Qila Rai Pithora, a 12th Century Chauhan Fort, constructed by Prithviraj Chauhan one of the last Hindu Kings of Delhi. Long ago, Khirkee village was resided by an equal number of Chauhan Hindus and Muslims, but post partition migration led to the concentration of Hindu population in the village as the Muslims left for Pakistan.

Rooftop of the Khirkee Monument

The massive looking random rubble masonry, turret like minarets on its four corners and covered colonnades cutting through the square courtyard (unlike most mosques) only reinforce the Hindu Fort assumption, conveniently so for its present neighborhood. There is no written record or verbal memory suggesting the use of the Monument either as a mosque or a fort. In all this conflict, the monument, declared Protected by the Archaeological Survey of India, is inaccessible to public for active use such as praying and presently does not even bear a descriptive write up board at site. The learned elderly of the community refer to it as the ‘Khirkee Building’. The Square Plan of the monument is Untitled for the anonymity that the ASI gives it and the ambiguity the community has evolved around it. But do uncelebrated spaces at the helm of dynamic communities really remain untitled? Does the sheer presence of a 700 year old monument in the neighborhood not affect the residents? We set out to find. 

Sunday, November 28, 2010

An Architect

Case studies of an Indian and a foreign architect for theory of design
Architects: Delhi based Pradeep Sachdeva and Tokyo based Kazuyo Sejima (SANAA)

Friday, October 29, 2010

Agra: Past and Present

"Agra: Past and Present" is a presentation done by Rohan Patankar, Varun Bajaj and Virkein Dhar of B.Arch IIIrd year, Section A. Here is the link:

Thesis in Architectural Conservation by Bhatnagar, SPA, 1993
Thesis in Urban Design by Shaheena Khan, 2005
City Development Plan, Agra, August 2006

All photographs have been taken by the authors

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

City Impressions

Artistic interpretations of some of the Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino


The ancients built Valdrada on the shores of a lake, with houses all verandas one
above the other, and high streets whose railed parapets look out over the water.
Thus the traveller, arriving, sees two cities: one erect above the lake, and the
other reflected, upside-down. Nothing exists or happens in the one Valdrada that
the other Valdrada does not repeat, because the city was so constructed that its
every point would be reflected in its mirror, and the Valdrada down in the water
contains not only all the flutings and juttings of the facades that rise above the
lake, but also the rooms' interiors with ceilings and floors, the perspective of
the halls, the mirrors of the wardrobes.
Valdrada's inhabitants know that each of their actions is, at once, that
action and its mirror-image, which possesses the special dignity of images, and
this awareness prevents them from forgetfulness. Even when lovers twist their
naked bodies, skin against skin, seeking the position that will give one the most
pleasure in the other, even when murderers plunge the knife into the black veins
of the neck and more clotted blood pours out the more they press the blade that
slips between the tendons, it is not so much their copulating or murdering that
matters as the copulating or murdering of the images, limpid and cold in the
At times the mirror increases a thing's value, at times denies it. Not
everything that seems valuable above the mirror maintains its force when mirrored.
The twin cities are not equal, because nothing that exists or happens in Valdrada
is symmetrical: every face and gesture is answered, from the mirror, by a face and
gesture inverted, point by point. The two Valdradas live for each other, their
eyes interlocked; but there is no love between them.

When he enters the territory of which Eutropia is the capital, the traveller sees
not one city but many, of equal size and not unlike one another, scattered over a
vast, rolling plateau. Eutropia is not one, but all these cities together; only
one is inhabited at a time, the others are empty; and this process is carried out
in rotation. Now I shall tell you how. On the day when Eutropia's inhabitants feel
the grip of weariness and no one can bear any longer his job, his relatives, his
house and his life, debts, the people he must greet or who greet him, then the
whole citizenry decides to move to the next city, which is there waiting for them,
empty and good as new; there each will take up a new job, a different wife, will
see another landscape on opening his window, and will spend his time with
different pastimes, friends, gossip. So their life is renewed from move to move,
among cities whose exposure or declivity or streams or winds make each site
somehow different from the others. Since their society is ordered without great
distinctions of wealth or authority, the passage from one function to another
takes place almost without jolts; variety is guaranteed by the multiple
assignments, so that in the span of a lifetime a man rarely returns to a job that
has already been his.
Thus the city repeats its life, identical, shifting up and down on its empty
chessboard. The inhabitants repeat the same scenes, with the actors changed; they
repeat the same speeches with variously combined accents; they open alternate
mouths in identical yawns. Alone, among all the cities of the empire, Eutropia
remains always the same. Mercury, god of the fickle, to whom the city is sacred,
worked this ambiguous miracle.

The city of Leonia refashions itself every day: every morning the people wake
between fresh sheets, wash with just-unwrapped cakes of soap, wear brand-new
clothing, take from the latest model refrigerator still unopened tins, listening
to the last-minute jingles from the most up-to-date radio.
On the sidewalks, encased in spotless plastic bags, the remains of
yesterday's Leonia await the garbage truck. Not only squeezed tubes of toothpaste,
blown-out light bulbs, newspapers, containers, wrappings, but also boilers,
encyclopedias, pianos, porcelain dinner services. It is not so much by the things
that each day are manufactured, sold, bought that you can measure Leonia's
opulence, but rather by the things that each day are thrown out to make room for
the new. So you begin to wonder if Leonia's true passion is really, as they say,
the enjoyment of new and different things, and not, instead the joy of expelling,
discarding, cleansing itself of a recurrent impurity. The fact is that street
cleaners are welcomed like angels, and their task of removing the residue of
yesterday's existence is surrounded by a respectful silence, like a ritual that
inspires devotion, perhaps only because once things have been cast off nobody
wants to have to think about them further.
Nobody wonders where, each day, they carry their load of refuse. Outside the
city, surely; but each year the city expands, and the street cleaners have to fall
farther back. The bulk of the outflow increases and the piles rise higher, become
stratified, extend over a wider perimeter. Besides, the more Leonia's talent for
making new materials excels, the more the rubbish improves in quality, resists
time, the elements, fermentations, combustions. A fortress of indestructible
leftovers surrounds Leonia, dominating it on every side, like a chain of
This is the result: the more Leonia expels goods, the more it accumulates
them; the scales of its past are soldered into a cuirass that cannot be removed.
As the city is renewed each day, it preserves all of itself in its only definitive
form: yesterday's sweepings piled up on the sweepings of the day before yesterday
and of all its days and years and decades.
Leonia's rubbish little by little would invade the world, if, from beyond
the final crest of its boundless rubbish heap, the street cleaners of other cities
were not pressing, also pushing mountains of refuse in front of themselves.
Perhaps the whole world, beyond Leonia's boundaries, is covered by craters of
rubbish, each surrounding a metropolis in constant eruption. The boundaries
between the alien, hostile cities are infected ramparts where the detritus of both
support each other, overlap, mingle.
The greater its height grows, the more the danger of a landslide looms: a
tin can, an old tyre, an unravelled wine-flask, if it rolls towards Leonia, is
enough to bring with it an avalanche of unmated shoes, calendars of bygone years,
withered flowers, submerging the city in its own past, which it had tried in vain
to reject, mingling with the past of the neighbouring cities, finally clean. A
cataclysm will flatten the sordid mountain range, cancelling every trace of the
metropolis always dressed in new clothes. In the nearby cities they are all ready,
waiting with bulldozers to flatten the terrain, to push into the new territory,
expand, and drive the new street cleaners still farther out.

What makes Argia different from other cities is that it has earth instead of air.
The streets are completely filled with dirt, clay packs the rooms to the ceiling,
on every stair another stairway is set in negative, over the roofs of the houses
hang layers of rocky terrain like skies with clouds. We do not know if the
inhabitants can move about in the city, widening the worm tunnels and the crevices
where roots twist: the dampness destroys people's bodies and they have scant
strength; everyone is better off remaining still, prone; anyway, it is dark.
From up here, nothing of Argia can be seen; some say, 'It's down below
there,' and we can only believe them. The place is deserted. At night, putting
your ear to the ground, you can sometimes hear a door slam.

I should not tell you of Berenice, the unjust city, which crowns with triglyphs,
abaci, metopes the gears of its meat-grinding machines (the men assigned to
polishing, when they raise their chins over the balustrades and contemplate the
atria, stairways, porticos, feel even more imprisoned and short of stature).
Instead. I should tell you of the hidden Berenice, the city of the just, handling
makeshift materials in the shadowy rooms behind the shops and beneath the stairs,
linking a network of wires and pipes and pulleys and pistons and counterweights
that infiltrates like a climbing plant among the great cogged wheels (when they
jam, a subdued ticking gives warning that a new precision mechanism is governing
the city). Instead of describing to you the perfumed pools of the baths where the
unjust of Berenice recline and weave their intrigues with rotund eloquence and
observe with a proprietary eye the rotund flesh of the bathing odalisques, I
should say to you how the just, always cautious to evade the spying sycophants and
the Janizaries' mass arrests, recognize one another by their way of speaking,
especially their pronunciation of commas and parentheses; from their habits which
remain austere and innocent, avoiding complicated and nervous moods; from their
sober but tasty cuisine, which evokes an ancient golden age: rice and celery soup,
boiled beans, fried squash flowers.
From these data it is possible to deduce an image of the future Berenice,
which will bring you closer to knowing the truth than any other information about
the city as it is seen today. You must nevertheless bear in mind what I am about
to say to you: in the seed of the city of the just, a malignant seed is hidden, in
its turn: the certainty and pride of being in the right--and of being more just
than many others who call themselves more just than the just. This seed ferments
in bitterness, rivalry, resentment; and the natural desire of revenge on the
unjust is coloured by a yearning to be in their place and to act as they do.
Another unjust city, though different from the first, is digging out its space
within the double sheath of the unjust and just Berenices.
Having said this, I do not wish your eyes to catch a distorted image, so I
must draw your attention to an intrinsic quality of this unjust city germinating
secretly inside the secret just city: and this is the possible awakening--as if in
an excited opening of windows--of a later love for justice, not yet subjected to
rules, capable of reassembling a city still more just than it was before it became
the vessel of injustice. But if you peer deeper into this new germ of justice you
can discern a tiny spot that is spreading like the mounting tendency to impose
what is just through what is unjust, and perhaps this is the germ of an immense
metropolis ...
From my words you will have reached the conclusion that the real Berenice is
a temporal succession of different cities, alternately just and unjust. But what I
wanted to warn you about is something else: all the future Berenices are already
present in this instant, wrapped one within the other, confined, crammed,