On the evening of the 15th February, 2014, UDC organized the first of a series of monthly gatherings to be held every second Saturday of the month, aptly titled the Urban Colloquium. The idea behind the Colloquium is to have an agenda for urbanophiles to meet every month for a range of city-related activities and events, the first of which was a screening of short films. Right from it’s inception, the idea of the UDC has been to serve as a platform to get interested people together in the context of cities, and that used to be one of our primary activities during our early days. The momentum of those initial monthly meets was what led to the UDC being established as a formal entity as well with a much wider agenda. Therefore, the Urban Colloquium is also special to us in that it revives the format of those regular sessions which worked so well for us.
The screening was organized at the office of PADGRO Consultants Private Limited in Mahalingapuram and was attended by a mix of UDC members and guests. There were two short films screened on this evening and both were scripted and directed by Dr. Ayona Datta, Associate Professor of Citizenship and Belonging, Leeds University. Dr. Datta had very kindly provided us with original DVDs of the films. The films were relatively short – only about 15 minutes each – and there was a general discussion on the subject matter of the films as well as the films themselves, after the screening.
The first film was titled ‘City Bypassed‘ and it discusses the issues related to development in the neighborhood of Byculla in South Mumbai. The film begins with a comment about the development of the VT flyover which runs through Byculla, ignoring the existence of the neighborhood and enabling people commuting between north Mumbai and south to bypass Byculla completely. This is an illustration of the general attitude of ignoring Byculla in the larger Urban development of Mumbai. Though this neighborhood used to be highly cosmopolitan in nature with Hindus and Muslims living together without trouble, the communal riots destroyed this peaceful coexistence and created ghettos of communities which are all highly volatile in nature today. The film observed and discussed these changes through interviews of locals and stakeholders in the neighborhood such as Muslim womens’ groups, local developers and people from academia and the government. Many of the people interviewed spoke about the social segregation within Byculla which still exists, the perceived lack of incentives and programs for minority groups, real estate development and gentrification as the many facets of this neighborhood.
One member of the audience who lived in Bombay at the time of the riots also gave a personal account of the experience of the communal tensions and provided yet another frame of reference for the situation in Byculla at present. At the end of the film, the audience was generally of the opinion that the movie seemed deliberately unbiased towards it’s subject matter. This enabled the film to present multiple points of view about the problems and needs in Byculla without passing judgement on the opinions of the various stakeholders. Some members of the audience felt that this ambivalence was interesting as a documentation of all that is, exactly the way it exists. Others, however, also expressed the opinion that the absence of a ‘position’ in the storyline also made the film difficult to follow as a narration, putting it in danger of being unmemorable to the viewers.
We then proceeded to screen the next film, titled ‘City Forgotten‘. City Forgotten had some points of similarity to the first film screened. The film discusses a small town called Malegaon in Maharashtra which is also a community that has been torn by communal tensions between Hindus and Muslims. Due to a series of bomb blasts that took place here in 2006, the place has begun to be perceived as unsafe, particularly for business, leading to difficulties in attracting developmental opportunities. However, Malegaon is already home to a substantial textile industry and there are many individuals and businesses who are invested in this town and desperately in need of better support. The film again brings out these issues in the voices of the locals and their opinions on what the town lacks and needs in terms of industry, infrastructure and education, to thrive and grow. These interviews were very useful in bringing out some of the main problems in Malegaon, one of which was the lack of quality education for women and the unavailability of options for higher studies.
The audience felt that this film had a kind of universality to it, despite being about a specific place (Malegaon), and that the problems discussed here were typical of most small towns across India, with the exception of the bomb blasts which have so deeply affected this place and only served to worsen their problems. One of the other observations on the film was that most of the local people interviewed here seemed to speak of development, especially infrastructural services, as something that had to be given to them or provided by the government. The reality of excessive dependence of the locals on government and the lack of an ability to mobilize themselves to working towards their goals was discussed as a problem, by many in the audience. Overall, however, the second movie was generally thought to be better structured than the first – it identified problems, analyzed them and, to some extent, presented possible solutions. Therefore as a documentary / narration, it was more absorbing to the viewers.
The evening was then rounded off with more discussion on such problems of development in urban areas as well as small towns, and various opinions on the nature of these problems and ideas for projects, past experiences and ongoing work by people in the audience. After all the intense dialogue on developmental problems in our country, the gathering managed to break up on a happy note with a nice sponge cake, to celebrate one year since UDC became a formally registered trust! Happy first birthday to us!
This first meet of the Colloquium was made possible by two most important things. The first is a great bunch of people interested in coming together to ‘talk cities’. The second, equally important, is the generosity of fellow UDC member Nischal Buddhavarapu in offering his office space as a place to gather and also providing things to munch on while we did all the talking. So thank you, Nischal and also everyone who attended the first of the Urban Colloquium sessions for having joined us and made the evening interesting! The seeds have successfully been planted for what will hopefully be a series of enriching and fun exchanges, in the weeks to come.
Watch out for the second edition of Urban Colloquium on 15th March!
Shruti Shankar is a designer and architect who enjoys dabbling in the design of cities and having conversations about urbanism and city-living, among other things. She is currently an associate urban designer at Jana Urban Space Foundation and a core team member of the Urban Design Collective. Catch some of her personal rants on all things urban at Urbanism, something Or Why Cities Matter