Sunday, June 28, 2009

..friendship is also about forgetting a whole aspect of a friend.... Daniel Boulanger

Architecture and Cultural Continuity: some questions without clear answers

First Draft: Require revision, please do not quote, comments are welcome . This was prepared for a talk at Calicut in 2008 April to a course on the same subject.

We dance around in a ring and suppose,
but the secret sits in the middle and knows
. Robert Frost
There is a difference between actual built environment and social construct of architecture. One is, “direct experienAce of concrete things “and the other, “ knowledge of their meaning.” Architecture isa constructed idea. Physically as well as socially. Whose idea?

I must confess that I do not subscribe to the view explicitly expressed in the course pamphlet. It is a position many express today that the world is eroding the many cultural identities and something urgent has to be done about it, lest the plural identities are raced to ground and cultural world is levelled. This positioning, I believe, is based on the perspectives one takes. I am presenting my view. I must also say that I do get distressed by the alarming rate at which globalisation makes certain cultures and cultural traits dominant and pluralities get suppressed. But I don’t believe that it is an isolated phenomenon in architecture and the solution offered as outright rejection of the trend is a solution at all. Nor is it something absolutely new.
First, what is culture and cultural continuity? Spatial or temporal diffusion?
“Culture” is an elusive word and many definitions are possible. To me, it is the way life is conducted: The everyday life. The dress, the rituals, the food, how it is cooked, the gender relations, the morals, the religion, the way we express and communicate- language, literature, the arts, the films, the sports, the television, the net- all. Then for brevity, we abstract them only to sophisticated or more intense expressions. Like literature, music, art and architecture. That is only an abstraction. Abstractions are cerebral; a constructed idea of culture. This abstraction is a reflection of the society and its culture; we presume. But this construct need not be so as there is no uniform culture in society. While it is easier to talk about architecture, or a particular media, it is difficult to talk about culture as a whole. The dimensions are too many.
Continuity means a flow. We presume and it is true that life cannot be suspended or put to a full stop easily. It flows from generation to generation. So also does culture. It is also understood that culture has a spatial dimension and it pertains to a society in a place or a country or state. That is to say, it is assumed to have a spatial boundary. That spatial boundary is what gives it an identity. Where do we limit that boundary and what parameters do we use to limit it. Political history may have a big say in this.
Is Indian culture an entity uniform identity? And is there an Indian Architecture really? What are its basic parameters and characteristics in a particular period or today? What is the basis of European identity? or for that matter that of Mexico, USA or Singapore, the Malaysia? Does all parts of India have same cultural base? Is it the religion or political history or something else?
Apart from religious base of a remote past (?) of origin which we are suppose to have continuity at some level; Language may be one aspect which defines culture. May be because, it is a common vehicle of expression. This is again an aspect of vague and stretchable boundary today. Music may be larger regional idea, so are architecture and art today. Do these forms have a spatial identity?
May be we can talk of architecture more clearly, more so about the built environment, in sharper and smaller spatial boundaries. Spatial culture and syntax of space in our older cities are more identifiable entities. Therfore, we identify and distinguish the images of Delhi, to those of Mumbai and to Kochi or Alapuzha or Mysore or Trichy. But any research would tell us that the popular identities exists in parts. Major parts all cities of similar complexities have been similar for at least for the last century or so. The agraharas of Mysore and Bangalore or that of Mylapore in Chennai is similar. The poles of Jaipur and Tols of Ahmedabad are similar. So are the parts of Old Delhi or Hyderabad. Only minor details vary. Still there is something which deffrentiated these places. Then the so called, Kerala’s architectural heritage, which extended to many parts of west coast, Mangalore to Gokarna to Ratnagiri. The basic architectural character of houses and built spaces are similar with tile roofs and courtyards etc. And et different in some details. These forms are also found with little variations in other countries as well. We also discern the influence of other cultures and technologies from east and west modifying this architecture for centuries.
This also means that there is a spatial continuity of cultural expression. Especially with regard to architecture. (This is true of language as well.) But when the world has shrunk with more communication, spatial boundaries of culture also have become nebulous. Can we wish that only the former should happen, not the later? Cross fertilising of cultures also has happened.
The spatial continuity of architectural character started eroding earlier. Now you can find labelled “Kerala tile roof” in Bangalore, in Maharashra and elsewhere. So are the Charupadis and the Chettinad house details. Similarly, mediteranian villas, or tudor houses etc. are also being built and sold everywhere. Dining tables coexist with puja rooms, Italian kitchens with court yards, tile roofs over concrete; a curious mixture of fantasies and nostalgia. But none of those have the same meaning and utility as before or elsewhere. These are style statements and sometimes wish expressions or nostalgia. Is this cultural continuity? I am not sure.
If spatial continuity changes or erodes; so should temporal continuity. The former can be accepted, why not the later? Now we are talking of two dimensions of continuity, space and time. When one is a controlled and considered stable, the other can be studied. But simultaneous changes in both makes it difficult for any assessment. We often make reference to break in continuity only with respect to time, assuming that space limit is defined clearly. If one travels from one end to another of any country, common language changes slowly and continually, in continuum and over a long distance it changes completely. This is so also with architecture and many other aspects of culture, except things like cricket- international cultural expressway symbols. The same can be applied in the time scale as well. A person from 19th century visits a place of his village or town, he may find a lot of culture and architecture has changed, yet he may recognise it. But if a person from 1st century visits, he may find it totally different. A break has occurred in that long distance of time in the same way break occurs over space at the same time axis. Yet it is not break but gradual change.
If discontinuity of culture in space is acceptable, why not along the time dimension as well . The point to be noted is that every generation, perhaps, is worried about the changes. More so, when the velocity of changes is increasing and it seems too fast. This worry, leads to kneejerk reactions and propositions. Many writers have expressed this earlier more succinctly.
Cultural basis of Architecture:
The works of Amos Rapoport or Nold Egenter, Nikolas Salingaros and even the works of Christopher Alexander and philosophers like Gastin Bachalard (Poetics of Space) and even recent researches on genetics, animal culture and nuro sciences point to the importance of culture in Environmental Design and spatial culture in the development of human society. No doubt. But what are options and propositions? The studies tell us the evolutions from a tribal and isolated cultures and about the present. Not much is known about the importance of experimentation and the craving for novelty in the evolution propelling us to the future, which is also a great cultural trait of homo sapiens. We bask in nostalgia at the same time we crave for novelty. Rapoport’s conceptual frame works are very interesting, to say the least; so also are the structural anthropologists’ works on pre structural objects. Even, Rapoport admits that culture plays a larger role in much of the residential environments. The same is not accepted for non residential environments, but it can also be dismissed as he points out. Not much work has gone into this as the present day society is bombarded with a plethora of new typologies of built environment of a complex nature and the exigencies of speed and profit does not allow investments in thoughtful developments. That is also part of culture!
One of the commonly found easy solutions to this seeming problem is to apply scenographic details to a technologically different situation and building sometimes having different tectonics than the culture had before. We have this problem that architecture and built environment is understood more as stenography. Therefore we do not find it unnatural to marry these and seek a solution. We often hear about modernity with roots in the past. Meaning an allegory of past facades over modern buildings. It has not worked. Like the tall buildings of Shanghai with oriental roof, and similar applications in India: Close at home, the mascot hotel addition in Trivandrum, the Kerala’s new secretariat there or the Vidhan Soudha of Bangalore and so on. They tend to become poor caricatures. On the opposite spectrum, we find blatant imitations of the glass and steel or aluminium clad buildings brought to us as high technology images. As, Rapoport suggests, we feel that glass and steel makes a gesture of high technology while small openings with larger solid facades make buildings which are closer to oriental culture and India. Both solutions are simplistic typecasting. We need to understand more, if we are serious in making built environments for plural cultures. It is a phase where it cannot be otherwise, I believe. There are other extremes of similar kind.
There are also works which has gone into the basics of spatial organisation on a simplistic level like that of vastupurusha mandala. The Bhopal Vidhan Soudha, or Jawahar kala Kendra, Jaipur are examples with some amount of success. But these successes have not produced any acceptable theses or theory, which can be generally applied. They remain at the level of high art of individualist explorations, while most of the built environment are produced at, though professional, yet craft level; simplified applications of formula and type casting.
We are worried about two things, that our great cultural past requires continuity somehow from perceived breaks or erosion. We also want us to reach the moon. And become global players. We accept the globalising international capitalists free economic solutions and tools. But, we have a general problem in accepting an open society and a free spirit. Is it not a contradiction of the day? We launch the missiles and satellites at an auspicious time. On the positive side, perhaps, family ties more or less are as before. Some where we feel we are doing injustice to our culture. But we do not know enough to make that culture work for our ambitions either. Except by exporting exotic scriptures and yoga and ayurvedic therapy. Yet the main stream developments are not hinged on these things. The things we do are of value: value of symbolic projection of our self. Our Architecture and Built environment shows this confusion. Added to this, of course, are the pressures of real estate, the change patron from the individual and the state to the corporate entities. This exigency alone is a sufficient condition to relegate architecture and built environment to a minor theme augmenting profiteering. Architecture then is understood more as scenography and surfaces, not in tectonic planes and spaces leave alone other dimensions.
This is somewhat related to what Rapoport calls a handicap principle. The principle, explains how and ‘why certain environments are created at great expense a and effort- to communicate the ability of he builder to muster resources and labour to communicate power and impress people” (Rapoport 2008) A handicap wants to project an ability. Emphasising expense. To show that we can afford, we can do. In highly self conscious way. Architecture at best as symbolic expressions of power and resulting built environment is incidental.
Culture and heritage
Some of us are also worried, many of usl, about heritage, our built heritage.
Heritage of a place is equated with built heritage. Often the buildings produced by it patriarchal elite: the ruling elite of the past form the part of what is considered heritage. Even when the general mood of the society is in no way ready to accept the social validity of those who produced it. In some places and at some times, it happens to be that the new economic and political and what may be called cultural elite determine what is the heritage. What ever the legal and cultural definitions (INTACH and others notwithstanding), heritage buildings largely mean what the current elite consider them to be of heritage value. Largely consists of the oldest buildings of the place, and those associated with local or national history, social, political or religious. Heritage buildings need not necessary be of great architectural value.
Heritage also does not mean a tradition. Many traditions and influences can be discerned in the buildings of a single place or culture, built in different times and sometimes even in the same time. The heritage means what a society decides to be so. The heritage has to be understood synchronically and diachronically.
Conserved heritage buildings are no longer mere architectural symbols of the past. They form an important link to the past by binding people emotionally to a place and strengthening roots and sense of belonging. If projected further than this, heritage could mean an unnecessary baggage and may stifle freedom and sometimes also trivialise the very heritage itself. Heritage environment or abstracted features of taken as a cultural base to project a future of environment do nat make good sense. we should understand that by recreating past architecture, we do not recreate past culture. Architecture is part of a culture, but not the whole of culture. The various dimensions of culture has undergone substantial changes, and we welcome them as well. By clinging to the architectural veneer of a culture, what do we achieve?
Heritage need to be protected, given respect, may be. but cannot be taken as the raison d’ etre of architecture of a place. It gives ways to understand culture but do not give adequate equipment for the design of future.
In conclusion, I take the view that we cannot achieve anything by outright rejection of all the architectural trends. Serious debates are surely missing. We need to understand the core of spatial behaviour and build spaces around / for that. The architecture suited to social and culturally determined spatial behavioural pattern. This would require understanding on the spatial pattern of behaviour. Also we should take the view that built environment in anywhere except new cities, is a multilayered environment, chronologically and sociologically. Foucault calls this heterochronia, many times existing together. There are also heterotopias, many cultural spaces existing together. Architecture as a discipline is ill equipped scientifically to deal with these phenomena except in simple older typologies like residential environment. A theoretical foundation has not emerged. Neither modern architecture, nor post modernism or post structuralism, or theory of critical regionalism has anything significant thing to offer especially, to cultures like India. What is happening is architecture taking a back seat and total submission to real estate and economic solutions and activisms of many kinds. Even, the heritage outcry is pushed partly by the economics of tourist industry.
To find a hybrid solution, perhaps we have to look into abstractions globally and locally. This may require inflections of the global on a symbolic and significant way. And we may do well avoiding scenographic cut paste transfer techniques; either from past or from somewhere else.

Monday, June 22, 2009


Hope fires the cauldron of life. This could be true only when we look from one side. Can it also be said that despair, some times, fires life too?

Friday, June 19, 2009

21 june 2009

today morning, i was to go to Bangalore. Got up early but with a stiff neck. And stayed in bed and finally stayed back. Later I went for a walk. Is it the stiffneck or something else which made me take the decision to cancel the trip? i think at the back of mind i was weighing against going. This happens always. We, sorry I, calculate every action from various points of view and at some moment the balance favours the action and at another, the points against weigh high. At slight provocation external to the situation under anlysis, it becomes easy to decide. An excuse to decide? It is funny how mind works.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Croc farm , crook farm

Suncity 240509 :

The last day was eventful. Went around the croc farm yesterday and had a meal of croc meat. It was white meat and delicious. There are 7000 crocs there in the farm. They are breading them and selling the meat and skin. The meat of only less than two year and skin of less than five are useful. So they crop them before five. The normal female Nile croc, the variety here live up to 80 to lay 50-60 eggs every year once they are 7 for all the life time. The males may live up to 100-120 years. They grow upto 4.5 meters. Huge monsters. There are some which are above 80 here. The crocs have to lay such huge number of eggs as a survival strategy. The young ones are so tiny and are preys to all animals and humans. Most do not survive beyond two, except in the farm.

They eat only twice a year. In fact they get migrating cattle and antelopes only twice when they come to water for drinking. In one helping they can wallowt up to half their size in weight, which is up to 450 kgs; flesh, bones all/ anything is digested and converted to fat and stored in body for the next six months. During this time the females solicit and cajole the male. The males live in style with own territories. And a harem of 10 to13 females. Then lays eggs in a hole made on earth and bury them well and sit their watching until they hatch. It is funny, that temperature determine the sex. Less than 32 degrees it is female. More than 32 males. If more than 35 deformity or death. They become preys soon enough. The females go to water only to drink, during which small interludes the hyenas, snakes and other animals attack the eggs. A real struggle of survival. A drop of tear for the crocodile! And a feminist support for the female croc as they take the burden of laying and bringing up the off springs, guarding against natures cruel predators to become predator themselves. The males live happily guarding his territory from other males and hibernating. Naturally, the chauvinistic pig crocs are in lesser number. Thank god, the females tolerate the exploitation! And nature has given them the urge to keep producing till the end. And thankfully both males and females have very tiny brains, less than the size of our thumbs.

Today, we went to see the big hall where conventions and pageantries like crowing of miss world is held. Humongous. It can accommodate 900 people legally 11 000 illegally. The fixed seats are about 4000 or so all at the periphery of a polygon, raised by about 8 ft like in a balcony. The proscenium stage is at one side raised 7 ft above ground. The middle space is for standing, 6000 comfortably and legally and 2000 more a little packed. Then there are stacks of folded seats below the fixed seats, which can be pulled and slided out in tired rows, to accommodate some 3000, while reducing the standing space.

Fully air conditioned, with strobe lights, sound system and all, it is really a horrendous monster good only for pageantries.

Ten kilometers outside the Sun city is the lion farm. About 40-50 lions in captivity. Of various ages, small 6 month old catlike creatures, the cubs to 6’ high monsters. One could handle some cubs. All grownup male lions are at least 5’ in height majestic monsters with great lair. They have kept tone male with a harem of another 5-6 females. Male chauvinistic pigs and cats.

The whole city is run and scavenged and kept neat by blacks. The reception boys, concierge, the waiters, the stewards, room cleaners, casino clerks, chefs, guards all. They give a lot of employment to former Bushmen. For sure. They are paid in cash, not byy liquor as once used to be. Sara, who was doing up the rooms twice a day, stays 15kms away in a village almost invisible from highways. She goes and comes by bus transport. A local infrequent service. She is hardly 30, has two children and her husband too works there. An electrician. Speeks fair English with a heavily slurred accent, just like the way she walks moving her heavy body. An attractive shining dark skin with million pleated hair, she is a Zulu. Heavy protruding bottoms and thighs to match balanced by the bountiful bosom, does not seem to bother her in the efficiency of her work. She moves heavy furniture with great ease and rearranges beds and books and strewn sheets meticulously. The waitresses and reception girls are slimmer taller kind. Another tribe or people from Zimbabwe. Lot of people from other African countries,( referred somewhat derogatively as makwere kwere, the other Africans) work in the cities of South Africa. They provide cheaper labour. Most men are handsome, well built, slim and appear as antelopes on the move. Very elegant. There are heavy sumo wrestlers too, but fewer.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Jo-burg, South Africa


Hotel Hilton, Sandton city, Johannesberg

Last evening we, a group of architects from south India, descended down here landing at the hotel at 7 pm local time. I feel envious of those in the hospitality especially those at the front desk and reception and baggage management for their cool in handling motley crowds with cranky travel-wary, snobbish heads ill tempered with urgency to get to room and retire after long travels. And top it all has varying sizes and numbers of baggage.

I checked in with out the baggage which was to be delivered to the room. I got ready to bath after 28 hours from start at Mysore, before the luggage was to be delivered. I Changed and tied a hotel towel (small enough to expose a lot, big enough to cover the vital) around, the baggage man rang the bell. I opened the door in the steam-bath-attire came out to find that the baggage was not mine. While talking to the man, the door was shut cluck! I was to stand on the Hilton hotel corridor fakir or Gandhi style almost nude. There was a big commotion and the hotelman ran to the reception to get a fresh access tag. The five to ten minutes I was in full belly-dance view for the people who passed around. Did I feel a little voyeuristic! May be. I am used to this in my house at Mysore and back in the small place of the village in Kerala where many of my generation move around fakir style anyway. It was perhaps an irony of sorts, as I did this in the corridor of the westernized cosmopolitan unrealistic world of the five star South African Hilton hotel, where during apartheid not long ago, I would not have even been admitted let alone do the acrimonious gandhigiri of sorts, even if due to a strange comedy of errors. And this is the place where mahatma learned his answer of naked nonviolent resistance to brutal politics of discrimination. I did not, should not, feel bad, after all. For I am proud of father of my nation, to say at least.

Yet, I had a good sleep after a good though insipid kichadi of south Indian dinner at an Indian restaurant. Morning started very early around 4 thanks to my cell phone doubling. as a chronometer showed the IST, which is 3 and a half hour earlier than SA time. For a change I could be more than punctual.

Today, we left early by a nice coach to Pretoria, a good one hour drive away from Jo-burg, through a good highway on an intriguing landscape. The roads are of pretty high standards for the largely individualized world class car transport. The country side had chunks of thick vegetation alongside, many exotic plantations and some natural, dry grass stretches, and violetish dry bushes and green bush clumps in between brownish red patches of soil and an undulating hilly terrain. Some rock outcrops as well. The landscape is not uncommon in some parts of India – southern Andhra or eastern Karnataka. Weather was cool bordering to chill.

The guide – a middle aged Afrikaaner lady of British descend, spoke fluent English in a curious accent mixing Dutch and Flemish words and adding “everything” to everything like many of us do in India. I told her that she spoke good English and she was delighted and when I added ‘ like us Indians’, she did not follow what I meant. She recited perhaps an official version of SA history and ‘everything’ sprinkled with prepared humour, sounded well repeated too, and peppered with jokes and ‘everything’ followed by a dry fizzy giggle almost like an opening of a soda bottle followed by a sound of the empty bottle rolling on a pebbled surface. Hardly anyone reacted to her jokes.

The first stop was the VOORTREKKER monument nowhere in the middle of vast ‘kharabland’. This was built in 1949 of local brownish stone and marble. Stones were layered chiseled rounded semicircular so that all walls looked like piles of equal sized book backs. “A beautiful building” as per the guide was perched atop a small hill and accessed through a winding road and flight of very wide stone steps with brownish yellow granite (may be they contain gold ore! 4 gm per ton) risers and black slate treads. The podium in front of the monument too was paved by irregularly cut ‘random’ slate sheets. That was very pastoral! The compound walls were decorated with larger than life stone and concrete reliefs of ox wagons which the voortrekkers used to travel and conquer the gold land from the native Zulus. The monument is to commemorate their arrival and control over a vast chunk of land of real gold that made South Africa and the voortrekkers richer. The inside is of the monument again approached by two flights of steps culminating at the main entrance above 4 meters above the podium. Inside was a domed square hall. The dome was hidden outside by decorative parapets. The walls showed the history of the battle of the blood river where the Voortrekkers won over the Zulus in retaliation of killing one of their leaders. The fight between the natives, though acknowledged great guerilla wayfarers today, must have been largely one sided with the voortrekkers having gun powder and other contemporary ammunitions and the Zulus, the spears.

On coming down the steps to the coach, I wondered if it was worth the trouble to come up there to watch this unispiring monument. Then a bus rolled up the parking bay carrying a load of school children and outside the monument we saw another group of school children near the ox wagon ride, a joy ride as Voortrekkers travellled! Hardly any of the children was black.

Another 30 minutes, we enter Pretoria.

First to the museum and house of Kruger the President of old Zuid Afrika Republik around 1900. The man is somewhat the maker of modern SA and is revered figure at least by those of European descent. He lived in a ordinary looking colonial and yet a fairly small house for a President. Kruger used to have visitors on the front portico which was hardly two yards from the road having sip of coffee and discussing state’s matters. Well, that may be true and he was supposed to have been a disciplinarian religious person taking decisions by the book. The bible. There were many statues of the man and many photographs and railway wagon in which he traveled and ran the government in his exile when pursued by British troupes. He was helped by the Dutch in the run towards a declaration of freedom for SA to be a domain under the British queen. Apart from that the building very clumsily cluttered with Victorian furniture had no great character. Nor it moved me as I was when seeing the Gandhi Ashram at Wardha or Sabarmathi. May be an afrikaans would be. One perhaps has to feel as a part of a history to be moved by the immediate past. It does not matter when one talks about a remoter past, where humanity somewhere binds all together. Like the recent discovery near Joburg of humanid remains like that of austrlopithicus, believed to be one of oldest of men, existing some 40000 years ago.

There were small garden of flowering shrubs being meticulously tendered by a native South African, perhaps a zulu. He was oblivious of visitors watching him. The natives also guarded the gates and did many the upkeep. The painting and decoration of the metal model of two African lions on the front verandah was being attended by a white South African. The small church across the road was significantly beautiful, though of a common type of the time.

We moved through the central part of Pretoria where rich men lived once with palatial buildings now being used as monuments, offices or museums. The freedom square was small and cute with statue of Nelson Mandela presiding. Mandela another revered-perhaps, more revered today- South African has his presence felt everywhere; roads, statues, squares, buildings. All modern parts looked nothing extraordinary, but clean lines and functional, typically modern. The Sandton city, the better part of Joburg- is laid out in grid pattern with plenty of roadside plantations, people living mostly in apartments. Cars and Cars and too few two-wheelers and significant absence of public buses. Very few people on the streets. A stark contrast to Indian cities.

The union building was a secure place. We could just have a look from the front. It houses the RSA Government. It is a long low rise stone building with tile roof and domed central and side wings, sited over a hill overlooking a park in front valley and Pretoria beyond. The building was by Herbert Baker, the architect who designed the Secretariat at New Delhi as well. It was the same Edwin Lutyens and Baker team which built Pretoria prior to moving to New Delhi. Both cities were to be show cases of the British supremacy and their superior architecture to the colonies. Yet, thanks to 100 British and one Indian elites of the time petitioning the viceroy and to some in powers seeing the arguments in the petition reason enough, new Delhi’s buildings are garnished with Indian motives and mughal jallis and used local craftsmen to build them to create an Indian toppings to the British cake. The Union building looks totally Victorian with their Corinthian columns and entablature. To think further, it is ironical to see Corinthian columns on Lalith Mahal palace at Mysore built in 1949 and still more absurd and to some level bizarre to see those strange Corinthian leaves still crowning the more recent and even contemporary RCC columns of many buildings, most decadently the Hotel Leela Kempinsky, at Bangalore. Easy to explain then, perhaps, why we have mercenary teams of names like ‘knight riders’ and ‘super kings’ fight with some ‘Indians’ too for the crown of crickets entertaining value.. Why at South Africa? You may have look further at emergent decadent entertainment Industry, perhaps. Royalty is a favorable commodity everywhere, especially when entertainment is a snobbish commodity for conspicuous consumption!

Returning from Pretoria back to Joburg we had a stop at the Gold reef city, an entertainment park made out of an abandoned gold mine. The fantasy is built around the mine. A ride to some 226 mtrs down the 3000 mts deep 14th shaft was a real experience. Even with all modern precautions and electric lights the ride has thrills of some risks. Narrow tunnels, low head rooms, not enough light, eerie turns and propped up stone ceilings at places with dripping water too. Imagine the miners working at 3000 mts down ( now flooded) with just candle and no pumped in air and much hotter than the surface, with chisels and hammers ( electrical drills were introduce later) and dynamites with a possibility of earth caving in very high. The risk must have become part of a bore of life’s dredging task rather than thrill of coming back alive. And the best of times, a ton of golden rocks could yield only 4 gms. of gold! Do we think that human cost when looking at the price of yellow metal? It proves even Marx’s labor theory of value. But now, the technology has changed, they are even looking for gold at waste dumps of rocks of those times and still finding it profitable, It require less labor, more technology and therefore more capital. More humane?, perhaps. Not to expose labor to high risks is not to employ them at all! The demand justifies the price, not the value based on labor anymore! Marx or no Marx.

The adventure of the white man risking a lot and coming down to such inhospitable places at all odds in search of fortunes and gold is admired by all. Harbingers of progress. That makes them a superior human race! How wonderful and courageous! They also knew well, and the losers everywhere did not, that once you get the control over land and resources you can make the losers work for you and take all the risks for you. All you have to do is to keep them poor enough, if not slaves. You have to risk only capital. If you have someone, (government or rich parents or fathers-in-law) to bail you out, even that is not thrill enough! And one needs bungee jumping, night clubs or betting at the new cricket!


Palace Hotel
Suncity RSA 21-22 may 2009 Saturday

It’s the last Blast. Heat is on. Screams a full page advertisement for IPL final in Saturday Star, a South African daily. It also says :
Sunday 29h30 Opening ceremony ( no mistake!) to commence straight after the game. Don’t miss explosive performances by AKON, Katrina Kaif, Poenix fire Dancers, Eddie grant, Jugalbandhi of drums, as well as laser shows and the crowning of Miss Bollywood.

News papers usually carry no news of IPL. They are busy with other local and international sports. The entertainment center here has a 50-60 seater bowl with a large screen playing the game. I found no body there on Thursday. But some yesterday. Today’s the citizen, another paper, carry some picture news in the front page of IPL. Picture of 5 girls selected from the crowds of previous matches by IPL officials as contestants for Miss IPL Bollywood. The winner will get 50000 rands and a chance to act in a bollywood movie. Inner page of the same news paper has pictures of Preity Zinta , Shilpa Shetty and Hritick Roshan, Yana gupta , SRK and Katrina. The paper also features, the local singing sensations, Grant and AKON as attractions on Sunday.

The curious mixture of cricket and (filmi and pop) glamour. The glamour seems to get the upper hand! That is sportainment!

Five of our group managed to get some VIP 5-6 passes for yesterday and today. May be fo finals too. They went in a taxi travelling 5 hrs up and down from here to watch. I did not find any of them that crazy about cricket. May be I don’t know. It was the fun of going and being in the gallery and when nothing else to do. And tell others that they had been there, perhaps.

This Sun City is a fun city. No city really. It has hotels, entertainments, movies, casinos, resorts, manicured lawns, exotic plant beautiful roads, crocodile farm with 7000 crocs, tribal ( paid up tribals to perform) centre, two golf courses all in the middle of a hilly bush forest of a 55000 hectare game sanctuary with a plethora of animals large and small: African elephants, rhinos, hippos, lions, antelopes, giraffes, zebras, and many birds. It is nice to hear the bird chirping all the time outside the window. And gurgling sound a stream of water outside. So soothing. The stream of water of course is run by a huge pump, no natural stream. Well, a lot of this place is not natural, barring the forest. The Sun city is created on an imaginary story of a lost tribe and their lost city with a palace, where I am staying as a crudely and decadently luxurious 5 or7 star hotel. Rated as one of the best in the world! All the trees it is surrounded are palms and tropical ones, not found within a km away. The buildings, in with marble and granite and in some places made to look like ruins. Big hollow boulders, I believe imported from USA, is everywhere making caves roofs and passages for lifts housing casinos and auditoria. Some trees, large ones and plants with flowers are petrified natural ones. Look near natural, but don’t grow. I sometimes think, is the bird sound real?

The palace, the hotel is huge. Some over 500 rooms and suites. A potpourri of architecture. Whimsical. Yet some meticulous detailing. But on the whole it does look neither authentic nor serious. Like Disney land, to borrow Maxwell Fry’s words, the experience is there, but no seriousness.


Suncity 220509
I was reading this book: Maximum City by Suketu Mehta about Mumbai. Interesting and large part boring narratives. I came across this:

Long before the millennium, Indians such as the late Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi were taking the country to twenty-first century, as if the twentieth century could just be leapfrogged. India desires modernity; it desires computers, information technology, neural networks, and video on demand. But there is no guarantee of a constant supply of electricity in most places in the country. In this, as in every other area, the country is convinced it can pole-vault over the basics: develop world-class computer and management institutes without achieving basic literacy; provide advanced cardiac surgery and diagnostic imaging facilities while most easily avoidable childhood diseases run rampant; sell washing machines that depend on non-existent water supply from shops that are dark most hours of the day because of power cuts; support a dozen private and public companies offering mobile phone services, while the basic land telephone network is in terrible shape; drive scores of new cars that go from 0 to60 in ten seconds without any roads where they might do this without killing everything inside and out, man and beast.

Very correct assessment. Though not new, well written.