Private Space and the City

co-written with Tanya Shridhar & Dhriti Nadir, 2015

Theseus’ Ship needed repairing. Its planks had to be replaced, part by part. A point came when all the old planks were replaced by new ones. And, another ship was built with the old planks. The question at hand is: Which is the original ship?

Privatization provides structure. The stakeholder in the urban context is categorized based on two parameters: Ownership and
Occupancy. From the perspective of the Owners, processes are objective oriented, one-track and compartmentalized. Bureaucracy, on the other hand, can provide capital to these privatized initiatives. From the Occupants’ perspective, the end user is the Urban Public.
Keeping the aforementioned in mind, we have taken the instance of the open area within the J.D. High-street Mall’s enclosure in Ranchi and elaborated upon the same through detailed research and analysis. Earlier an apartment stood in its place, tucked away from the main road, in between trees. The wall around was removed and the open area made open to the public after two and a half years of construction.
At the time of its inception, Anurag Sarawagi, the mall proprietor was quoted as saying that it would be a one-of-its-kind experience for shoppers. There are two primary entrances to the enclosure, one to the extreme left, meant for vehicles- that directly leads to the basement parking via a ramp, and a pedestrian entry that is wider, giving the sense of fresh openness, with cool air constantly blowing naturally in the precincts. The pedestrian finds himself strategically positioned at the periphery of a stimulating, circular green patch, and geometrically placed between a pair of cubes, serving as booths and parlours, respectively. The booth to the right is the Ticket Counter, and the parlour to the left is a multinational ice cream outlet, gay in cyan and baby pink. Both these cubes have designated public sitting spaces, highly inviting and aesthetically minimal, white U-shaped benches, right in front of them. One notices almost instantly that the bench adjoining the ticket booth is crowded while the one in front of the parlour is scarcely populated, if occupied at all. The former is nearer to a cluster of trees to the south-west of and outside the enclosure, and a hoarding that displays the blockbuster ruling the box office on that weekend.
These together provide shade to that bench, while the ice-cream parlour bench remains unshaded throughout most of a sunny day. This makes it unbearable to sit in the hot, overhead sun. The vehicular entry is closer to the parlour than it is to the booth. Cars usually move from the entrance, pass the ice-cream parlour, the bench, another MNC eatery and then enter the parking lot. The green patch, which is directly visible from the abutting main road is occasionally used for charity work, blood donation camps and launching new cars, with make-shift stalls installed around the place. On the other side of the road is the Church Complex, its structure in almost absolute contrast with JD Highstreet Mall. It is spread out and constitutes a plethora of locally owned eateries, and cloth outlets. The main road, in between, is a pair of bidirectional lanes, its axis enclosed within a concrete divider running along for another half a kilometre and culminating in what would enable drivers to take a U-turn to switch lanes. However, just parallel to the vehicular entry point into the JD enclosure, the divider bifurcating the road, has been broken to allow cars and bikes, on the lane farther away, easily access the mall. Church Complex is the Ranchi that remains of what was- organic, natural, and chaotic. JD is the Ranchi that is trying to be- modernised, systematic, structured.
From the questionnaires presented to various end-users, we inferred that JD’s open area has been designed keeping the Youth of Ranchi as its widest customer base.
At any time of any given day, the bench opposite the ticket booth is occupied. Either that or people directly enter the mall where
there is a huge variety of apparel outlets, categorised by price and brands. The difference that has developed in the urban
context, over the years since JD’s construction, is the assignment of purpose to leisure. Before the mall sprung up, in this area, leisure was for leisure’s sake. JD offers three primary business models to quantify leisure- cinema, clothing, food and beverages. The last category has, however, proved to be a failure, based on individual observations and general public opinion of the users there.
Nobody really buys ice-creams there. They say it is overpriced. The MNC eatery remains barely occupied. The reason for this is that the building’s tall profile which allows natural cool air to come gushing down to the open space, due to the Stack Effect. Subjectively, it feels so pleasant there that users prefer staying outside than enjoy conditioned air indoors. The only problem the site is faced with is overcrowding,
especially during the hours of the evening show, when children drag their mothers into the mall to play video and arcade games on the floor between the Cinema Halls and the Clothing Retail Outlets. The old are barely spotted around the mall. Condensed data from surveys tell us that the open area around the mall has been able to create jobs, although the business of food outlets there is not flourishing.
The Church Complex having a greater variety of the same, is able to market itself by word of mouth, as against the bright, visual marketing notions of the MNCs. Also, the point of breakage in the divider between these two buildings makes it easy to cross the road for greater freedom of choice. Besides, the JD complex does not have any ATM counters whereas the Church Complex has one. However, the apparel outlets here have a booming business because they offer highly subsidised varieties under a s ingle roof, comparable with the apparel outlet scenario of Church Complex.
One major implication which is commonly observed by all users, occupiers and the working class people there- the point of breakage in the divider is an accident prone zone. Countless vehicular accidents occur there every day.
It is like a fracture that has never been repaired properly and completely.
Before the fracture had been made, the crowd was completely centred at Church Complex. Post fracture, crowds are divided approximately in a 60-40 ratio between JD and Church Complex. Even though successful privatization has distributed the crowds more evenly than it used to be, a pardox manifests itself within the JD enclosure.
Since JD is much smaller in area, the density there is far more dense, thus destroying the sense of privatised individually
occupied space, one of the prime prerequisites to leisure, whether purpose driven or not. Since it is far taller, it dominates the city’s skyline far more menacingly than the erstwhile buildings of Ranchi do by squatting short on a pair of floors, their wings spread out.
One of the strangest aspects of the open area around the mall is as follows. The entry has no collapsible barricade and is as
welcoming as a business man can be to a customer. However, pedestrians are usually restricted from entering through that gate.
They have their exclusive entrance as mentioned above. The exit has a collapsible barricade so that the security can collect the parking ticket and fee as the vehicle leaves the building premises. The strangest thing is that this exit is used by pedestrians to leave the premises rather than the singular point of pedestrian entry. We questioned people about the strange pattern of circulation there.
A boy answered saying that the central pedestrian entry area was already too crowded. Someone else said it was always like that.
The Guard at the security booth answered that the vendors and shops of cold drinks, samosas, paan and chanachur were what most people
would like to indulge themselves in after a movie. These were found right outside the exit of the enclosure, between those clusters of trees.
Do you see the repercussions of rampant modernisation of an otherwise organically developed city?
Natural evolution allows for modification of traits of entities, part by part. Any acceleration of this process has a singular outcome:
mutation. What happens when parts of the city are replaced, at a rate faster than needful? A fracture remains after the overhaul.
The fracture finds itself sitting pretty at the spot where metal collides into metal, tar and concrete, chipping off paint and bones, maybe
even whole lives. This mutation from organic to systematic has pushed us into an oscillating state of Limbo. There is a theory in
Kinesics which states that our sense of personal space is defended as long as we have something inanimate to touch. It is the reason why investigation rooms in police stations are provided with desks, between the interrogator and the investigated. Even in the most crowded of places, if we have any one small inanimate thing, our sense of privacy is not invaded. Idleness is waiting for someone, amidst a bunch of strangers is measured in the twiddling of thumbs, as per body language analysis. In a purpose driven society, idleness cannot be afforded. Even leisure has to be purpose driven. One of the most amusing, if not disturbing aspects of the whole scenario is that we have our sense of privacy guarded by cell-phones, while waiting for someone, at the bench opposite the Ticket Counter.
There are two effects of emergence of the privatised space of sociability. One is the Limbo of Ranchi’s urban context. The other is us, twiddling of thumbs at our phones, texting away in a perpetual state of Limbo, our privacy guarded only virtually. Ironically, only the Guard at his sentry watches both sides of this Urban Ship.

Only he knows.

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