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Periphery of the Western Ghats, Maharashtra. 2018.

The Forest Survey of India has satellites passing over India 6 times a day, reporting in real-time forest fires. The current season reflects a dip in fire alerts, likely due to a reduction of careless mammals (humans) roaming the forest floor….but with many forest department officials under lockdown, the fires that do catch run the risk of running wild.

Biswajit Mohanty, secretary of the Wildlife Society of Odisha, had this to say a few days ago, “The first one hour is critical to control it before it develops into an inferno.”

I’m not sure if he was speaking about forest fires or Coronavirus.


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Jindal Steel Works at Dolvi, Maharashtra. April 2018.

Nestled on the banks of the Amba River is JSW’s Dolvi plant, which houses one of the steel conglomerates four blast furnaces in India. According to media reports, this blast furnace, like much of humanity, has been shut down — a magnanimous feat I wrote about last week.

While India’s lock-down lingers on, the idea of a ‘lock-in’ has gained traction. Aman Sharma of the Economic Times had this to say on 13 April 2020, “PM Narendra Modi is said to have suggested a “lock-in” for factories with workers staying onsite and maintaining social distancing. …


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RanchiRural Jharkhand Tube-Well. 2016.

When I visited Ranchi in 2016, little did I know she was in the midst of an affair with water scarcity that would linger for years. The relationship is ongoing as of early 2020, and trust me, it is complicated.

But for this sodden piece, let us look beyond urban Ranchi, to rural Jharkhand.

Writing in the Hindu BusinessLine last year (November 2019), Tina Edwin reported: In rural Jharkhand, 1.7% of households have access to piped drinking water.

Handpumps and tube-wells are the primary sources of drinking water for many rural households in these States and that essentially means these people are drinking untreated and often unsafe water.”


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What Impact will Coronavirus (and the concurrent global recession/depression) have on Architecture in India?

Of course, only a prophet would know that, and I am certainly not a prophet. In fact, most days I forget what happened yesterday, so predicting the future is out of the question. But I do take a lot of aerial photographs, like notes to self in visual, synoptic form. And revisiting notes of the past can reveal hints towards possible futures. So let us dive into one such note from Ahmedabad, circa February 2019.

Dr. Vikram Sarabai Marg draws our eyes northwest towards Vastrapur, into a voluptuous canopy of trees engulfing the Indian Institute of Management. Nestled within the verdant cocoon is the work of American Architect Louis Kahn (1901- 1974), a poetic mix of brick and concrete. …


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Coimbatore Central Prison, Tamil Nadu. January 2020.

Coimbatore is one of the shadiest places in India to commit a crime necessitating imprisonment. Spread over 167 acres, the late 19th century Coimbatore Central Prison can house 2,208 inmates at a time. This translates to a ratio of 260 square meters of open space per person (assuming 1 guard for every 6 inmates). Outside the compound walls, Coimbatore city boasts of 2.17 square meters of open space per person. (For comparison sake, Mumbai has about 1 square meter of open space per person). …


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M East Ward, Mumbai. December 2019.

M East Ward in India’s Financial Capital, Mumbai, is one of the most lethal peace-time neighborhoods in the world. If an entire Ward could have pre-existing conditions (thereby making it more vulnerable to Coronavirus), it would be M East Ward. Home to 900,000 people, this tightly packed region is bound by a sewage treatment plant (very top left of photo), Deonar dumping ground (top left), a series of nallahs (drainage channels that have morphed into open sewers on account of non-existent municipal services), and a national highway (bottom right).

But, me being me, I always try and look on the bright side, even when it is dark. (my wife calls me the ultimate optimist). …


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Sambhar Salt Lake, Rajasthan. December 2017.

Once upon a time, on an early morning flight from Mumbai to Delhi, the pilot rattled two hundred groggy passengers and me with the following mid-air announcement: “For those of you on the left-hand side of the plane, if you look outside you will see India’s largest inland salt lake.” He was awakening us to Sambhar Lake in the state of Rajasthan, an fluid concentration of artificial geometries and natural pigments. I’ve also heard that Jodha and Akbar had a destination wedding here (really).

As per the new norm, everyone and every place has a Coronavirus story, and centers of salt production are no different. …


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Forests outside Haridwar, Uttarakhand. April 2015.

The coronavirus is upending life, and death, in India. Haridwar, an abode of 400,000 living souls on the banks of the Ganga River in Uttarakhand, has been a popular destination funeral location for thousands of years. More than 3,000 pilgrims visit the city daily for post-death rituals, and if we extrapolate and reverse inflate this number over 2,000 years, one can safely assume that Haridwar is home to more than 100 million dead.

The preferred point of final departure is at Har ki Pauri, a ghat on the western bank of the diverted Ganga waters. With priests absent and virus abundant, pilgrims stay away (or are kept away). Sheo Jaiswal of the Times of India reports “a family had come to Har-ki-Pauri on March 27 to immerse their mother’s ashes but the police stopped them at Shankaracharya Chowk and they had to return.” …


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Gurugram, Haryana. January 2019

*Gurugram and bad air go together like guru and gram. According to a Greenpeace report published in February 2020, there are annually 669,000 premature deaths in India on account of bad air. If you think that is bad, just look at the global figure — 4.5 million lives lost, annually. The primary accused, in particular, is particulate matter 2.5 (pm 2.5), a by-product of burnt fossil fuels which, after being spent, rises above to join forces with other rejects.

By comparison, 242 lives have been lost due to Coronavirus in India, and globally 110,000. (as of 12 April 2020)

Ironically, the world is shut to flatten the curve, to avoid overwhelming medical networks and therefore run the risk of losing lives which otherwise need not be lost. In other words, the goal is to avoid unnecessary, premature deaths. As the curve flattens, and lives are saved, those in India will return to a predisposed life of premature death. …


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LBS Marg at Kurla, Mumbai. December 2019.

Let us virtually defy the lockdown and allow our imagination to journey north on LBS Marg (seen above in the Kurla segment). As we approach Mulund (the edge of the world for south Mumbaikers), a slew of new residential developments will accost us. In the second half of the last financial year, more than 5,000 apartments were completed and made available for sale. To use colloquial lingo, the flats were “launched.” (I highly doubt they have gone anywhere, so don’t panic)

5,000 of any thing in the market means one thing: advertisement, advertisement, advertisement. Many of the residential units are now being marketed based on old-world, pre-Coronavirus principles. …

About

Urbs Indis

Robert Stephens

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