The Oberoi.

Heritage and its place in the modern society

Recently had the privilege of being part of the ID IIT world strategy tour. The joy of meeting some of the brightest minds of India is something hard to write about. That didn't stop me from trying.

Feb 7th-2016

With a bright sunny afternoon and clear blue skies of Mumbai setting the mood for the day, we started on our way to Ranwar, a village within the city of Mumbai.

We met with Unbox and Busride at St. Jude Bakery for a round of introductions and information about the people of Ranwar. We moved to Ayaz Basrai’s studio to better understand Ranwar, a village of 42 homes, and the challenges its residents face as individuals and as a community.

In the snug and cozy comfort of the Busride studio, Ayaz spoke passionately of India as a place where contributing to the community has its own share of consequences. Contributions cannot be individualistic or driven with a singular sense of purpose. They have to encompass all the dynamic elements that act as the cohesive force of the community.

Down Veronica Street we met Owen, a retired resident of the community who spoke of how heritage has its place in the modern world, how it affects the way society works, and the critical roll it has in keeping a community safe. When a place is called a village, it often carries with it the image of low income and disarray. What we saw throughout our walk were vibrant homes and well to do families. Mind you, the definition of “well to do” is very different here in India.

Surrounded by the city of Mumbai, high rises are an inevitable element in today’s Ranwar given the growing population and the need for a greater floor space index. In this linear approach for space, social cohesion has taken the back seat. To integrate it into the lifestyle and heritage of Ranwar is a challenge — one that cannot be solved by the typical symptom vs. diagnosis process. Ayaz and his team strive to create closed loop solutions that don’t rely on the designer’s prolonged involvement to be sustainable.

As we progressed through our walk, we moved to St. Andrews Church, a building older than the Taj Mahal. The church has always been a stronghold of the Ranwar’s predominantly Christian community. Leaders of the heritage movement look to St. Andrew’s to play both a literal and symbolic role in unifying the community. Before we wrapped up the walk, we were shown Chimbai, another village on the opposite side of hill road with a thriving fishing community that exudes a vibe that is worlds apart from that of Ranwar.

Ayaz explaining on the beaches about the reason behind the drastic difference between Ranwar and Chimbai.

Intrigued by how contrasting India is across just two villages literally 30 feet apart, we landed back at St. Jude Bakery to consider the broader image of Mumbai and the challenges it faces with providing infrastructure to a population that is 20 million strong and rapidly expanding. Madhav Pai, Director of the World Resources Institute (WRI) Ross Center for Sustainable Cities, spoke of how building roads is not solving problems and how less than 5% of Mumbai uses road transport in their daily commute and building bridges across the ocean is not the solution. Doing so hurts the fishing community more than it benefits the city. The evening had set and the next to address us was the man behind the food we were about to have, Chef John Gresham. It was amazing to see how the gypsy kitchen concept had captured, documented, and enhanced the local heritage recipes and at the same time set up a micro economy for the families of Ranwar. What better way to learn of a culture than through the food it eats?

Clearly, what started as an initiative to clean up the back yard of St. Jude bakery has now become a movement towards heritage conservation through pedestrianism.

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