About Mukta Naik
Mukta Naik is an architect and urban planner by training and has worked as a communications expert for several years. Spending a fraction of her time consulting as a planner in the low-income housing segment, Mukta devotes herself to classical Indian music vocals, dance, writing and being mom to two young children. Through her blog, which she writes daily, she attempts to highlight essentially urban experiences and issues, with a view to generating awareness, debate and possibly, community action. Mukta lives in Gurgaon, a growing Indian suburb that serves as her prism to India’s chaotic urban development.
Latest Posts by Mukta Naik
Coming from the land of Mayawati in the midst of election fever, I cannot help dwelling on this megalomaniac business of commissioning huge parks, statues and buildings. Lucknow has been transformed since I lived there and the elephants hiding under the Election Commission’s drapes made for an entertaining sight. Interestingly, while the main park at Gomti Nagar is open to public, many of the facilities built under Mayawati’s rule are gated and inaccessible. So what purpose do they serve really, I fail to understand.
As we’ve discussed often in our home, generations after us will remember Mayawati for the legacy of buildings and landscaping she will leave behind, while the Mulayam’s of the world will be forgotten except in the Saefais of the world!
It’s not only megalomania that drives this sort of meaningless construction. Erecting structures that serve no particular function is a national obsession and we’re seeing it play out right in front of our office.
Picture this. GK I Enclave. A Posh South Delhi colony, some of the most valued residential real estate in India. A common green area meant to be a park has some derelict swings for children and a lot of unmaintained patchy lawn. And some concrete benches. One day, we observed a small construction crew begin to erect an entrance gate. A completely out of proportion tall and broad gate for a pocket-sized park. First they built this gate brick by excruciating brick, then they plastered it, then they scraped off the plaster to clad it with opulent granite. The whirring and clanking still goes on. The park is now littered with construction material. The debris outside the gate spills out onto the colony road creating a mini traffic jam several times a day. It’s been some two months now and our design team in office cannot stop laughing about the-gate-that-never-gets-done!
Now there are several disturbing things about this gate. Why spend money on an entrance gate, an ugly one at that, when the parks aren’t maintained? Don’t all the rich people living in this posh colony want a park where their children can play, they can walk etc right outside their homes? Who takes this sort of decision and who are they hoping to please by building an unaesthetic flashy gate in an up-market residential colony? Is this something political, perhaps a contractor mafia at work? Do the residents have a say in their surroundings at all? Shouldn’t they? And why built it in this haphazard, wasteful, time consuming manner, inconveniencing residents and creating a nuisance? Most disturbing of all, I discovered there are gates like that one being built in many parks in south Delhi!
The entire process speaks of the apathy private property owners have for their public spaces, even among the well-to-do. This is what translates into spitting on the roadside and dug up sidewalks, stinking toilets and open manholes that people fall into and die. Why blame the government when we sanction this sort of meaningless nonsense inside our neighborhoods?
We landed at the T3 terminal of the Indira Gandhi International Airport in New Delhi and the luggage was already on the conveyor belt when we got there (that’s the real reason to build an airport so large that the walk time is more than enough for the handlers to get the baggage out!). Soon enough, people had picked up their stuff and gone. Nupur’s bag hadn’t come yet and a suspiciously similar bag was still on the belt. We got the Jet staff to figure things out and sure enough, a certain Ms Pooja Bajpai had walked off with Ms N Chaturvedi’s suitcase, completely ignoring the bright green ribbon Nupur had tied over the handle just to avoid incidents like this!
As the two of us waited for Ms Bajpai to return to the airport, we spoke about how hugely things have changed in the customer service attitudes since just a few years ago. The Jet Airways ground staff person was fairly prompt, unruffled by the situation and very polite yet firm with Ms Bajpai. He explained the situation patiently to her and insisted she turn around to return the bag immediately. Through all this, her bag stayed sort of unattended somewhere near but not inside the Jet Airways counter! We wondered who was taking responsibility for the bag! The guy’s composure stayed intact through the process of locating her as they scurried back and forth the three lanes of traffic outside the terminal, till finally the bags were exchanged and Nupur returned triumphant.
Meanwhile, I was admiring the T3 airport, its sense of busy orderliness as compared to the chaos we normally associate with airports in India. The post-paid radio cab counters operated efficiently (we were lucky to be there on a Sunday evening) and we were home bound soon!
The entire experience was quite a contrast from the crowded Lucknow airport, where instead of making loudspeaker announcements, airline ground staff shouted at passengers to wait, board or hurry! Nobody really knew what is happening. Long lines for the security check and insufficient seating at the departure lounge ensured frayed nerves and rising tempers. But most people did not look annoyed, simply resigned and impatient to get on board and away!
Clearly, traffic at airports in India’s Tier-2 cities is far more than these airports can handle. The current terminal at Lucknow airport was built in 1986. The new 3-storey building was to be inaugurated in November 2011 way before the election, but what we used yesterday appears to be the same terminal I have used for several years now! Media reports that the new 20,000 sq ft terminal will be able to handle 750 passengers at one go. I’m hoping this will be enough. I’m also hoping they’ve found a way to manage the UP Govt white ambassadors outside the terminal to whom no rules apply!
No one can resist the camera and least of all at weddings, which is where I took quite a few great shots at a friend’s wedding in Lucknow India this week. In a city like Lucknow, digital cameras are still a rarity, especially for older people and I suppose its exciting to be the object of someone’s attention for a few moments. Wedding albums are still a big thing for Indians in general (people actually come and ask to see ours after nearly 11 years of being married!), so I suppose being photographed is all part of being on record as well.
At long last, I stowed the camera away. Only when the wedding was underway and people were distracted by the loveliness of the bride and the rituals, did I dare to shoot again!
After spending a few days in Lucknow, India, I am apalled at how low its touristic value seems to be. Of the 20 odd people who visited Lucknow for the wedding (and some from as far as Dubai and the UK), only a handful ventured out of the resort. The few who did made it to Hazrat Ganj, the city’s infamous shopping street to shop for ‘chikankari’ fabrics and saris that are what Lucknow is best known for.
Maybe I was in the wrong crowd, maybe my parents were unusual in their tastes, but I have many fond memories of showing scores of visitors the ‘sights’ in Lucknow as a high school kid. The sights were the bada imambara (that boasts of a labyrinth on its upper floors), roomi darwaza, chhota imambara and the residency. We usually stopped at Ganj on the way back to give visitors some shopping time.
Noone I spoke to even acknowledged Lucknows enormous historic and cultural significance; its legacy as the capital of Avadh, which was one of the principle kingdoms in North India and a bastion of the Shia Muslims. One of the visitors from abroad had someone at Delhi airport ask them why they were visiting Lucknow at all? Clearly and I know this from other experiences as well, this lovely city has dropped off the tourist map.
I see the lack of awareness as a result of extremely poor marketing. There is no desire to develop the city from a tourism perspective and bring in revenue. For a city that is (or at least was once upon a time) famed for its culture hospitality, etiquette and art this is a sad come down. And another reminder that governments can destroy by sheer sloth in a few decades what it took centuries to create!