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Design & Art Fairs in Delhi

Madhu Pandit


An indelible memory from three decades ago is something I overheard, while visiting then recently opened Clore Gallery of Tate Britain, home to the biggest Turner collection. I heard an elderly woman telling her companion of same age “Well, dearie, now that we have finished seeing the New Wing, should we take a break here by this lovely bay window, before we look at Turner?”

This was London post the Battle for Covent Garden and public engagement with the building goings-on had begun to come of age.

Closer home, in Delhi, I have wondered why the users of our built environment do not have vociferous opinions about its architecture/planning & design, while clothes, fashion, films, food, music draw a lot of engagement from all walks of people. After all, it does impact their everyday lives.

The city is like an unfinished jigsaw puzzle, where outsiders through centuries, like petulant children, came in kicking away some chunks, only to have it reconstructed from a new set by another. Even the British, who were less known for overt destruction, tore down

stretches of beautiful homes next to the Red Fort in the walled city of Shahjahanbad after the Revolt of 1857. More recently the BRT and its demolition has added to the urban nightmare, the demolished mangled steel bus shelters lying by the roadside ruefully reminiscent of Subodh Gupta sculptures. Who does not feel a visceral punch in experiencing a permanently fractured city like Delhi? Its history of destruction and rebuilding, from the Pandavas to the present day has not stopped with modern day planning and development.  Can anyone be immune to its still visible multilayered past, in unexpected street corners amidst squalor, informal settlements and tree lined avenues? Shouldn’t it merit more involvement from the public?

The Design and Art fairs are popular and frequented and not just by the design fraternity. It is heartening to see a discernible increase of interest in prevalent trends in art and architecture. It may be a bit premature, but I would like to believe that the fairs these past few years have brought out some collective consciousness that good design can and will improve lives. If this is Darymple’s city of ‘invisible djinns’, perhaps it is befitting that they appear like a genie every once a year at NSIC in Okhla, a place you get to through negotiating traffic in Govindpuri/Kalka Mandir, which always looks like it is celebrating its national decay day. Then rounding off at the metro flyover, which bears its allegiance to ”Don’t Give a Damn School of Planning & Architecture”, the squalor suddenly stops. You find yourself in a dusty parking lot and a bunch of eager ushers egging you on to the Fair pavilions.

It wouldn’t be too much to now expect to hear in Delhi, “Sarla Behenji, shall we leave out Ram Kinker for later? I do want to finish the tour of this curious building first and see where this ramp leads to!” Would it?