Registered with the Registrar of Newspapers for India under R.N.I 53640/91
Vol. XXX No. 4, June 1-15, 2020
Time was when planning meant a certain amount of space for every individual – to allow him or her a decent bit of air and light. Then came the idea of tightly packed cities – dense in the core and with suburbs more spatially laid out. In recent years, city planners, architects and builders have been emphasizing vertical development – more and more multi-storeyed buildings. While on the one hand this does put pressure on existing infrastructure, it has, so planners argue, made for more effective utilization of space and reduces time spent in commute. All very well but then nobody foresaw the arrival of a virus that would put paid to the best-laid plans of men (mice have so far escaped).
The world over, the COVID virus has shown a steady pattern. Spreading as it does through droplets, it is the more densely packed areas that have emerged hotspots. New York is perhaps the best example internationally but we have enough and more instances within India too. Mumbai leads the rest, the congestion in the Dharavi slum in particular making it a hotspot. Chennai too has seen its numbers remain high with the more congested zones such as Royapuram, Tondiarpet, Kodambakkam and Teynampet providing perfect locales for the virus to proliferate. A week back, the Corporation of Chennai began an exercise to relocate some of the people in these areas with a view to decongest the localities and bring down the viral load. It is not clear as to how this panned out and as to what the response was.
This brings us back to the whole issue of spatial layouts of city areas. While urbanisation by its very definition does mean a certain degree of congestion, packing people in with no consideration other than logistics is hardly a solution. This has been highlighted time and again during times of disasters such as fires, water scarcity and floods. Now we are faced with something that is life threatening. Whether we like it or not, there was some sound common sense in the way planning was done earlier – set offs, open spaces, plenty of ventilation and physical distancing between residential units. Call us elitist for such a point of view but it is time there was a revival of discussion on how to incorporate these features into urban life.
Perhaps it is time to call a halt to unbounded development. Has the lockdown not shown us that quality of ambient air improves with less pollution? Has Chennai reached a point where it needs to see a tradeoff between rampant growth and a healthy life for its citizens? Perhaps it is time to say thus far and no further for Chennai and whatever growth needs to happen has to be in satellite cities and also in towns further in the hinterland? Should we press for a reconsideration of repeated relaxation of fsi and an uncontrolled mixing of zones until there is no difference between residential and business districts? May be the time has come.
Interstate migrant workers wanting to be with their families back home in this hour of national pandemic crisis is understandable, but the demand it makes on the country’s logistic capacity is a nightmare. It threatens to undermine the nation-wide struggle to overcome the virus.
The disturbing feature is that we do not know how deep the problem is. There is no reliable data broken down to individuals, names, work location, the State to which they belong, date of arrival etc. Strictly speaking, the highest priority for the Government is to assist inter-state migrants residing temporarily in the host state. Next in priority would be inter-state migrants of long-term residence in the state of adoption – those residing for several years. Without reliable data on hand, it is difficult to determine eligibility and estimate the time and resources needed to accomplish the relocation. State and Central governments are perhaps under greater pressure than is warranted as every migrant, temporary or permanent, wants to be united with his/her family in a distant place here and now.
The lockdown gave me an opportunity to discover the abundance of bird life around my apartment in Gopalapuram, Chennai.
With stern eyed policemen shooing off even the enthusiastic morning walkers, I was compelled to shift to my building terrace for the regular walks. These not-so-common birds were spotted, in addition to the ubiquitous crows and Pigeons. What a refreshing sight these chirpy, feathered beauties presented!
You have a roof over your head. Food on your table. So – no victimhood, yes? There’s a growing list of terms to describe The Virus. ‘The Indiscriminator’ should probably be somewhere on top, given the way it has brushed aside any human-imagined ring of protection. The maniacal cackle, “You were taught again and again – no one is beyond reach,” is resounding around the world. “You didn’t listen. So now you know…thanks to me.”
Shared humanity is shared vulnerability, shared learning. As is admitting that your mind is a very strange creature, simultaneously capable of intense concern over cooking oil and utter despair over the epic suffering evident all over the world. It is devastating. You ask yourself, how did we allow all this to happen?
Then – hullo! Someone just ate the last apple. They didn’t even think to ask you if you wanted a piece, knowing full well that no one is making grocery lists any time soon. It’s a pattern. Earlier, no one noticed if you skipped a helping because there was just enough for the others around the table, all with their beaks open, while you…
Stop. No. Wrong path to take.
Gifts for the Great Mogul
The Battle of Adyar fought between the English and the French in 1746 is one of the most talked about skirmishes in the history of our city – which, according to colonial historians, established for the first time the supremacy of European-trained armies over native forces. However, a lesser known battle was fought three decades earlier in Trivetore (Tiruvottriyur), when the East India Company had a face off with the forces of Sadatullah Khan, Nawab of Arcot to establish the right granted to them by the Mughal Emperor Farrukhsiyar. This article traces the struggle of the Company to retain possession of Tiruvottriyur and four other villages.