This post is part of the Portraits of Place series.
For the past three days, I have been exploring both Khirkee Village and the Extension. I wanted to know what the residents here liked about their neighborhood, and what someone like me, a firangee, which means foreigner in Hindi, should be sure to see. I asked people who were willing to chat with me in the small stores and on the street this question. I inquired, “What’s your most favorite place around here? Where do you like to go?”
I was sure people would tell me to visit the historic mosque, but this was not the case. The answer was always the same: the mall! People seemed to think the mall was the best addition to the area yet, and it was the best place to go on the weekends. Some people even indicated that they were able to sell their goods, such as hand embroidery or woven fabrics, to the mall. No one I spoke with seemed to think that the mall was negatively affecting their neighborhood, spurring too much gentrification, or threatening the preservation of their land. The fifteen community members I chatted with described the mall as badiya, which means amazing.
And so, I crossed the two-way highway to see the badiya mall. Even though just one road separates Khirkee and the Mall, the two places could not be more different.
I shared the findings of my conversations with the other workshop participants at our morning reflection meeting because I was confused about how I was supposed to feel about this mall. People were really interested in my methodology for collecting answers about favorite places in Khirkee. Someone quickly pointed out that the word “favorite” might be an elitist word. “What favorite means to you is not what favorite might mean to the residents of Khirkee. Is the word favorite actually synonymous for something else like safe, clean, or recreational? Does it have to do with how much time one spends in the place?” Another person mentioned that perhaps people told me that the mall is the place I should be sure to see because of who I am… “Maybe the residents of Khirkee thought you would not like other places in the area, and that someone like you would be more impressed by the mall.”
When Khirkee community members told me that they loved the mall, I always tried to push the question. I wanted to know why, and I wanted to better understand what they liked in the village and extension. I would respond to them by asking, “But is there a tea shop you like to frequent or a place you go that makes to happy?” One man laughed at me and said, “Tea is tea. It doesn’t matter where I drink it.”
Photos by Aditi Mehta
Aditi Mehta received her Masters in City Planning from MIT in June 2010. This is the second Urban Typhoon workshop she is attending. The first one she went to was in Koliwada in Dharavi, Mumbai. Her other series on CoLab Radio include Who’s on Broad and The Library and Society.