This post is part of the Portraits of Place series.
During the Urban Typhoon workshop, participants formed small teams to develop their own projects and co-create knowledge and art in collaboration with Khirkee community members. As URBZ states, the purpose of the Urban Typhoon Workshop in Khirkee is to:
Bring together planners, architects, journalists, sociologists, artists, etc. from all over the world in one neighborhood, along with residents and users of that neighborhood, to help the emergence of a new network of people through the process of working and brainstorming together. Such an event has to be understood as a creative one, which helps transform perspectives and brings shifts in perception and action.
In my previous posts, I provided some background on Khirkee, and shared what I learned about un-zoned land, the historic mosque, the brand new mall, and the problem of unpaved streets. Different teams took on various endeavors in the neighborhood that addressed these themes and other community issues. For example, projects included: the creation of a cookbook with secret tips from elders in the community, mural painting with the neighborhood youth, the production of a play about the meaning of the mosque, as well as the creation of cell phone ring tones based on sounds from Khirkee, among others.
I formed a team with three talented ladies: a social entrepreneur from London and two architects from Norway. After our initial exploration of Khirkee, the four of us really wanted to catalogue “must-see” places in the Extension itself, especially since previously everyone we spoke to in the neighborhood was pointing us in the direction of the mall. We decided to focus our project on the nameless unpaved road, where KHOJ Studio is located and where the workshop took place. Our idea was to create a guidebook for this nameless and unpaved, yet bustling corridor. We thought that by doing this, we could perhaps stimulate brainstorming among community members of what an “authorized” or “formalized” Khirkee Extension could and should be visioned as in the future. Maybe our guide – created by outsiders – would spur dialogue among insiders about the changing identity of the place.
We began our research by visiting almost every single shop along the corridor and informally chatting with those who worked there or were visiting the establishments, to simply learn more. Throughout the week, we also photographed the street in its entirety in order to create an accurate map with building footprints. And of course, we sampled the street’s several tea shops, snack stalls, and dhabas, which are small local restaurants or truck stops.
Dhaba in Khirkee.
One afternoon, we ate lunch at a small dhaba at the end of the nameless street we were documenting. After we left, a woman called to us from above the restaurant. She was smiling with four small kids surrounding her, waving to us. “Come upstairs!” she yelled over and over again in Hindi. So we did, and once we reached the top, she invited us into her flat and introduced herself.
The woman’s name is Sara and her husband works in an embroidery factory in Khirkee. She has five children and has been living in Khirkee for ten years. She moved to Khirkee from Calcutta because of her husband’s job.
Sara said to us, “It made me so sad to see you girls eating at the dhaba downstairs. The food there is terrible. Please allow me to cook you lunch tomorrow so you can have a real meal in Khirkee!” We were so touched by Sara’s offer and tried to politely decline. We didn’t want to burden Sara with cooking for so many of us. She didn’t even know us! However, because she insisted and would not let us leave without saying yes, we accepted the invitation. We were very excited.
The next day we enjoyed a feast at Sara’s house. She baked fresh bread and cooked rice, egg curry, vegetables, and lentils. Her dishes were indeed much tastier than the food we had been eating at the dhabas. Her charming children giggled with us and we told the family about our project and asked Sara for her ideas and insights. She responded, “Khirkee is filled with really nice, good, and hardworking people. How will you explain that in your map and guide book?”
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.