Glittering city lights like neurons and cells spreading their connectors around. I enter IIM-A campus. Sodium lights reflect off lofty walls, all of brick and awe. I cant help feeling the excitement slivering through me. Sriram kaka takes me on a late night tour of Louis Kahn’s monastic campus, the Indian Institute of Management – Ahmedabad. It is shivering cold at 11 in the night and mist has descended over the brick fortress. Through the arches and student blocks with their heavy buttresses anchored to the ground, the bricks overwhelm one’s vision. In the almost ethereal walk at midnight, I suddenly run my hand over one of the walls, feeling brick and mortar in an attempt to make sure it is all real. The sudden slants of the brick arches and hooked lintels that defy the constricted massiveness of the built, take me by surprise. All at once, I am overcome with a sense of depression. I feel sad somehow, for the building. For the bricks that are stuck in there for eternity. For Louis Kahn himself, the outsider who came to this foreign land and sought to manifest and trap himself within the stoic bricks of India. I can almost feel that intensity of nothingness in those humungous circular punctures on the walls. With exotic migratory species of birds filling the midnight air of IIM with a morbidity of their screams, IIM falls asleep brick by brick.
The morning is almost shaken from its slumber by the hair raising chirping and rattle of what seems like a battalion of birds in the campus. House number 413.M.S.Sriram has peacocks in the garden. I go on another round of the brick fortress. This time it appears quite harmless and vulnerably exposed (literally) in the bare open. We maneuver through the great Louis Kahn court which looks like a great grand father whose grandchildren have not yet woken up. Walking past empty classrooms awaiting their designated students(quiet literally as each desk has the students name plate on it! ) the great Vikram Sarabhai Library ‘s circular arch looks ready to engulf the entire place like an enormous black hole. A mango tree gives the Harvard steps at the entrance a human touch, while an enormous Stanford ramp extends an invitation into the belly of the bricks. Meandering through the hostel blocks, I feel small, as moons of windows loom large above me giving glimpses into the life inside. While Kahn’s bricks make the old campus, Bimal Patel ‘s exposed concrete makes the new campus. I like the relief of the lightness of grey after an overdose of heavy brown bricks. Although in places there is the indecisiveness of a modernist, the new campus tries to balance well.
The Forum ( my reason for visiting Ahmedabad) is at Cept university. The place looks worn, active and full of sand. Having had some godlike image in my mind after having heard so much about CEPT as “the place” for architecture, I am left confused with mixed reactions. Well, that is always the case with having images and then seeing them shatter with reality. The great North Lawn, the mound where all beings lie down, looks inconspicuous and subtle. A pair of parrots hover up on the tree by the lawn. For the next two days, I spot them at the same spot, frolicking among architecture students, cement, bricks , panel discussions and rolls of paper.
Sabarmati is elusive. Only once, I get a complete picture of her, as I stand amidst the Ravivaar market, Ahmedabad’s 150 year old legacy, surrounded by cot makers, lamb traders and rising silt. Sabarmati Ashram , molded by Correa into an architect’s subject, stands across the river. I can imagine it once , as a lone standing hut amidst the sand across the river while the old city was only on this bank. Now the new city has engulfed land beyond the other bank and expanded around this little ashram mercilessly.
The blue windows of the old city are closed shut as I wander through them in the chilly morning of the Sunday. The labyrinth of pols and ols, take me into a cocooned city hidden underneath the bustling glazing of the new city. As we are taken through Ahmedsaa Badsaa’s city, where once upon a time even rabbits would chase away dogs , our guide in a peacock blue kurta churns out interesting tales of the place. Sculpted for life, a gujarati poet sits on the porch of his own house, stuck on a pillow with a book in his lap for eternity. Such a pity that , while hundreds of tourists gape with hungry lenses and goggled eyes, he himself is not able to turn back and look at his own house, which has undergone a facelift over the years!
Ahmedsaa ‘s secular city looks helpless under the weight of so many people. The old city quite literally apart from the new with Sabarmati cutting across. A multitude of exposed concrete, brick, modernist architectural jargon and a much publicized architectural following lies one side, while on the other bank subtle, aged , fading yet full of life, the old city tries silently to save itself behind blue doors.