The project that began from the architect’s studio traveled many places and reached even more people. The People Place Project is an offshoot of an architectural practice. It is the first of its kind that connects two intimate entities that upholds any practice - Place and People! The connection is the intimate engagement that captivates individuals across all age groups – Stories!
They are extraordinary stories of ordinary people. They are tales of engaging in new lights and rearing towards urban sensitivity. In times when opinions are developed, disseminated and debunked in a blink of an eyelid; these authors listened, paused and reflected. They documented these fleeting times, transitioning places and people who shape and are shaped by these shifts.
And these authors are no less ordinary themselves! An architect, an architecture student, a former journalist and dancer, an engineer are among twelve writers who travelled the length and breadth of Ahmedabad. With vocations and personalities as diverse; they have shaped the book with many mixed perspectives. Here’s introducing Manasi Chokshi, Ipshita Karmkar, Chitra Unnithan and Dhaval Shukla.
Manasi Choksi is architect who believes teaching is her purpose in life. She teaches at an architecture college in Mumbai. Despite this project being her first formal stint with writing, she believes that she is writer who writes from her heart and tries her best to convey sentiments through stories. What drove her to contribute to the project, we asked her. “My forefathers were merchants from Ahmedabad. They identified real diamonds from the fake ones, hence the surname - Chokshi- from the word chokkas (perfect). I hardly knew any of this until a visit to the old city of Ahmedabad. One thing led to another and I took up masters at CEPT University and was brought face to face with the city of my ancestral blood. As a result of this I know a lot of people and relatives here with interesting stories and life experiences. I tend to relate to people more once I know their past through these small secrets. The mystery excites me - like opening a Pandora's Box. And so I thought this was a great platform to explore my interests.”
Her characters are ordinary people with extraordinary choices. Minakshi Jain, an eminent architect from the city who also holds a flying licence since 1963. A secret, secret no one could have thought and believed seeing her demeanour. Kushal and Deepal Chokshi are regular people but with strong and smart choices. Himanshu Desai of Sandwichworkz was an absolute surprise. His restaurant appears too ‘cool’ but witnessed a 50 year old struggle with one's profession. “The mistress of spices is one lady who inspired me the most. She very naively and literally placed her entire life story in front of me, without any fear of being judged. There are so many aspects about her that made me feel so less! Truly, a humbling experience!” Manasi talks about her takeaway from the stories.
“Each time I read the articles I wrote, I think of what I learnt, is to never judge people- however young or old. You never know what little amazing stories they carry. It feels like, I discovered some wonderful people and through their stories made them super human beings. After all don’t we all wish to be one always!”
Ipshita Karmkar is a 5th year architecture student who studies at Kamla Raheja Vidyanidhi institute of architecture in Mumbai. She loves to express herself on paper; be it academic journal, newsletters and writing for the city she lives in- Mumbai for the book - People called Mumbai. This being her second project, she had the eye for discovery; however her own version of her story is that of eternal learning as reflected in her own words:
“As I was interning in Ahmedabad for 6 months, I found this project to be an ideal opportunity to explore and discover an alien city to the best of my ability. The project provided to me opportunities to meet and learn of new stories intimately from people which were exponentially different from what I had perceived of the city.”
One of her stories, 'a Place for the Displaced', developed into her thesis exploration. “Through the understanding of the narrative of a woman from Citizen Nagar, I was able to understand the needs and the aspirations of the community and apply my architectural skills to develop solutions to the problems. Other stories, such as the 'No celebration denied' and the Conflictorium story, allowed to me piece together and understand the larger situation within the city. Overall exploring the city made me understand my abilities better and helped me grow.”
While interviewing people for the book, she got closer to the subjects; something that had not happened before, despite of the fact that she had known them for many years. “For instance, my interview with Prof. Anil Gupta for 'Of Grassroots and Innovations' went on for close to three hours during which we laughed and talked at length about his experience of Ahmedabad. I have known him for almost a decade and have written many stories in the newspapers on his initiatives. I had even worked for him on a project for about 6 months but I never got an opportunity to talk to him the way I did while interviewing him for the book. At the end of the interview, he told me that he has never shared this story with anybody else! It was truly an amazing feeling! The book brought me closer to the city and the people I knew.”
Chitra Unnithan holds a Master’s degree in Mass Communication and Journalism. She has worked as a Special Correspondent with The Times Of India, a Feature Writer for Femina magazine and a Senior Sub-editor for Business Standard. She recently quit the media industry to work with the United World Institute of Design as their Corporate Relations and Communications person. She is a trained Bharatanatyam dancer and passionate about dogs and animal causes.
“Well, it had been a few months since I had quit journalism when Nisha, founder of People Place Project (whom I worked with at The Times of India) approached me. When she narrated the concept and while discussing the possible stories, I realized that I was missing writing feature stories. Being born and raised in Ahmedabad, I just couldn't let this opportunity pass.”
She has written three stories for the book: From Armani to Khadi, Of Grassroots and Innovations, Friends from Kerala. “The journey of interviewing and filing stories certainly had a major impact on me. While ideating over some stories for the book, I realized how much I have taken my city for granted. When I looked at Amdavad through an outsider's eyes, I realized there is much more to than what meets the eye and that I have overlooked some really great things about this city.”
Dhaval Shukla is a Gujarati born in the US. He shifted to India at the age of 12. Having frequently changed base for education and work he didn’t really identify his roots. He constantly explores opportunities to get closer to his land. His reasons to be a part of this project are therefore different and more personal.
“I was born in the US and lived there till I was 12 years old. Then, we (My parents and I) moved to Ahmedabad. In these 27 years, I have lived in 9 different homes, studied in 8 different academic institutions. Even though I am a Gujarati by certain ways I was brought up, I find it hard to have an identity based on culture or geography. At the same time, this has also given me a relatively objective view on so many things, as I mentioned in the first paragraph of this.” And subsequently he discovered The People Place Project.
“Last year, in mapping project exhibition, I decided to dig deep into this passion of maps and culture. It was then that I found the People Place Project. I took it up because I realised that it was an opportunity to understand this city more, and be closer to it. The feeling of “anchorless-ness” has reduced. It also made me part of a community who seemed to share certain similar ways of looking at the world.”
Like other writers, his protagonists and their stories greatly moved and inspired Dhaval. “In Ahmedabad though, the entrepreneurial spirit: of not just starting a business of taking risks and initiatives, is all around. As someone who is in touch with several social initiatives around the country, it was especially interesting to see Ahmedabad with that perspective. Many initiatives, as they scale up, are hard to manage- not just in logistics and money, but also in values. At the Blind Peoples Association (Seeing Without Eyes), the air of the place was of confidence. It was mirrored in Dr. Punani’s interview. I was so happy to meet him because here was a person who had so much belief in the institution, his co workers, the disabled, and in himself, that he has been part of the managing team for over 37 years. It’s a virtue that is seemed to penetrate everywhere.”
Stay tuned to this space, for we feature another set of writers next! Also coming up are some valuable feedback and critique from our readers. Meanwhile if you did grab a copy of the book, do let us know your opinion of the same in the comments below....