Tripzuki contributor Aditi Datta takes a closer look at the St-Art project brightening Delhi's Shahpur Jat, where it all began.
If Darwin were to visit India, he'd be one proud scientist. His evolutionary theory* states that the only reason a creature ever does anything is for a specific purpose.
While that kind of dedication is worthy and impressive, the bottom line is that for every action, without exception, there must exist a reason. Pleasure unfortunately does not count.
Nowhere is this principle of 'function first, pleasure optional' more true than India, and Indian cities in particular - teeming with people, with loads of drive and only one direction. Forward.
While this tunnel vision, also known as 'the story of our lives', keeps us on the straight and narrow, it is painfully linear. One milestone is followed by the next. An achievement isn't really an achievement but a stepping stone to the next one.
This life, as the country's most populous religion will tell you, is only a springboard for your next life. Rewards are assigned to another lifetime or generation. Come to think of it, nothing would make old Darwin happier than our very own LIC**, which blatantly ignores the quality of this life to secure the future of the afterlife. Carpe diem is considered a cop-out for the unplanned gap years of the privileged, and beauty is for the frivolous.
So what happens to our cities under this stark exacting criteria? Urban planning, when it exists, focuses on function and, if we're lucky, basic survival.
When the Delhi Metro was grandly unveiled, we were thrilled by the mere fact that it worked. We could finally go places, cut out on transit time, and for the lucky lot, on parking charges too. Unlike cities with century-old public transport systems, we didn't dare hope that the vast canvasses of Metro stations would be anything more than concrete shells of grey through which speeding trains came and went, more or less on time, carrying more or less the weight of the city.
Because function is what we're after. Design, as much as it affects function, can wait. Art has no chance.
St-Art Delhi has changed that, and one little pocket of Delhi will never be the same. A street art project has turned the by-lanes of Shahpur Jat into a veritable gallery, with an impressive list of artists from around the world gathering here, blessed by the local police, to get their paintbrushes out and play. We now know that streets need not be ugly, walls need not be bare, and that any space is magically better with a brazen, pink display of a pair of winged piglets.
What St-Art Delhi has done beautifully is art. For a minute, leave aside what it does for our spirit and our sanity. Let's talk about the craft itself. The art is vibrant, it is detailed, it is wonderful. The playfulness of Anpu's kitten is a cheeky reminder that something beautiful is just around the corner. The more euphemistic drawings of Daku and PCO interpret the angst that the city otherwise skillfully forgets. Every stroke is pretty brilliant, each technique unique. Done by artists in bustling streets amidst a staring, skeptical crowd, this art isn't produced in the sanctity of a studio. Made for the love of art and not for fortune, we are reminded that the practical restraints of funding can indeed be overcome. In the soft currency of community pride, Shahpur Jat has gotten infinitely richer.
And here's why we need this handful of drawings. Beauty in our cities is either natural and limited, or commercial, or historical. Artifacts of an era gone by. Unlike cities, which share pride over gorgeous architecture, we aren't always proud. Our monuments, while gorgeous, are often reminders of tyranny, colonisation or unkemptness. Our airports are more economical copies of other airports. Our modern megastructures aren't frequently featured on Megastructures.
Beauty in our cities is a rare, rare thing, and because of how this reflects on us as a people, we may seem like a non-stop forward moving mass of millions. We may appear to not have time for stopping and smelling the roses, unless smelling roses is something we could claim added to our skill set.
But truth be told, that's not really us. We do know that art has a place in unexpected places. We're always in favour of that little boy's sling hitting its target. We needed a legacy that reflects our tolerance for pleasure. In a small urban village tucked away in the heart of Delhi, until the next act of God or man, this -- is ours.
*All acts by all creatures are deliberate, designed to serve the binary purpose of
perpetuation of the species and continuation of the gene pool.
** LIC stands for Life Insurance Company, which has successfully sold millions of
policy plans in India. If you don't have an LIC policy, you are not successful.
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