Humans have an innate idiosyncratic way of perceiving the space around them. On-going research in the field of neuroscience has proven that the space around us changes us as much as our brains factor in the perception of space around us. This is true on a local as well as a global sense. Micro-spaces like our room, our workstation and macro-spaces like our city, the railway station both contribute in the mental image of how we sense our space.
These cues may not necessarily be visual but can be auditory and olfactory as well. If one notices carefully, various forms, aromas and sounds emerge in the cacophony of stimuli that a place offers. This statement becomes truer in the case of a large area. Our elective, Narratives of a Place: Bridging the Future + Past, was about exploring and cataloguing these ‘mental relics’ in the boundaries of the city of Ahmedabad.
He hoped to distil the essence of the city in our exploration and in doing so redefine and revive the so-called heritage of the area. These definitions should not be mistaken as a standard. They are more of a personal take on the stories that weaved themselves in the objects we found, the sights we saw, the sounds we heard and the aromas we felt.
In his book, The Image of the City, Kevin Lynch attempted to break down the global form of the cityscape into many components like a path, an edge, a district, a node and a landmark. While these concepts help one in the describing the spatial arrangement of a city, it is sufficiently static in describing its rapidly changing identities. These identities change with time, occasion and context of the user. Hence, our attempt was to develop a more persona-based approach in envisioning a city.
Our fictional narrative revolves around the life of a detective who tries to track down a local drug cartel and in the process gets acquainted with the area near Nehru Bridge, Ahmedabad:
CHAPTER 1: THE MISSING PERSON
The telephone rang late in the night. This head felt heavy and dizzy as he reached for his phone. A crackling sound on the other side informs him of a new case. 'New case, huh!!'. It was always the same case. Little did he know that this case was going to change his perception about the place and the city of Amdavad. A new email popped up in his inbox and he started scanning the initial details. As he progressed, his eyes squinted to attention. The mail read:
AHMEDABAD CITY POLICE
23 January, 2018
CASE NO: AMD007
Case Type: Missing person, Alleged Grade A narcotics
Victim's Name: Unknown
Victim's Age: Unknown
Crime Location: Hotel Cama, Relief Road, Ahmedabad
Things didn't add up. Perplexed, he moved away to give himself a moment to regain his thoughts. The area was one of the oldest and busiest in the city. Being a native, he had heard about these areas innumerable times but had never dared to enter the labyrinth of narrows streets that were more than five centuries old. But this case required an intuit knowledge of this area which he did not possess. A sudden sharp pain in head compelled him to hold his head desperately. As he gasped for a breathe, multiple flash backs run across his mind. The evening market of Manik Chowk, an abandoned construction site, footprints on the dust, giggling sounds of children on the street. As the agony receded, he came back to normal. He went back to reading the mail. A peculiar similarity reflected in the message.
Also, it looked like a suicide case on the first glance. A desperate and misguided man falling into the clutches of gambling and drugs ends up owing too much money and decides to end his life by poisoning himself. Hence, the bloody syringe and alcohol bottle (drugs), the rat poison, the astrologer's pamphlet and the burnt playing cards. His head felt heavy again and his thoughts drifted him to sleep...
The morning azaan from the Jami Masjid woke him up. In a few hours, the streets would be alive with the honking noise of the city traffic and the daily market would commence near the Teen Darwaza.
A new email notified him of the lab reports from the crime scene - The blood from the syringe tested positive for NHP50 or 'नब्ज़', so more commonly known by. He was quite familiar with this drug. The drug, mixed with minute amounts of rat poison, was a potent hallucinogen and its overdose could cause temporary or partial memory loss. But what made this drug so nefarious was its cheapness and availability. Chemists and crooked astrologers could easily manufacture and distribute it and its hands changed more often than loose change. The prospect of a euphoric experience and boost in confidence tempted all including himself. With more than 100 deaths associated with its name, tracking and eliminating this drug had now become one of the chief objectives of the city police. He would not consider himself an addict, but the NHP50 had helped him get over the memories of many gruesome cases that lingered in his mind.
He moved on the next evidence: the astrologer's pamphlet. Ram Vinayak Jyotish. Nobody knew who he was, how he looked or where he lived. He called the number on the flyer. A heavy voice on the other side responded:
'Panditji bol rahe hai?'
(Am I talking to panditji?)
'Madad chahiye, kaha milenge aap?'
(I need help. Where can I find you?)
'Love problem hai. Milna hai.'
(It's a love problem. Need to meet)
'Par aapko kaise pata? Mujhe aapse milna hai'
(But how do you know? I want to meet you)
'Itne paise kyun chahiye?'
(What do you need the money for?)
'Aap milo to sahi....'
(Let me meet you first...)
'Bol raha hu'
'Juipada bus stop ke saamne. Kya hua hai?'
(I am near the Juipada bus stop. What is the problem?)
'Pooja karana padega. Rs 9000 lagenge'
(We will have to do a pooja. It will cost Rs 9000)
'Samagri ke liye'
(For the pooja ingredients )
'Paise arrange kar paoge ki nahi?'
(Can you arrange the money or not?)
The phone disconnected. The man was extremely cautious in selecting his client. Normal chit-chat would not be entertained. He turned to his file.
The vodka bottle and cigarette would help to track down the victim's identity, but the report would have said something if that was the case. The fingerprints could be run against the Aadhaar database but he guessed the effort was futile. The victim was surely intoxicated during the incident, but left no traces?!! That WAS weird. He went on to visit the crime scene.
CHAPTER 2: THE GUEST OF HOTEL CAMA
Hotel Cama was a posh hotel on the northern side of the Nehru Bridge facing the riverfront. The manager, Mr Lal, sprung to attention on seeing the police badge and obediently guided him to Room 407. The room smelled of cheap cigarettes and felt sheets. He noticed the open wardrobes and an untidy condition of the room. Somebody was in a hurry! Nothing much to be found. The forensics team did a good job.
He noticed the nervousness in the receptionist's sight. He was the one to report the crime. The bloody needle had prompted housekeeping to report the police. The reporting could bring bad reputation to the hotel and he insisted to keep the case incognito. On further probing, Lal revealed that the guest was not some high-profile customer that usually frequented the hotel. He recognised him as the auto repair shop owner near Sardar Bagh. How could a low profile worker afford a swanky hotel room like this? Time to find out...
The neighbourhood near Sardar Bagh was quiet in the afternoon. As he entered the motor shop, he noticed the old photo frame. The owner, Anwar bhai, informed him about his younger brother who had been missing for a week. Also missing were Rs 9000 from the family account. He did not inform Anwar of the details of the case.
CHAPTER 3 : MEETING AT TEEN DARWAZA
He looked at the flyer again. Maybe it was not a very important clue. But what was a flyer doing in a hotel room? He decided to meet with the astrologer. He ringed the number again:
'Panditji, paise leke aa raha hu main. Aap abhi kaha ho?'
(I am coming with the money. Where are you now?)
'Main aap ko pehchanunga kaise?'
(I will I recognize you?)
'Kab milna hai?'
(When will we meet?)
'Teen Darwaza ke niche aa jao!'
(Come under the Teen Darwaza monument)
'Aa ke call karna. Main bata dunga kaha aana hai'
(Call me when you reach there. I will tell you where to come)
'Ek ghante me milo waha'
(Meet me there in an hour)
The meeting was to happened in the afternoon. He walked along the Sidi Saiyyed mosque and took a left to enter Relief Road. The footpath was filled with enthusiastic shoppers and hawkers that sold tea to trinkets, repaired watches to garments. There were entertainers and beggars, school children returning home from school and thrift shopkeepers selling old books, magazines and music CDs. He turned right from the near the petrol pump into the Bhatiyar Galli. He was met with children playing marbles on the street oblivious to the incoming traffic. The evening community meal's aroma hung in the air prompting people to look inside the huge canisters of biryani and chicken curry. As he moved forward, he entered the butcher's lane. A foul smell filled his lungs and he increased his pace. Vendors sold fried fish, chicken sticks and dried meat. One more turn and he would arrive at the city's most iconic restaurant Irani Cafe.
Having taken an essential break, he was back on track to reach the Teen Darwaza. The marketplace on the square was busiest part of the city. What an excellent place to meet a person and hid in plane sight! He checked his watch. Almost time! An sms pops up in his mobile from an unknown number:
START MOVING TOWARDS JUMMI MASJID.
WAIT FOR FURTHER INSTRUCTIONS WHEN YOU REACH.
No businessman in his right mind would not communicate like this. Was the astrologer onto something? Should he abort the mission as a normal person would do or should he move on? His mind were revolving around these thoughts when he felt something sharp on his back. Something warm rushed through his blood and he felt the push of a hand leading him into an unfamiliar part of the town, into some construction site, in the basement till all he could hear was an iron shutter open...
CHAPTER 4 : THE CONSTRUCTION SITE
His vision was blurry and his head felt heavy when he regained consciousness. A sharp light pierced his eyes and he found himself strapped tight to a chair in a dark, empty hall. A splash of cold water on the face woke him up fully. That's when he saw a silhouette of a man at the corner of the room. The familiar face of Mr Lal appeared in front of him and took him by surprise.
Turns out that he is the manufacturer of NHP50 and goes by the alias of Panditji. Sheikh was one of many desperate souls that he lured in with the hope of a better future. Panditji's solution was 'a rare medicine' that would cure away all pain and boost physical, mental and sexual strength. Naturally, victims came with the money only to get addicted to the drug. He then abducted them from their normal life to keep them as his test subjects till their body or mind could not take on any further. The basement or 'the den' was used to manufacture the drug.
'Tum mere saath kya karne wale ho!'
(What are you going to do with me?)
'Kuch nahi... Tum police waloon se main baad me niptunga.'
(Nothing. I will deal with the police some other day)
A needle pricked his jugular vein and there was a blackout...
The evening azaan from the Jami Masjid woke him up. He found himself in a hotel room with a syringe, alcohol and some drugs near his bed. All he could remember was his walk near the Darwaza and his supposed encounter with the Pandit. Had he missed the opportunity to catch him? He could not remember anything. Desperate, he reached out for his phone and checked the notifications -
5 missed calls, 1 new message from Panditji
TRIED CALLING YOU MANY TIMES.
MEET ME IN THE EVENING.
Obediently, he dialed the astrologers number to say the same words again: 'Panditji bol rahe hai?'
- Vanderbilt, Tom. Cerebral Cities Else/Where: Mapping – New Cartographies of Networks and Territories, Janet Abrams and Peter Hall (eds), Minnesota: University of Minnesota Design Institute, 2006.
- The City Image and its Elements - Lynch, Kevin. Image of the City, Massachusetts: Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1960.
If interested you can checkout the course blog here.