Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Jawahar Vyapar Bhavan

If you drive past Janpath, you'll come across this building with its easily recognizable design of cubes and L-shapes.

It's called Jawahar Vyapar Bhavan, and it houses the offices of the State Trading Corporation of India (STC). Whenever I see the blue logo of STC (it's at the top of the building, can you see it?), I am reminded of the early years of independent India.

The STC was setup in 1956, when India had no strong manufacturing base of its own, and depended majorly on imports. We imported literally everything; including food, metals, machinery, fertilizers, etc. But we were broke. There were not enough foreign exchange reserves, so a system of rationing had to be put in place. 

India was keen to promote trade with Eastern Europe at this time - since Nehru's leanings were in that direction, and he espoused the idea of a planned economy.  The state was to play a major role in development.

So the STC was set up as the primary government arm dealing with imports and exports. It was tasked with conserving precious foreign exchange. If a businessman wanted to import something, he had to chase the babus at STC. The import had to be justified, and a license to import obtained. It was a long and torturous process; and was part of a system that went on to become infamous as the "License-Raj".

After economic liberalisation in 1991, the STC found itself redundant in many ways, and it had to reinvent itself. Today it is the chief importer for the government i.e. it imports edible oil, fertilizers, pulses, gold, metals etc based on government demand. It also imports scientific equipment and machinery for use by government laboratories and manufacturing units. The STC also helps private companies import things; by charging a fee for their expertise / service. But they no longer have a monopoly on import/export as they used to.

The STC building is located in a prime corner on Janpath, and well known to tourists because the ground floor houses the government-run handicrafts shop CCIE.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The huge Indian National Flag at Connaught Place

With Independence Day around the corner, I thought I would post this photo. This is the largest flag flying in India. It is 60 feet wide, 90 feet long, and weighs a huge 35 kilograms. 
This flag is a new addition to Delhi's skyline. It was hosted in March this year by the Flag Foundation of India.

Unlike other flags, it is not lowered at sunset, because it is adequately illuminated. This is as per the policy announced by the Ministry of Home Affairs in 2009, that the National Flag could fly day-and-night on a pole of a height of 100 ft. and above with proper illumination.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Wall art in Shahpur Jat, Delhi

Last week I photographed this piece of wall art in Shahpur Jat Village. It's a techno-fitted goose with a metallic beak and armour; and there's a sort of Alibaba-esque girl in a cape riding it. Maybe it's a boy. I can't tell for sure. It's by Aerosol Assasins, and they call it Samsam.
The Samsam goose wall is very close to my office, where we have been witnessing the neighbourhood change for the past 4 years. From a rustic village with buffaloes, Shahpur Jat has morphed into a new hip location with boutiques and cafes. This wall art is part of the new hipness. Here's another one, by Mattia Lullini, an Italian artist (photo from his website):
Interesting huh? Certainly spices up what is otherwise a very sorry-looking collection of badly maintained residences. There's lots more stuff like this, all over the village. You can see it here. The artwork on walls has been done by visiting artists, both Indian and international.

Whenever an outsider decides to go into a neighbourhood and spruce it up, we immediately run into the issue of agency. To me the important question in wall art is always - Whose wall is it? Whose choices are these? What power issues are at play? Agency is everything.

I can't help thinking that the locals (i.e. the original residents of the village) probably prefer art that is more in keeping with their own traditions. We see great wall art all over Rajasthan, UP, etc. Here's the most photographed elephant wall art in Udaipur:
I also really loved this representation of Hanuman in Jaisalmer, outside the Hanuman Temple. I wonder which artist did this.
I've spotted some incredible wall art all over India; plastered on humble mud-huts sometimes; and sometimes decorating havelis and temples. This one is from one of the alleys at Varanasi:
My personal opinion is that traditional stuff like this would have probably worked better for the local residents of Shahpur Jat and made them feel this was a real "beautification of the neighbourhood" (which is what St. Art calls this project). Not to mention, it would have kept some traditional artists employed.

But this project was not commissioned by locals. They didn't pay for it. That immediately changes things, doesn't it? They were asked to lend their walls for a free beautification project. Maybe the goose with the metallic beak is something that the flat-owner didn't really want. Maybe he just figured he was getting something for free; and decided to not look a gift horse in the mouth. Maybe he hates it now; then again, maybe he loves it now.

Actually nothing about art is straightforward. What is "modern art", anyway? Art is not static. It's not as if we can draw a line between "modern" and "traditional" Indian art. That Hanuman painting on the wall of Jaisalmer temple is pretty funky / modern if you ask me. I know that probably *everyone* in Shahpur Jat loves this one of  'Fearless Nadia' by Ranjit Dahiya:
All art is a commentary about the world we see around us; interpreted through our individual lenses. The techno-goose is one such commentary; so is the gorgeous Nadia, and so are Lullini's weird snakes. The new generation in Shahpur Jat probably doesn't think the same way as their parents; maybe they like looking at art that rebels, or art that provokes. We should not be rejecting contemporary expressions of aesthetics; or we'll just stagnate.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Next batch of Delhi by Metro guides!

Some of our 2014 batch of Delhi by Metro guides! Training begins next week. Photo taken at the Manzil centre at Sujan Singh Park.
This programme is done in partnership with Manzil, a non-profit that works in empowement and upskilling of young people. You can read more about it here: