Looking through Walls: Architecture in the age of McDonalds

In the heady aftermath of independence, the colonial bungalow was a disturbing sight to the millions of natives celebrating the birth of a new nation. How could the designs of an alien race—however suited they might be to Indian conditions—ever find acceptance among a free people? After 300 years of colonialism, it became essential to replace the bungalow with something new, something that symbolised the spirit of freedom.

Released from architectural bondage, the new Indian was in a mood for some happy experimentation. So, in designing his house he dispensed with archaic notions like comfort, practicality, began to make liberal copies of European palaces and villas from design journals smuggled in from the West. Renaissance windows, Baroque embellishments, Tudor gables began to appear on facades. Inside, a decorative staircase copied from a Hollywood film invariably sat alongside another for the actual climbing; a Gothic window was put in for a view of the milk booth on the road. Mouldings and decorative elements from Germany, Greece and Italy were added in a friendly composition pleasing to the eye, especially when closed. Concrete was the symbol of new India… the terrain, culture or climate did not matter. In time, it all looked alike. At last, Indian architecture was free of domination from any single foreign power!1

  • 1. Gautam Bhatia, The Modernitis Plague in India at 60, Outlook Publishing (India), 2007
High Raise of Bunglows
High Raise of Bunglows: The Bungalow, Bungla, Bungle-o - so Bengali so English. For all these memsahibs from Surrey and Devonshire and York and Stratford, white ladies of delicate skin and constitution, it was the perfect answer. A little enclave, little England it was, where all the finer aspect of culture could be preserved and protected and practiced. Then the bloody Indians moved in, and it was the end, the beginning of the end… I too grew up in a bungalow. One of these low buildings spreading along the ground, set far back from the boundary in its own 2-acre compound .The mali was always there, a permanent movable fixture of the ground… never doing much, just managing and rearranging clods of earth the guy was part of the setting - like the green, Jeffrey, the cream-colored Ambassador car. But abort the house. All bungalows were yellow, sort of creams coloured like the Ambassador. Thick walled, again like the car, they moved just as fast, peeling and staining with the monsoon. Verahndahs surrounded it just the way rooms in a haveli surrounded a courtyard. High ceilings and ventilators did for it what the courtyard had done for the haveli – venting the hot air that rose up in the memsahib’s lungs when she spoke to the native servant, and keeping the inside cool. In summer the sun drenched the house in a white heat that it hurt to even look out but by then the chick had been unrolled in the verandahs and the rooms were as dark as movie halls. Still, a little light could seep in through ceiling vents and light up details that you wouldn’t normally notice – plaster cracks, monsoon water stains, cities of cobwebs, … through the chik you could make out the Amaltas grapes swimming in the hot … yellow grass as thirsty as the mali lying in a dead heap under the neem. Terracotta surahies appeared on the pantry ledge, topped with downturned glasses, khus coolers droned on through the afternoon dripping and thickinng rooms with their smell. Sandal syrup in an ice jug, Gunna sticks peeled and glistening on the dining table. A wooden ice cream makes maker to mixture …..O yes. Those days. But what now? Now the year of the 21st century…. The year of the Builder, the Developer, the Destroyer. What now, What next. The city, now a storehouse of the new imagination. No longer the gratifying room of a bungalow, a ruin; all around a new demographic explosion people shifting residence, new lives, new places, change is necessary, desirable profitable. Demolish the old, make room for bigger better ventures, luxury high rise apartments in central neighbourhoods. Only 22 minuets from the city centre. Bring happiness back into your life with a parcel of our space, your very own air space on the 20th floor. All for a good cause, all for a new improved quality of life. All for you, and your children. Come to Greenfield, come to Lake Woods. Own your town villa in Malibu Towne, Just come to Bungalow Heightes. To your own private bungalow in the sky with two acres of lawn and your very own mali. 4-6 bedroom models available in a variety of styles - Venetian Gothic Spanish Hacicuda, Palladian Manor .. Just do it. © Gautam Bhatia