What is a cultural space?

BANGALORE - 29.09.2011 : (L-R) Ashish Rajadhyaksha, senior fellow Centre for the Study of Culture and Society (CSCS), Shobha Nambisan, Director of National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA), and Mithri Das Gupta, Swissnex India, attend the open consultation on âBangalore as a creative city: towards policy recommendations', at National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA) on Palace Road, in Bangalore on September 29, 2011. Photo K. Murali Kumar.   | Photo Credit: K_Murali Kumar

In our hurriedness to define “culture” in the contemporary contexts, are weglossing over the fact that culture means a “way of life”? Or is it time that we admit our amnesia for an entire way of life as we stand to redefine what constitutes a cityscape? As we expand our horizons, cuisines, tastes and perceptions to include more of the global and less of the local, our imagination of the city stands dramatically altered.Hence, in our definition of a “creative city”, the decentralised past in which there was “ dombaraata” on the streets, “ nataka” in Ravindra Kalakshetra, “kabbadi matches” in various city circles, “ chikka karaga” in small localities, “ dodda karaga” and “ garadi mane” in the old Pete area, no longer forms a part of our imagination.

In a day-long open consultation to discuss policy recommendations involving Urban Arts and Culture Spaces for “Bangalore as a creative city”, organised by Centre for Study of Culture and Society and National Gallery of Modern Art, the models that emerged seemed to implant a Singapore or Manhattan on Bangalore. “What is a non-cultural space?” Naresh Narasimhan, architect from a leading Bangalore-based firm asked “What is a Non-Cultural Space” in his presentation. With a stunning visual of the City Market's flower market, he brought up worlds that we have forgotten. “This place pulsates with culture. Everyday, the smells and sights change, as do the colours. It is the most dramatic cultural space,” he observed.

Bangalore was made up of several villages, each with its own festivals and jaatres. Every village had a water body, and its public space was a temple. The city phenomenon steam rolled all the villages along with its cultural practises, thereby erasing all sites of creativity. “If BBMP swallowed 300 villages, BMRDA swallowed 1000,” and now you find the city filled with dissonant images of a humungous flyover under which you find a dilapidated temple. “All we now care for is how to make our cars go faster,” argued Naresh.

Bangalore's vibrant character and lush landscape has made way for a monolithic understanding of cultural spaces. “Hence, when we now celebrate manufactured green sites within new, massive structures, we forget that it used to be someone's way of life,” said Naresh.

For Soumitra Ghosh, the architect who transformed Bangalore's Central Jail into Freedom Park, linking different projects to one space seemed important. “Every space has to become a bigger organism. For instance, the Freedom Park must be visited as a green place as well as a site of history. Multiple representations must be possible,” he said.

“Bangalore has to remain Bangalore, and not model itself on Singapore or San Francisco,” theatre practitioner Prakash Belawadi said emphatically, extending Naresh's argument. He said many things changed 15 years ago in the city's landscape and demographics, when Deve Gowda came to power and declared a 10-year tax holiday to the IT industry. Things did change superficially and a whole lot of people arrived in Bangalore. This was similar to the Nehruvian era and coming of public sectors, followed by the Peenya Industrial Estate. People from other parts of the country came to the city even then, but learnt the local language and became participants in the local culture. “But the new community that has descended on Bangalore in the last decade completely ignored the city's cultural past.” St. Mary's Feast and Kadlekayi Parishe that attracts millions of people is seen as a nuisance. The 75-year-old Ramanavami music festival at Fort High School which had, through the years, Saleh Ahmed supplying furniture and Hussain Brothers erecting the pandal, is ignored.

Now, the scene has transformed: seven Kannada FM channels play today, the highest selling newspapers are Kannada dailies – suddenly there is a cultural clinging by the “low brow” Kannada population, displacing the all-inclusive cosmopolitan Kannada constituency. “The Kannada that has come to occupy public space is worrisome, and hence it is imperative that we find a half-way home for the future of our children,” he argued.

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