Society

How a Memory Maps project is creating a sense of belonging in Bengaluru

The soul of the city: How Aliyeh Rizvi and Arzu Mistry, through their Memory Maps project, are attempting to create a sense of belonging to the city

The midmorning sun is warm, indicating the arrival of early summer in Bengaluru. Walkers and joggers at Sankey Tank make their exit. A few latecomers enter, ready to brave the heat. But mostly, the place is vacant. On the steps of the smaller, square tank inside the premises, pigeons outnumber humans. They are perhaps waiting with false hopes for puffed rice or whatever food humans usually throw for them. A few turtles swim on the surface of the water, near the steps, attracting the attention of a child who shrieks, “Tuttle! tuttle!”

The sight is pleasing. This is perhaps how Sankey Tank always looks on Friday mornings.

Outside the tank’s premises, amidst a group clasping small notebooks and pens or pencils, was Harry Kukreja, 54, who has lived all his life near Sankey Tank, in Sadashivnagar. To him, oddly, the sight and even the place is unfamiliar. For, this isn’t the Sankey Tank that existed while he grew up. The smaller tank, for instance, wasn’t there. The main tank itself was much greener and bigger.

One of the places near the now 137-year-old tank was a low-lying vacant strip of land called Deeps. It was a name the locals gave it because the place was, well, deep. According to Kukreja, it was a rainwater catchment area, which was connected to the main tank with a pipe. Growing up, it was a favourite haunt for Kukreja and the other children in his neighbourhood. “We would go there to play cricket, we learnt riding bicycles, motorbikes…” he recalls. Where Deeps was, there is now the Sadashivnagar Park. You might not find Deeps even if you Google it. It doesn’t exist on the internet. It doesn’t exist in the real world. It exists only in the collective memories of a few Sadashivnagar residents.

Walk and workshop

Travel writer Aliyeh Rizvi and artist Arzu Mistry, since the beginning of the 2010s, were working on their projects, separately. Aliyeh was busy with Native Place (which was about building awareness on Bengaluru’s history and culture through walks) and Arzu with Art in Transit (which was about starting a dialogue about the city through art). Both received positive responses for their projects. When, in 2016, they collaborated for the first time, it didn’t take long to figure out that their works shared the same objective: connecting people and the city. So, for the next two years, they devised what they now call Memory Maps.

Memory Maps is a walk-workshop combination that helps people foster a sense of belonging to the city (read the box to know how). It asks people to be psychogeographers (definition on the other box). It encourages people to take a stroll around the city; investigate its alleys, roads, lakes, parks and buildings; and get lost in it.

How a Memory Maps project is creating a sense of belonging in Bengaluru

Why it’s good to get lost

With the aid of our smart devices, we are increasingly getting quicker, more efficient in getting from one point to another. But we might lose our agency if we mindlessly pursue convenience and efficiency. The sophisticated algorithms that Facebook or Google deploy will determine where we go and what we do within a city.

“Google maps don’t allow us to get lost,” says Arzu. “Of course, it makes navigation easier. But it doesn’t leave room for curiosity. When you are lost, you feel confused. But that confusion causes you to explore.”

Aliyeh concurs. “The real essence of travel comes from a (physical) map and not an app. Getting lost is an adventure. And apps don’t allow us to do that.”

Aliyeh, who was born and brought up in Bengaluru, has always liked walking. It helps her observe and register, at her own pace, buildings, streets, people, shops, statues, et al. — these things are essential for her as a writer of travel, history, and culture. “And, Bangalore, especially, is meant for walking. We keep complaining of the city’s traffic. But this city was never meant for so many cars; it was a small cantonment city meant for pedestrians and carriages.”

Covering the city

An important part of Aliyeh and Arzu’s Memory Maps is walking. But the duo clarify that they don’t conduct a heritage walk; “it is more interpretative, where you observe and think about things.” So far, they have covered Cubbon Park, Malleshwaram, Richmond Town and, recently, Sadashivnagar, as a part of the City Scripts event organised by IIHS, in which Kukreja participated. The demography of the participants keeps varying. For instance, the Cubbon Park Memory Maps had mostly natives of Bengaluru, whereas the Sadashivnagar edition had only a handful of people who were born and brought up in the city.

After every edition of Memory Maps, Aliyeh and Arzu compile the participants’ maps into a book. Arzu and Aliyeh want to take their project not only to more places but also to more communities.

For instance, they have tied up with the transgender community, Aravani Art Project, for their next Memory Map edition.

Sitaram Sujir, a psychologist, was one of the participants of Memory Walks at Sadashivnagar. He has been living in Bengaluru for the last two decades. Still, the city, he says, appears new to him, everyday. “Irrespective of the number of years you live in a city, you don’t always explore it fully. I want to do that. I stay in Sanjaynagar but I want to meet people from other parts of the city, get to know their stories.” It is the reason why he signed up for Memory Maps.

“I wish to do a similar project in my hometown, Mangalore,” he says, “There is this Venkataramana temple, which is 250 years old. As per tradition, every year, the deity used to be taken through seven towns within the city. But these towns don’t exist any more.”

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Printable version | Jun 5, 2020 4:06:39 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/society/how-a-memory-maps-project-is-creating-a-sense-of-belonging-in-bengaluru/article31021534.ece

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