he sky in the city has straight edges. It is usually seen by its citizens as a series of boxed in, greying, blue rectangles Framed, first, by the rising buildings and then by the camera the city becomes a Cityscape. It becomes a Text to be read and an Archive that i s an archaeological and architectural layering of many pasts and many, many presents. The city that is presented to us and to the future is fragmented into photographic frames – photographic framings that are a, subjective, fragmentary looking and a filtered reading of the city- its written texts and its unwritten sub-texts. Samit’s framing of the city is not the classic framing of the now iconic ‘Street Photography’. His photographs are not images as individual photographic jewels in a treasure trove of chance images and happy happenstances. There is no Bressonesquc ‘Decisive Moment’ here and nor are there any Wino grand or Friedlander influenced framings that seek to order the chaos of the city and its streets into formalist, photographic frames.
Samit is not interested in a ‘representational document’ either. His is a more personal quest a more personal gaze that seeks he says, “the poor worn out areas which accumulate past and present traces of a life that has been lived”. This is a palimpsest of the city. The city as a surface built on repeatedly, written on more than once with the many past buildings and writings still visible. Still alive. Yet Samit’s cityscape is not the city seen as ‘living tradition’ stuck in an, unchanging, romanticized past. This is not the City as Nostalgia – memorialized by its monuments. Monumentalized and remade to become a romantic escape-into- the- past magnet for Tourist Dollars. There is no celebration of a grand and hoary past photographed in the warm light of a rising or setting sun. There is certainly no ‘Celebrating of the city as a worthy destination for today’s globalizing Multinational investments. This is a more conceptual take on the flow and the flux of a fast changing city – the city as a living machine that is not just a perfect machine to be lived in. It is a questioning of Utopian dreams of a perfect Urban Order. And it comes at a time when more people will soon live in the cities than outside them.
Samit sees the Indian city as a ‘post-colonial city that is a dynamic machine in which it is possible to Find everything”. His city is an “always changing metropolis characterized by its ability to change in relation to different human and urban needs”. His city is a Heteropolis – a city that accepts many voices and speaks many tongues. It is a city that satisfies different needs and defers to differences in different lives and lifestyles. The third world post-colonial city may be an unplanned mess that does not live up to any great urban plans but i t is alive and opulent in its dense diversity and its organic growth. The growth and diversity appears to be violent and vulgar to the pretty people living in their futuristic, very Western, Privatopias. Their private preserves are increasingly becoming hyper defended Colonies and Estates – tightly guarded ‘gated communities” of The Rich who want to be Super Rich and have already begun to plan and wage their battles against the surging slum cities of the coming decades. The removal of Delhi’s jhuggi clusters and the displacement of the poor to its rocky border lands is more than an attempt to clean up the city for the coming Commonwealth Games’. The clean-up is a sign of the battles to come. “Battles that the Pentagon is already preparing for The Pentagon’s 2020 and 2050 projections for future wars that the American Armed forces will fight see what will be, it says, ‘slum w a r s ‘ . Slum wars that will be fought in the third world’s ‘failed cities’. A deadly Urban Warfare in these slum cities is a future the Pentagon is already preparing for even as the growing Global Villages of the rich enclose their villas behind bigger fences Higher Walls and the latest, offensively defensive, technologies .Technologies and defence strategies that are creating and enforcing class and cultural divides instead of building bridges across the world’s peoples .Will the cities of the third world survive the next few decades? That is the question Samit asks and the answer he gives is anchored in his experiences of Shantiniketan . “We have to”, he says “search out and recognize t h e stones and the trees as they gradually coalesce into the new landscape” of an Utopia inspired by his work on Rabindranath Tagore’s Shantiniketan A Shantiniketan which did not seek to subjugate Nature through a vertical architectural growth A vertical growth that now firmly divides the world and the sky into rigid rectangles.
Text: Satish Sharma
2007 New Delhi (Text Copyright Satish Sharma)
 www. Tomdispatch.com. The Pentagon Solution to a Planet of Slums 2007 by Nick Turse