Saturday, October 16, 2010

Invisible Cities – Italo Calvino (Theory of Settlements)

Invisible Cities – Italo Calvino

‘From now on, I'll describe the cities to you, in your journeys you will see if they exist.’ – says the great Kublai Khan to the storyteller and adventurer from Venice, Marco Polo. For Polo describes to the Great Khan the multitudes of cities he has chanced upon in his travels. Each city more fantastic than the previous. Some real and present, others just possibilities of what the cities could have been or were at some point of time.

Marco Polo describes not the cities as we see them. We see the buildings, the parks, the avenues, bridges and walkways. Polo sees more. He sees the oddballs on the streets. He sees the pasts of the cities. He learns of the desires that shaped the cities. He hears stories of how the cities came to be. He finds the hopes for which the cities were made.

His stories are at times unbelievable. Leonia - where every day it refashions itself. Where ‘every morning the people wake between fresh sheets, wash with just-unwrapped cakes of soap, wear brand-new clothing, take from the latest model refrigerator still unopened tins, listening to the last-minute jingles from the most up-to-date radio.’ At other times they are amazingly true, and mirror every human aspiration and ambition - like in Perinthia, where the astronomers established the place, the date, the orientation and the streets, all according to the stars. The city being divided into twelve parts so that at any given time, the blessings of the zodiac are upon its inhabitants.

There are stories of cities that are not made of stone and mortar, but of the conversations spoken by its people. As in Melania where ‘the braggart soldier and the parasite coming from a door meet the young wastrel and the prostitute; or else the miserly father from his threshold utters his final warnings to the amorous daughter and is interrupted by the foolish servant who is taking a note to the procuress.’ As time passes, the dialogues of this play that is Melania remain the same while the actors keep changing with the soldier, the wastrel and the prostitute being replaced by the hypocrite, the confidante and the astrologer. In time, they will be replaced too.

Yet other stories are of mystical cities. Of cities that rise in the air above the clouds on stilts, approachable only by ladders. Of cities made along the paths that a beautiful woman took while being chased by its creators on a beautiful night. The creators making the city so that should the woman come again, she would not be able to run away. Of cities that have three parts - one of its dead, one that is now and one of the ones yet to come - all called by the same name.

A bigger storyteller than his fictional Marco Polo is Italo Calvino. For he has woven fantasies and realities around the places we think we ‘see’. All the fifty-five cities he describes are different. Each named as a woman and each described with a passion that only a romantic like Calvino could do for such wonderful beauties. If you have the patience to read through his tribute to his true love, he promises to change how you look at his muse – the city – differently forever.

Image Source : Google Images -

Friday, October 15, 2010

Urban (Theory of Settlements)

                                                          Urban - Where speed is of Import

Cities (Theory of Settlements)






Thursday, August 5, 2010

Terry Pratchett's Discworld(Theory of Settlements)

Terry Pratchett's Discworld (Theory of Settlements)

Deep in space swims the Great A'tuin the heavenly turtle. He swims. Where, no one knows. On his back stand the four great elephants of the directions. They have been standing since the dawn of time (but they shift weight once in a while). On their backs lies Discworld. From the Cori Celesti at the centre, to the Hubward Mountains, the Ramtops, the circle sea and the rim ocean, all of Discworld rotates turnwise.

The Gods of Discworld live on the Cori Celesti, where they play games with the lives of the inhabitants of Discworld. The have a board of Discworld on which - if you look hard enough - at the Cori Celesti there is a smaller model of the Discworld on which there is a further smaller model and on and on and on and on till you brain explodes with the thought of it all.

Many great cities exist on Discworld. The most obscure of them all is Hunghung, the capital of the counterweight continent. The entire continent is surrounded by a great wall to protect its people from the vicious blood sucking ghosts the people there believe exist beyond those walls. The streets of Hunghung are crowded. So crowded in fact that on Sundays there is just about enough space to walk. The counterweight continent is ruled an emperor chosen from one of the five families who constantly murder one another to become the next emperor.

Another great city is Al-Khali capital of Klatch. The City is ruled by the great Seriph, a poet by compulsion and not a very good one at that. Klatch is home to several hundreds of tribes, chief among them the D'regs, who may not harm a visitor for at least 72 hours.

The greatest city in Discworld is Ankh-Morpork. The city of a million dreams ; all of them swindled. The city spanning the only river you can walk on (the Ankh has no water – if it has any liquid it is not advisable to come in contact with it). The city which has long since abandoned an army because their motto is - “if you fight us, well call in your mortgages”. Economy is so central to Ankh-Morpork that every profession has a guild. The Thieves Guild (whom you can pay an advance to prevent random thieving), The Assassin's Guild, The Beggar's Guild and even The 'Seamstresses' Guild. Unlicensed begging, thieving assassination and other activities can result in swift punishment.

Ankh-Morpork is also the home of The Unseen University, the premier university for wizards on Discworld. The UU has more students than it can handle, more faculty than it needs and more twists and turns than anyone can remember. The greatest spectacle of the UU is the library. Manned by the librarian ; an orangutan as for as much his life as anyone can remember, it bends the laws of space and time. The library contains all the books that have been written, that are being written and will ever be written in any universe at any time.

This is but a peek into Discworld, a world so complicated and confused, it makes our world look as simple as a pin-head (in our universe it is quite simple, but in other universe it can be quite complicated you know). Enter Discworld at your own peril.

Kibithu, Anjaw District, Arunachal Pradesh (Theory of Settlements)

Kibithu, Anjaw District, Arunachal Pradesh (Theory of Settlements)

Strong memories are on many occasions based on a single event that burns itself deep in to our minds. Rarely are they based on the whole experience of a place itself. The strongest memory I have of visiting a single place is Kibithu in Arunachal Pradesh, where my father was commanding his battalion in 2003.

Kibithu is the place where the Lohit River enters India from China.  The travel to Kibithu involves a train trip to Tinsukhia, followed by road trip to Tezu. After a halt at Tezu, Kibithu lies almost an entire day’s travel up the Lohit valley. During the  journey one passes the town of Hayuliang and the historic village of Walong. Walong is best known as the furthest Indian territory captured by the Chinese during the 1962 Indo-China War.

The Lohit Valley is perhaps the most picturesque valleys in my opinion in the north east. The one colour that pervades the environment is green. Green fields, green trees, green forests of wild banana. Only on days when there are no clouds, usually in the winter and peak summer, can you see the only other colour to figure so prominently – the blue of the sky. The colours blue and green together create a beautiful and blissful scenery.

 Kibithu is the last village on the road up the Lohit Valley. Located on a ridge and surrounded on three sides by the bend of the Lohit River, it forms almost a natural representation of the India-China border. The village itself consists of less than 60 people, half of whom travel to Walong or Hayuliang for work. The local school teaches only till 4th standard ; further education has to be sought after at Walong. The village is heavily dependent on the army battalion stationed there. In fact the computer centre at the school consists completely of unused computers given by the army.

While being remote Kibithu still has a thrill ride. The foot suspension bridge (FSB) across the river is a ride not for the faint of heart. There are gaps between the planks through which one can see the raging river below. The ropes holding up the bridge are at least a few decades old and their tattered look does nothing to reinforce your faith in them. On an average day the winds blowing through the valley swing the bridge by at least a metre or two. On an especially windy day the wind swing the bridge so much that one might as well walk on a wall. I never made it across, as the thought of the possibility of falling into the water below overpowered any brave misconceptions I had of crossing it.

Ahead of Kibithu lie the posts of Wacha and Dichu. Dichu lies across the FSB while Wacha is a two to three hour light trek away. Wacha is the furthest one can go without reaching China. In fact there is a board written in Chinese at Wacha alerting any stray wanderers from the other side that they are entering Indian territory and are liable to get shot at.

The Lohit Valley is one of the few remaining untouched places in India. While rapid development is happening in the valley, it is imperative that the people there take an active interest in preserving the rich natural heritage they have been blessed with. I hope that one day I can return to the Lohit Valley and refresh the memories that have been burned in my mind and hopefully done the same to others who have visited it.