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Radical Housing and Socially-Engaged Art

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In order to get all the participating artists acquainted to Pune, a cultural-heritage walk was planned. Beginning from the emblematic early 18th century Shaniwar Wada, the seat of the Peshwa’s rule to the still functional colonial structure of the Mahatma Jyotiba Phule Mandai; it was interesting to see the proximity, cultural closeness and the liveliness within these spaces. The tour was sponsored by INTACH and headed by Sourabh Marathe, a Pune based Conservational Architect, who provided not just factual data but developed a sense of involvement with the space.

The tour started from the Shaniwar Wada. This garhi, or fortified palace with its vigilance spaces, secret ways, prominent gateways, courtyards, small chambers and nagarkhana – a wooden hall with ornate pillars, provide a perfect example of its structural proficiency. The nagarkhana was an important part of the palace as musicians would perform there. Despite being engulfed by fire in 1828 the Wada still stands as a remnant of the grandeur of the Peshwas.

From the Shaniwar wada we headed to the side alis, small streets surrounding the palace. These side lanes and the structures dotting them gave a clear picture of the layout of the city around the palace. High structures constructed around a few courtyards, having elaborate decorations on timber would be the residential spaces of the prominent people. These would be surrounded by smaller houses usually of the relatively poor, working / toiling class. The residential spaces like the Patwardhan Wada, Biniwale Wada lining the streets with their timber roofs and toranas, decorated gateways, suggest the level of stylistic confluence in the architectural layouts and decorations, transport viewers spatiotemporally. Further this also attests the eclectic attitude of the Peshwas, be it in terms of statecraft, town planning, architectural understanding, cultural exchange, etc. Unfortunately some of these wadas are in a dilapidated state or on the verge of it, and some being precariously occupied by old residents or small businesses.

The walk through the streets around the Kasba Ganpati Temple gave an understanding of the presence of continuing traditions in terms of craft practices, as seen in the Tambat ali (copper craft precinct), where the traditional vessels are produced. These vessels have a characteristic pattern, created by beating the surface and creating a systematic pattern. The presence in the area was not just a visual treat, the resonating sound for the beating of the vessels created a near overpowering experience. Further one could also trace the visual presence of history in residential spaces – like some houses having cast-iron railing with images of Shivaji on it.

Further after a long walk we headed to the Mahatma Jyotiba Phule Mandai, an example of a Colonial structure with Gothic features. This structure is surrounded by various open makeshift vegetable markets. One such lane is Burud Ali, where bamboo and its products are sold. Sourabh pointed out that interestingly the entire Mandai at a micro level seems to have a self-supporting element, for example, majority of the customers of the bamboo craftsmen are the vegetable vendors of the Mandai itself. Thereby the space does not become a space of individual financial dependency but gives a sense of a collective existence. Not with an intention to summarize the time spent in and through the older part of Pune, in a way, the walk not only familiarized us to these old parts but interestingly traced the dynamics of it through multiple vantage points.