How Not to Do Things in India

#4 – Build environment-appropriate housing
(aka The Outsider’s Guide to Dillistan: New-new Housing)

1.  Take a vague agglomeration of sleepy, patriarchy-driven villages and connect them by long stretches of roads. Plonk it in the middle of the hot dust-plains of northern India, and call it a city.  When people start laughing, use those lathis you’ve been stockpiling. Let it remain in this state (ha!) for a few decades.  Then,

2. Watch as it partakes in the heady euphoria of a nationwide economic boom. Allow it to host a couple of international sporting events.  Watch as it begins to morph into a thriving, connected metropolis.  Sigh as it remains just as dusty, while becoming even hotter and more patriarchy-driven.  Then,

3. Relax the rules which prevented home owners from building too vertically.  Cite the pressures of a growing-growing-why-aren’t-you-slowing population.  Ignore all aspersions of all the money set to be made by greasing palms at all the various levels of permits and licenses.

4. Let loose a bunch of builders and architects whose sole aim is to make a quick profit, and whose sole inspiration is a photograph of a modern flat in a northern European nation.

5. Watch as the decades-old, sturdily-built, individualistic one-storey houses get demolished and converted into couldn’t-pick-them-apart-in-a-lineup four storey apartment buildings within 10 months.

6. Note the single layer of bricks, the thin coating of cement, the low (false) ceilings, the highly compact and totally anodyne rooms, the giant sheet of glass that’s used to split up the main room into a ‘dining area’, the lack of any substantially-large windows that can be opened, the absence of a utility room, the non-existent storage area, the replacement of front- and back-facing walls by a giant sheet of glass, the split ACs in every room, the massive underground tanks and automatic pumps that function day and night, the non-double-glazed non-soundproofed nature of the giant sheets of glass, the teeny-tiny balconies that don’t offer enough space for plants to be grown, and the giant sheets of glass glass and more glass everyghelchodiawhere.

7.  Consider that this city has an average daytime temperature of 40C for four months of the year, an average night-time temperature of 7C for another three months, has a modest rainy season which precludes grey skies for most of another two months, bears the periodic brunt of winds rasping across the western and northern plains which bring in mounds of dust, is constantly alive to the sounds of endless traffic snarls (and the attendant honking) because of the addition of 1,500 new cars each day onto the roads, is in the throes of a full-fledged construction boom that has resulted in a perpetual background symphony of hammering and trundling and screeching (not to mention causing even more dust to float around), where electricity shortages are only worsening every month due to the unthinking way it is being guzzled, and which is so landlocked it does not benefit from the relief of sea-breezes.

8. Wait for the inhabitants to realise that these daft structures will be suffocating in the summer due to the lack of cross currents, freezing in winter because of the thinness of the glass, will be perpetually curtained off due to sharp sun streaming in through the giant sheets of glass, and will almost always require ACs if they want to keep breathing.

9. Slowly realise that they are instead touting these new constructions as better than the old ones, and pricing them higher, because they’re ‘modern’.  And that all their neighbours are also following this exact same design for the buildings they’re coming up with, to cash in on the boom.

10.  Weep.