Wood carving in Ahmedabad

POL

The old part of the city of Ahmedabad is divided into self-contained districts, like gated communities, called pols. Each pol has its own single gated entrance which gives sole access to a number of narrow streets. The narrow streets are lined by tall buildings, which together render the temperature of the pols at ground level far lower than the temperature in wider streets and open places in the city.

In times of trouble and strife, the gates of a pol can be closed to prevent intruders entering it. Secret passages lead from one pol to its neighbour(s). Pols have their own wells. 

Often a pol is inhabited by families that have something in common, for example religion, caste or profession.

One of the many delights of the pols in Ahmedabad (they are also found in Baroda) is that they often contain buildings decorated with intricately carved woodwwork decorative and stuctural features.

For tourists, a pol is not only a place that they can literally ‘chill out’ but also they can experience a valuable part of Ahmedabad’s living history.

Ginger: pounded or grated?

ginger

 

The road-side tea-makers found all over Gujarat make hot milky tea flavoured with various additives. Sugar is almost always added. Ginger is another ingredient often used. It is added to the boiling mixture of milk and tea, which is strained through cloth when it has been boiled sufficiently. Many tea makers grate their ginger using metal graters. A few others, like the man in my photograph taken near Manek Chowk in Ahmedabad, prefer to pound their ginger in a pestle and mortar. Whether using grating or pounding  makes much of a difference to the enjoyment of the tea is a matter of personal opinion.

Bricks for business

BRICKS FOR BUSINESS

Ahmedabad is rich in exciting 20th century architecture, designed both by Indian and non-Indian architects. 

The prestigious, highly-rated IIMA (Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad) was founded in 1961. Apart from being one of the world’s most respected business schools, its  vast campus is home to an architectural complex designed by the American architect Loouis Kahn (1901-74), who was born in Estonia, when it was part of the Czarist Russian Empire.

His work at the IIMA is a set of brick buildings elegantly designed with archways, circular apertures, and shady walkways.Kahn worked on this project from 1962 until his death. The Ahmedabad-based architect BV Doshi, who studied alongside Le Corbusier and was influenced by Kahn, was also involved in the design, although the greater part of the credit for the design should be given to Kahn. 

We were lucky to have had a contact who was able to get us permission to visit IIMA, which is usually not open to visitors, who have no business with the institute.

 

 

Tea in a bag

Tea bag

 

In Porbandar, the city where Mahatma Gandhi was born, we found a small tea-stall.

As we drank our tiny cups of milky, spiced tea, we watched the chaiwallah filling narrow, cylindrical plastic tubes with hot tea. When these thin-walled short cylinders are almost filled, they are tied closed and handed to customers to drink elsewhere. Later, we learned that these popular thin plastic containers of ‘take-away’ tea pose a potential health hazard because the hot drink leaches toxic chemicals from the plastic. 

The picture above, which was taken in Ahmedabad, shows a portion of take-away tea in a bag rather than a tube. 

Just as in the UK, take-away and home delivery foods and drinks are becoming popular in India. There are many mobile ‘phone ‘apps’ that allow the customer to order the food or drinks in advance. Often, motorcyclists deliver what is ordered. In India, the Swiggy company does the same kind of work as Deliveroo does in the UK. However, hot tea in a plastic bag is a product yet to arrive on the British ‘scene’.

Ellis Bridge

Ahmedabad was founded on the east bank of the River Sabarmati in the 15th century. Until 1871, there was no bridge across the river from the city to the west bank. In that year, a wooden bridge was constructed.

A few years later, the wooden bridge was destroyed by floods. In 1892, a steel bridge was constructed. This was designed by an Indian engineer HD Bhachech and named in honour of a British colonial official named Ellis.

The Ellis Bridge remained in use until 1997, when it was closed. By 1999, two concrete bridges were constructed, one on each side of the old bridge. These new, wider bridges form what is now known as the Swamivivekananda Bridge. The old Ellis Bridge flanked by the two concrete bridges, heavily laden with traffic, has been preserved as a heritage monument.

The old Ellis Bridge, which existed when Gandhi returned to India from South Africa in about 1917, leads from the old city to Kochrab, where the Mahatma set up his first ashram in India.

Feeding the poor

A few years ago, I was on Calcutta during the August monsoon. As I waded through the filthy rain water flooding the streets of a bazaar area, I noticed that at quite a few clothing material shops run by Moslems there were huge pots of rice and dal or curry. These were manned by shop staff. They were doling out this food to various poorly clothed passers by.

I asked what was going on. One shop keeper told me that during Ramadan it was considered virtuous to feed the poor while the faithful Moslems upheld their required daily fasting. This charitable activity impressed me.

During a recent visit to Ahmedabad in February, I passed an eatery, whose signboard read Muslim Kifayat Hotel, hotel being Indian English for restaurant.

Kifayat is the Urdu word for ‘sufficiency’. It may have other meanings in Hindi.

The restaurant under discussion is on one side of the enormous market place that extends from the Bhadra Fort through the three arches of the 15th century Teen Darwaza and beyond.

Rows of benches are lined up on the pavement in front of the open fronted restaurant. Often, these are occupied by people, who appear to be extremely impoverished. Food (all vegetarian) is prepared at the front if the restaurant in huge pots and a tandoor oven.

One of the men running the Kifayat Hotel explained that the meals they served – dal, rice, freshly cooked rotis, and vegetables – are normally priced at 40 rupees, but poor people pay no more than half of that amount.

Later while exploring Ahmedabad we spotted other eateries like the Kifayat Hotel, and like that place they had rows of benches in front of them. Often, these seats were quite crowded with men, women, and children.

I have yet to discover whether the charitable eating places we saw on Ahmedabad are self-financing or to some extent assisted by charitable institutions.

P.S. just before publishing this, I visited a Hindu temple in Koramangala, Bangalore. Every Thursday, lunch is provided free of charge to anyone who turns up, regardless of their religious belief.

A peculiar street object

Happy Valentine’s Day!

In the historic centres of both Ahmedabad and Baroda (Vadodara), there are a few very tall, several storeys high (higher than the buildings next to them), metal poles sprouting from the pavement. They are all topped with metalwork objects as illustrated in my photograph published below.

Most people, whom I asked, had no idea what purpose these poles and their curious apparatus served. I posted pictures of these tall poles on Facebook, and then received a number of suggestions as to what they might be. Most people, seeing the arrows, suggested that they may have been old weather vanes for determining wind direction, but I felt that this was an unlikely for these poles that look as if they were put up by a municipal authority.

One person I asked in a street in Ahmedabad thought that the poles had something to do with drainage, maybe ventilation. I quite liked that speculative reply because the spheres surmounting all of the poles have two short pipes attached to them.

Recently whilst looking at the Internet I came across a picture (see https://www.arcgis.com/apps/MapJournal/index.html?appid=4c10a18d5cfa4da486df492765c2ad54) like mine. The picture was taken in Ahmedabad and is described as a sewage gas vent. This tallies with what I was told by one bystander.

A sewage gas vent that might have rotated to catch the prevaing breezes seems to be a plausible function for these poles BUT I cannot yet be sure if this is correct.

If anyone reading this can enlighten me more, please drop me a line or two in the comments section of this blog.

Chilling with ceramics

All over Gujarat, in villages and towns and in between, I have seen concrete benches whose surfaces are covered with ceramic tiles or selected flat fragments of broken ceramic plates.

Fragments of ceramic tiling are also used to cover outer surfaces of buildings. A notable example is the curious Amdavad ni Gufa in Ahmedabad designed by architect BV Doshi.

Also, I have seen floors inside buildings covered with a mosaic of tiled fragments, rather than wood, clay, carpeting, or marble.

Why is ceramic tiling used so much in Gujarat. The answer is related to Gujarat’s usually hot climate. I am not a physicist, but the following seems to be the explanation. Ceramic tiles conduct heat well and dosperse heat rapidly from its point of contact.

A surface feels cool to the touch if heat flows from your body to it. The faster the heat is conducted from your body, the cooler the surface will feel.

Providing that the ambient temperature is below body temperature, ceramic tiles, unlike for example wood or carpet, will always feel cold to the touch. This is because heat flowing from the body to the cooler ceramics does so very rapidly in this material. The heat flows away quickly from the point of contact into the rest of the ceramic. In contrast, when you touch wood or cloth, heat will flow from your body to the material but will be dispersed away from the point of contact far slower than in ceramic. Therefore, touching wood or cloth gives rise to less of a sensation of cooling than touching ceramic.

Furthermore, covering buildings with ceramic as described above helps insulate their interiors from being warmed by the hot sun, which shines in Gujarat.

If my physics is faulty, please help me get it right by submitting a polite comment.

PS Metals have an even higher thermal conductivity than ceramics, but a far lower thermal capacity. This means that at any temperature, it will take far longer to warm a piece of ceramic than a similarly dimensioned piece of metal.

An art bookshop in Ahmedabad: Art Book Center

This small gem of bookshop in Ahmedabad is a wonderful discovery. It was recommended to us by Mr Shukla who is the General Secretary of the Ahmedabad Textile Mill Owners Association, which is housed in a masterpiece by the architectural genius Le Corbusier.

The bookshop, a true life Aladdin’s cave, is on the first floor of a residential building. It is reached by a steep ladder like staircase typical of those found in houses all over Gujarat. The steps lead to a balcony which is festooned with colourful folkloric items. A doorway leads from there into the shop itself.

The walls of the small, cosy shop are lined with neatly stacked book cases. Piles of books rise from the floor. On the walls and in between the book cases, there are numerous folkloric artworks and practical items including beautifully embroidered and printed textiles. We were welcomed by Manarbhai and Ketan, one of his two sons. They invited us to sit down.

Manarbhai worked for many years as a typist in the Mathematics Department of the University of Gujarat. He was no ordinary typist. He was able to type mathematical equations, which was no easy feat in the era before computerised word processors became available.

Manarbhai began his book business as a part time enterprise. In 1970, he converted part of his home into what is now his shop. At first, he only opened his shop on weekends. Now, it is open every day between 10 am and 6 pm.

The shop specialises mainly in books on art and architecture. It contains many books about textiles. Many of the volumes available are rare editions. If what you wish is not stocked, Manarbhai and his sons will do their best to source it, and then send it to you anywhere in the world.

It soon became apparent to us that Manarbhai and Ketan are extremely knowledgeable about books in the fields on which they specialise. They are also sensitively intelligent salesmen. Very quickly, they assessed our particular interests and began showing us books that were in harmony with them. We came away with a valuable selection of books that will help satisfy our curiosity about the fascinating history of the city of Ahmedabad.

This is a bookshop for true book lovers and collectors. It should be on every bibliophile’s itinerary. What Manarbhai cannot find for your bookshelf is probably not worth having.

Address: near Jain Temple, Madalpur, Ellis Bridge, Ahmedabad 380006