Before Old Delhi, there was Mehrauli. This urban village has held the interest of tourists, historians and urban planners for over three decades. A group called Mehrauli Collective, which includes architecture firm GREHA, Sehreeti, a platform that believes in co-creating spaces, and INDES, a not-for-profit organisation that believes in democratic design, has been organising workshops in Mehrauli since the beginning of this month. The next one in the series will delve into people’s perception of space and place. The workshops, which continue till the end of this year, will culminate in a four-week programme, with architects, designers, artistes and sociologists working with the community for an on-site transformation. Architect Ashish Ganju, founder of Greha, talks about conservation, stitching the urban fabric and brewing design in a magic cauldron. Excerpts:
Why was Mehrauli the chosen site?
Mehrauli has been the subject for conservationists for many years, since the ’80s. It’s got the Mehrauli Archaeological Park, the Qutub Complex, which is a World Heritage Site, and other architectural and cultural histories. The Indian National Trust for Arts and Cultural Heritage (Intach) was concerned that conservation done all over the country tends to be elitist, and that it doesn’t engage with people. They asked Greha to look at Mehrauli as a settlement.
What makes conservation and community engagement at Mehrauli different from what is being done by the Aga Khan Foundation at the Nizammuddin Basti?
Nizammudin is one of the few successful conservation exercises in the country that involves people as well. But it’s about scale. Nizammudin Basti is like a family, but Mehrauli is a microcosm of the city. Nizammuddin is also funded in an organised manner, and it’s been happening for more than a decade.
But what will it mean to rediscover Mehrauli?
Amid all the cultural assets that Mehrauli has, it’s the general degradation that needs attention. There is urban decay everywhere, how can we expect its inhabitants to care for the ruins when the physical space they live in is in shambles? We intend to make a physical transformation in Bhul Bhulaiya, which is what we call the ‘gateway to Mehrauli’.
But there are many organisations, such as Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) and Intach, already working in this precinct.
The ASI and Intach have been working for a long time. There have been studies done by scholars too over the years. Mehrauli is growing, and despite several attempts by local governing bodies and private initiatives, I feel administrative delinquency of centuries still continues. That is why we need to stitch together these multiple initiatives, where the social and cultural assets can be synergised.
Where do you see these workshops headed?
They are like trailers, both for mentors and the community who can partner together for the four-week workshop later this year that will evolve into a physical transformation on-site. We will work with experts and the government bodies. To investigate urban life, it has to be through multiple processes. For instance, if you spend an evening at Adham Khan’s Tomb, you will see a confluence of culture. The tomb doesn’t exist by itself. There is Sanjay Van to one side, the triangular park in front and the bus stand further ahead. Our Archaeological Act doesn’t take context into account, it usually cordons off monuments as a means of protecting the monument.
What do you think will be the outcome of your interventions finally?
Honestly, I don’t know. It is like a witches brew, we don’t know what will go into it, and what will emerge.