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How to plan a not-so-big and not-so-fat Indian wedding

Indian weddings are usually a big affair. A series of functions and rituals precede and proceed the wedding ceremony, the preparations for which start months ahead. Do not underestimate the amount of effort and planning that goes in preparing for these wedding events. Especially when you want to throw a great show and not spend your parents’ lifetime savings on it. But it’s all too common to get so caught up in the makeup, the hair, and the outfits, and then totally forget about the actual experience of the guests!

Make sure your wedding is a reflection of you.

“We were the wedding planners for our own wedding – and it was the best decision we made in the whole process!”The whole experience of a wedding is not only about the final day but also about the whole process, just like a design project. The final day will get over in a blink of an eye but planning it starts months in advance and seeing people enjoy the great show you put up is very satisfying. Make it very clear to your families as well that everyone’s thoughts will be taken into consideration but the final decision will be based on what you and your partner like.

Set up a detailed budget

Celebrate this day but spend smartly. Make a detailed budget and set a spending limit for all important line items like food, venue, decor, clothes, gifts, and accommodation. Planning a budget is not about being miserly – a budget helps you prioritise and create a set of clear goals. It serves as a great framework to work within.

A small snapshot from my wedding budgeting spreadsheet which was a document with 15 pages
Decide the number of events

It is good to have all experiences but everything need not be done at a huge scale. Events like the Mehendi and haldi can be done at home itself with close family and friends. I love dancing and I knew that the Sangeet was the most important event for me. So, that was the biggest of all events with the maximum number of guests. The wedding was a smaller affair with a closer group of people.

Avoid a formal reception as far as possible as it is the most tiring event for the bride and groom and the most boring event for friends and family attending. For the most part, it is a complete waste of money.

The right venue is extremely important

This is one of the most important decisions that will define the entire wedding experience for each and every person who attends your wedding. So make this decision carefully based on your goals. Chose your venue and block the dates well in advance. Sometimes the venue might govern the dates as well. We finalized ours almost a year in advance.

Our big picture goals were:

  1. We didn’t want to get married in a banquet hall. Once you enter a banquet hall, they all look the same irrespective of where they are located. We wanted a beautiful venue nestled in nature, surrounded by trees. A location wherein once people enter, they actually feel good, happy and peaceful.
  2. Also, we wanted a venue which didn’t have a monopoly for caterers and decorators as our wedding food was going to be a completely vegan spread which every caterer would not be ready to do. A vendor with a monopoly has no incentive to give fair market value – it makes a big difference when you work with a vendor who is not entitled to the gig by default – both in terms of the commitment and the expense.
Wedding ceremony at Basho Bougainvillea resort, Karjat

Our wedding was in a beautiful resort in Karjat which is at a 2 hour driving distance from Mulund, Mumbai. It often takes longer to travel from Mulund to Borivali – a suburb at the other end of Mumbai! So, do not hesitate to have your wedding at the outskirts of Mumbai thinking that it will be inconvenient for other people. You can arrange some transport if required. In our case, the drive from Mumbai to Karjat was beautiful – a much more soothing experience than being stuck for a similar duration of time in Mumbai city traffic!

Accommodation for people from out station was also provided here but most of the guests were from Mumbai and chose to drive back at the end of a relaxed day at the resort. You can check out their website for more details here.

The venue had a farmhouse within the same property and the main wedding happened in the lawn adjoining the farmhouse with the hill range as the backdrop of the mandap.

Entrance gate to the wedding mandap area
The Wedding mandap, nestled in the hills and filled with peoples love and laughter
Sangeet ceremony at Marathon Futurex, Lower Parel, Mumbai

We chose a beautiful landscaped terrace in the heart of the city of Mumbai to celebrate our Sangeet ceremony. It was as close to nature you can get in the city of Mumbai. The night time view of the Mumbai skyline was the cherry on top.

Main seating area
Performance stage
Boubhat ceremony at Far Pavillions, Tollygunge club, Kolkata

This event was held at a small outdoor venue facing the eighteenth hole of the huge golf course at Tollygunge club, which is built more than a hundred years ago and has many lovely heritage structures spread across its extensive grounds along with a lot of beautiful flora and fauna.

Entrance to the venue
Do not print your wedding invitations

By sending e-invites on Whatsapp you will not only save your printing and couriering cost and headache but also you will save the guests from the burden of what to do with those invites after the events are done. We all know these pretty invites would have ended up in the dustbin eventually!

We designed the Save the Dates and Invitations ourselves. I conceptualized the designs and made the sketches whereas R digitalised all of them to these pretty invitations you see.

The invitations and save the dates were a reflection of the ceremonies and their respective venues.

Lots of dance & music in a landscaped terrace located in the heart of Mumbai with an amazing view of the Mumbai skyline. (I sketched the Mumbai skyline as well)

Also, if you notice our invitations were common for both the sides with just the essential information only – date, time, and venue. We canned all the S/O , D/O, best wishes nonsense which led to a visually pleasing and incredibly simple final invitation.

Finalize the guest list

Only invite people you, your partner and both your parents really care about. Try keeping it as small as you can. Do not think twice before keeping different guest lists for different events if that helps you to reduce the number of people in some events. Take RSVP twice, once after you send out the invitations and a week before the wedding as well. This will help you to give an accurate number to your caterer.

Get quotes from multiple vendors

All vendors will try to exploit the fact that people spend thoughtlessly on weddings. Getting quotes from multiple vendors is extremely important – it helps you gauge the quality of talent out there as well as determine fair value for what you are getting. Our first decorator quoted around Rs 10 lacs for the Sangeet event – that was more than our total budget for that event! We eventually found someone who did it at a higher spec for closer to Rs 1.5 lacs!

Catering and food selection

While deciding the wedding menu make sure you do not over do it – it felt like the biggest priority seems to be how big and lavish the spread looks! Have a good, selective spread that people can cherish – don’t make it a bazaar of overwhelming options. Our biggest challenge was that the catering for all events had to be vegan. It was a big challenge trying to find a caterer to agree to make vegan food. In the end, we found someone who was very flexible and ready to work with us (Imagine cafe) collaboratively. We did numerous trials with the caterer, some where we made him cook using Imagine vegan cheese, vegan mayonnaise and vegan butter before finalizing every dish in the menu.

We used our wedding as an experiment and launched Imagine vegan catering service. Our vegan spread consisted of dishes like cheese Jalapeno poppers, Mexican shots, Pesto salad, unPaneer Kolhapuri, Jalebi, icecreams, pasta, cheese sticks, patishapta, and even Kolkata style keema cutlets with a soy mock meat.

We had an excellent experience with our caterers in Mumbai and Kolkata. Our caterer in Mumbai – Mukesh Bhai Catering – did an incredible job in collaboratively executing the vegan menu! He catered the wedding lunch, a couple of dinners at the Karjat resort, and the Sangeet dinner – there was overwhelming praise for all the spreads – from both the Gujarati’s and the Bengali’s!

Vegan dessert – Patishapta
Patishapta are thin crepes or pancakes made with refined flour, rice flour and semolina stuffed with a delicious caramelized jaggery and shredded coconut filling.
Corn cheese Jalapeno poppers
Vegan Jalebis

You can contact us on our Instagram page for vegan catering orders.

Decorator

Finding a good decorator within our budget was one of the toughest parts. We had chosen beautiful venues surrounded by nature so that we do not have to do too much decoration. In spite of having a limited scope, we got ridiculously high quotes. I had made presentations with reference images, and actual site photos and sent it to a bunch of vendors for quotes.

You can check them out here:

After receiving those first quotes, and shortlisting the vendors based on cost and the level of connection we had over telephone calls, we had to then visit the respective venues with each of them, work on the quote again and then finally decide who we wanted to go with. It was a lot of effort – because we were busy and decorators are always busy – setting up all those meetings and walk through’s was a herculean task!

In the end we managed to find a great decorator (Avishkar Decorators, Bandra east) with excellent workmanship and reasonable rates.

Wedding mandap being erected
Photography

We made a couple of unconventional decisions regarding photography at the events, but they worked out really well.

  • Instead of having two wedding photographers, the bride and groom can agree on sourcing photography work from one good photographer.
  • For the smaller family functions you can ask your friends or relatives who are good at photography to take some pictures. Again, this worked out exceptionally well – my friend Dhwani and my cousin Aashni are passionate photographers and they took some of the best photographs of the entire event. 
  • Instead of spending on pre-wedding photo shoots, take good couple shots on the wedding day itself in a natural location. This saves you the cost of an additional photo shoot and also the time, cost and effort of make-up and costume changes.

You have already seen some of the amazing photos our photographers took of us and the venue in my previous post and this post. You can check them out – Je taime photography on Instagram and Facebook

Shopping

You can read in detail about how to make your wedding shopping easy here.

Delegate and do not forget to have fun!

Make sure you delegate all the work to be done on the day to your friends and/or relatives. No really, don’t forget to have fun. Let it go, brides and grooms! The last thing you need to be thinking about is that your flowers weren’t as large as discussed, or that the fans are not working and the music isn’t the way you imagined. It’s your day which you have planned for months, now it’s time to sit back and enjoy.  Things might not work out as planned, but it’s your attitude you can control.

Plan your honeymoon

In midst of all the wedding preparations, do not forget to plan a long honeymoon trip for yourself. If you are crossing your budget make some cost cuts in the wedding preparations but be sure to have a nice long trip. After all spending on yourself is more important then spending on throwing a party for others. You will need it after all the hard work you will have to put into planning your wedding!

Feel free to email me on vidhi228@gmail.com for any queries,advice or suggestions regarding your wedding planning, especially in Mumbai!

Wedding dress shopping made easy

Planning a wedding is not an easy job. Especially when you want to throw a great show and not spend your parents’ lifetime savings on it. 

In my next few posts I plan to cover several aspects of wedding planning like – Budgeting, Invitations, Venues, Catering, Decorations & Photography.

But today, let’s focus on: dream outfits for the special occasion!

Wedding outfits are something girls go crazy about! Since there are limitless options available out there, it can become overwhelming and leave you confused about what you want!

It is always good to have a clear mind, and a solid set of goals in place before you venture out.

  1. Do your homework. Make sure you have a clear vision of what you want. It’s not just a world full of outfits, but a world full of pushy salespeople as well! It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the limitless options out there, but it’s also easy to put together a mood board using apps like Pinterest.
  2. Stay true to yourself. Everyone has her own vision of how she wants to look on this special day. If you have a distinct style, stick to it. Dress classy or quirky, or simple or glamorous – stay true to your personality. If you are happy with what you’re wearing, it will show. The shopping comes with an endless supply of not-so-gentle advice – be prepared to stick to your convictions and battle to the end.
  3. The outfits should be reusable. It is quite common for the bridal dress to never be worn again after the wedding day. My dress had to be something that I could wear again, not something that’s permanently stashed under my bed.
  4. The outfits shouldn’t be exorbitantly priced. I didn’t want to spend lakhs of rupees on a single outfit. Parents and relatives completely lose their sense of value when picking outfits – I knew I had to be the one setting the budget and exercising some financial restraint. And do not worry, there is something out there for all budgets.
  5. It had to be vegan. Now what are vegan clothes you might ask? As far as we are talking about wedding clothes, it mainly meant no silk in the outfits and no leather in the footwear. And in India, celebratory clothes usually mean silk! Wedding shopping was way more challenging for me than usual.
  6. Start early. I started shopping around 3 months before the day of the event. There are some good reasons to start early:
    If you have a job, that just leaves the weekends. If your shopping companions (my mom in this case) have a job, that might not even leave all the weekends.
    There’s a lot to see and a lot to consider before you make such an expensive and emotional decision.
    The tailors or shopkeepers will need quite a bit of time, and you have to factor in some time for a couple of rounds of alterations.

Mandwa+Haldi

The sari that I had worn for my Mandwa+Haldi ceremony is a Patola made of art silk. And trust me: no one can tell the difference! The weave of the thread, the silk like border, everything looks as good as the original one. Also, it’s much cheaper! So then why be an accomplice to thousands of silkworms being tortured?

Art silk Gujarati Patola saree
Don’t the details look exactly like the original Patola sarees?

Cost: Rs 12,000 (a similar silk Patola could cost anywhere between Rs 60,000 – Rs 1,00,000)

Wedding dress:

I wanted my outfit to look modern with a traditional flourish. I chose this off white lehenga with a beautiful mix of traditional Gota and modern pearl work & then I paired it with a red-pink Bandhani dupatta.

The Bandhani dupatta added all the vibrancy and traditional touch the outfit needed

I have thought of the following ways to reuse this outfit:

  1. Wear this dress as is, but with much lighter jewelry. The heavy jewelry gave a regal air to my outfit on the wedding day. A change to lighter jewelry would instantly make it suitable for other occasions as well.
  2. Wear the bandhani dupatta separately to jazz up some simple salwar suit or lehenga or a skirt and crop top.
  3. Pair the lehenga with a simple pastel net dupatta for a much lighter and modern look. 

Cost – Rs. 33,400 plus 2000 for blouse stitching.

Mehendi dress:

For my mehendi ceremony, I wore a light green lehenga with beautiful embroidery all over it paired with a crop top. I found it while we were shopping for sarees in Kolkata and it was love at first sight. On top of that, it was in the sale section! Can’t get better than that!

Cost: Rs 10,400

Bou Bhaat reception saree:

I was, and probably still am, not a very big fan of sarees but there is no doubt that sarees are way more reusable than lehengas. They also take less space in your wardrobe! So, it is always good to have a few classic sarees as a part of your wardrobe. If you are trying to look for non silk sarees, Georgette, Chiffon, Net, Tissue and Organza are some good options. For my body shape and type, I loved the fall of Georgette sarees on me. And since the event at Kolkata was a day event I chose a peach Georgette saree with Kashmiri Ari work embroidery in pastel colours. I paired it with a plain linen blouse which will pair well with sarees of many colours in the future.

Georgette saree with Kashmiri embroidery work

Cost: Rs 19,900 for the saree. Rs 2,000 for the blouse (with material)

Sangeet dress:

This was the last outfit I had to buy and by that time I was very confused about what I wanted. The wedding date was nearing and I had bought an outfit of every style possible and was completely out of ideas. I had no clear vision for this one. I knew the kind of colours I wanted but beyond that I was lost. I went to a couple of fashion designers but that confused me more. I was finding it very difficult to visualize exactly how the dress will turn out based on their descriptions. And what if I didn’t like it at the end? It was too great a risk. So I tried a different approach for this one. I just decided to visit all the shops with an open mind and no a specific goal. Finally, after a lot of visits all over Mumbai and multiple visits to the same shops as well I found something unique and beautiful. A Lehenga full of abhla(mirror) work with pastel embroidery in different colours around it along with a beautiful pink dupatta. Again not at all overbearing and completely reusable.

Close up of the mirror+embroidery work

Cost: Rs.30,000

Wedding Jewelry

While your bridal lehenga may obviously be the showstopper of the wedding,  it’s the jewelry and accessories that add the final touches to your look. The kind of jewelry you wear can govern whether you want your final look to be heavy, royal, simple or elegant. 

Art Jewelry for the win!

I love jewelry, but I also love wearing matching jewelry with each dress. I didn’t want to spend a lot of money on buying real jewelry which ends up becoming a non-liquid asset gathering dust in your bank locker. Instead, I put all the money my family had saved up for my jewelry in a Fixed Deposit and bought art jewelry for all my events. Over time, the quality of art jewelry or imitation jewelry is so good that no one can tell the difference. Trust me! Also, I didn’t have to compromise on the kind of designs and the heaviness of the jewelry due to budget constraints.

Renting vs Buying, the age old debate

For the wedding day look, I went one step further. I wanted a royal, heavy look for the wedding and I knew I would never wear those heavy chokers, maang tikka and haath phool ever again. So instead of buying the art jewelry, I rented it. It was amazing as I got the exact look I wanted without any budget constraints and I didn’t have to retrofit hereditary jewelry that had an aesthetic I didn’t like.  

The only jewelry I bought for my wedding day was the Chudla (set of bangles). A Gujarati chudla has a lot of cultural significance and is supposed to be red and white in colour made from acrylic/plastic and gold. For my mom’s sake I did visit real gold jewelry stores and was thoroughly disappointed by the lack of variety in design available. After that, it was very easy to convince my mom as well and instead of going down the gold route, I went down the art route. I shopped for some very artistic pieces individually and put together a set for my wedding Chudla. All the pieces, individually can be reused as bangles with any dress, lehenga or saree.

The centerpiece of the Chudla was adorned by exquisite hand painted motifs

To conclude, you need to know what you want and be comfortable in your own skin. Once you’ve embraced your personality and channeled your inner confidence, you will look beautiful in any kind of dress.

So happy shopping guys!

You can read more about the other aspects of planning a not-so-big and not-so-fat but beautiful here.

Feel free to email me on vidhi228@gmail.com for any queries,advice or suggestions regarding your wedding shopping, especially in Mumbai!

A thousand thoughts on marriage

Just a few years back, I was one of those people who always made fun of married people. I didn’t have a lot of faith in the institution of marriage. I was not at all excited about changing my whole life  for one person. Especially in India, where the concept of an arranged marriage is so big! I have never and I never will understand how people muster the courage to spend their entire life with someone they have met just a few times. 

Fast forward to today and as a partner in a happy marriage, I’m honestly surprised by how easy it was for me to transition. In fact, it feels damn good! 

My journey to being married and happy though was very rocky. Like every other woman in her twenties, there was a lot of pressure from my parents and family to get married. They would constantly ask me if I have someone in mind or if they should start looking for someone. Every birthday I would feel extremely sad as if with every passing year my life, as I knew it, was nearing the end. 

And then something magical happened.

The right person changed everything for me!All the fears that dwelled within me regarding the idea of marriage just disappeared within a matter of months. He was, and still is, my best friend – we have similar worldviews, values and visions for the future. For the first time, marriage seemed like an exciting new beginning instead of ‘the end’. In fact, for us, marriage was only a license we had to procure to live together. When I say the idea of marriage seemed exciting, what I actually mean is the idea of living with someone I love seemed exciting.

But, I still don’t believe that it is essential to marry (or get society’s approval) someone you love or that marriage is the ultimate path to a lifetime of happiness and/or success.

For everyone out there living through similar situations, do not panic. Make sure you –

  1. Do it when you feel it’s right. There is no perfect age to get married.

Despite the fact that everyone on your Social media circle seems to be either engaged or already married with a ton of kids, there really isn’t a right age to get married. Maybe you’re just not ready yet, or maybe marriage just isn’t a priority for you at the moment or something you don’t ever want to do. Whatever your reasons for not tying the knot just yet, you’ve got to stop worrying that you’re behind. Finding the right person is a tough road. Be patient. Life is not a race. We’re all different, and everyone’s life has a different way and pace of working things out.

2. Do not do it under pressure from anyone! Not even  your own parents or your current partner.

Pressure from parents – Family pressure to get married is backed up by the heavy weight of culture prevalent in the societies we live in. It is this societal pressure that in turn leads us to pressuring ourselves, which leads to making mistakes. And this one mistake often ends up messing up many lives. At such times the only thing to do is to be calm. Stay focused on what you want in life and your priorities. Work towards achieving those. Don’t organize your life in such a way that making other people happy is the most important aspect of it.

Pressure from Partner – The tenure of your relationship not only makes you aware of what you want, but also about what you don’t want, in your significant other. It’s okay if you think that all the time you spent with a person cannot result in marriage. Committing to someone by getting married amplifies all facets of your relationship. Be it either love and respect or be it your problems with each other. If you’re bad at communicating in your relationship, miscommunications will only get worse in your marriage. If you don’t have respect for one another, you won’t gain it by getting married. You’ll probably lose it even more. Basically, when you get married, things can get even better if they’re already good, but they only get worse if they’re already bad. It’s alright to not know why you don’t want to marry him or her either. Don’t be in the pity dating game, where you’re just there to not break a person’s heart. 

3. Do not do it because you are scared to be alone.

Yes, being alone can really suck. But what sucks even more is marrying someone you are not sure about without thinking it through simply because you’re tired of being alone and then they turn out to be terrible for you. Develop yourself into who you want to be first. Become financially independent. Get serious about your career. Eventually you will find someone who you love, are excited to be with and who loves you back.

4. Do a trial run, move in together.

If possible, try living with the person you love for sometime before tying the knot. Marriage is all about dealing with the most irritating habits of your partner, all day, everyday. You will also get a better idea of how home responsibilities will be shared. Because let’s just face it, finding out that you’re expected to do all the cooking, cleaning and laundry wouldn’t be cool. And its good to have a trial run. It will give both of you a lot of confidence and make the entire process of marriage much easier. This might sound horrifying for most Indian parents but it is very common in rest of the world, and India is slowly catching up.  

Marriage is a gamble

What is a marriage? Marriage is just a socially sanctioned relation where man and woman live together, have sexual relations and produce children.But this definition completely overlooks the fact that you can not generalize relationships and emotions. Just like every person is different, every relationship is different and so are the good’s and bad’s in a relationship. Marriage should be an equal and willing union between two people in love, not something to fulfill one’s sense of identity or self-worth, or for validation.

Whether it is an arranged marriage or a love marriage – marriage is a gamble. It might turn out to be really good for some, horrible for others and average for the majority of the people. It is an institution that makes you make an, often, impulsive decision at a very young moment in your life, about a person you have to spend the rest of your life with. But moments pass.  Continuing to feel the same the next moment isn’t promised. Few things in life are. Sometimes, you just grow out of love. It does not mean what you had wasn’t real. Sometimes you just realize you have entered into a relationship with a toxic/abusive person. Isn’t it better to realize and understand things, rather than let the other person be with someone you know does not love them? And at such times, don’t be afraid to come out of a relationship. The institution of marriage today entitles men with a lot of power. For example: In our country, men are legally allowed to rape their wives without fear of any consequences and taking undue advantage of the fact that their spouses are dependent on them financially. People should have a right to walk away from bad relationships whenever they want without any societal pressure or stigma. Why does the system and society make it so difficult for people, especially women, to divorce their spouses?

Divorce

Shasvathi Siva, 28, who runs Cowvathi, a vegan business that provides alternatives to dairy products, went through a divorce that was finalized last year. It was a tiresome 15 month long process for her.

“Divorce isn’t easy. I’d say it isn’t easy regardless of gender, but it is infinitely harder on the women – as most things are. Many reasons for this, finances/ support/ children/ stigma/ dependency/ fear of the unknown future etc all stops women from seeking out a new life beyond the marriage they’re in. Divorce rate in India is at 1%, which is heavily disappointing. It reflects on how unhealthy we are as a society. We put undue pressure on women to ‘keep the household’ together. Despite all this, even if the woman is out of the marriage, she is looked down upon and judged for her choices. Getting remarried is a whole other task in itself. This is why setting up safe spaces where people can interact and find support is very crucial – because nobody deserves to be in a relationship that they don’t want to be in.”

Shasvathi Siva

She threw a party once her divorce got finalized and now celebrates her Divorce-sary (just like anniversary) every year. She also runs a support group for people struggling with divorce. She said her own experiences during and after the divorce gave her the idea of trying to create a non judgmental safe space for such people. Kudos to people like her who are trying their best to develop a community and be there for each other.

India is known for its low divorce rates. But that doesn’t indicate that we have very few unhappy marriages. It just shows that most people (mainly women) in India are living a compromised life as they are afraid of the social stigma and/or they are financially dependent on their spouses. It isn’t a metric, we as a country should be proud of. A true metric would be something like a ‘Happiness index’ for married couples which might give us a clearer picture of how successful the marriages we see around us are. 

Besides stigma, financial dependence is an important  reason because of which women compromise themselves their whole lives. They don’t want to be a burden on their parents and they don’t know how else to take care of themselves and their kids. But all that is changing now. Most women today are financially independent and capable of taking care of themselves and their children if needed. 

Also, most cultures see marriage as the foundation to family life and raising children, and they are bound to place more pressure on those around them to get married and more importantly stay married. This is one of the main arguments in favor of marriage. It refrains most women from taking a divorce. But as Andrew Cherlin argues in The Marriage-Go-Round, what matters for children is “not simply the kind of family they live in but how stable that family is.” That stability may take the form of a two-parent family, or, as Cherlin points out, it might be the extended-family structures that are common in many communities. If stability is what matters for kids, then stability, not marriage, should be the primary goal. And  the work of this care falls disproportionately to women. Without marriage, this care and support could be redistributed across networks of extended family, neighbors, and friends.

To conclude this rant, I would just like to say marriage is complex and a choice. People should have the freedom to opt for it or not, if they do opt for it then they should be able to do it whenever they want, however they want and if the need to break out from it arises they should have the freedom to do that as well, without having to worry about the society judging them.

References : Articles – What You Lose When You Gain a Spouse – The Atlantic,

Websites – markmanson.net , theeverygirl.com, globalnews.ca/marriage-pressure

Imagine – A world full of compassion

I have been a proud vegetarian all my life. And not just a vegetarian, but a Gujarati Jain! I have never used leather products or even tasted honey as those industries harmed animals.  But I have always loved cheese, butter, paneer,dahi and chocolates. 

The roots of compassion were always there within me, but what was lacking was the knowledge and awareness about how cruel the dairy industry is. I knew that a vegan diet meant no dairy on top of a vegetarian diet but I had no idea why. I just assumed it was a fad or a diet for lactose intolerant people.

Suddenly, my colleague and best friend Ritwik(R), who was a hardcore Non-vegetarian Bengali, turned vegan! I was shocked and absolutely sure that this was not going to last very long! But to my surprise, this person who would have at least one non-vegetarian meal a day had turned vegan one fine day and he never looked back. It was from him that I realised veganism was not only a diet, it was a moral perspective. I slowly came to know about the horrors of the dairy industry.  I realised that cows, like humans, have to be pregnant to produce milk! And that they are raped and artificially inseminated so that we can have our daily dose of milk, cheese and butter. I was shocked and would experiment and bake vegan cakes for R on his birthday but not yet strong enough to give up my cheese and paneer.

Once we finished designing and  building NEXT school, Mulund ( I will write about that experience in my coming posts), R took a month off to try his hand at cooking. He had already been vegan for one and half years by then. Since he had not tasted dairy products for a long time, he had forgotten the taste of cheese and would call me over to give feedback. We did this to and fro for a month until we figured out the perfect cheese recipe. In the past few months, the only reason I turned a blind eye towards the atrocities of the dairy industry  was because I loved my cheese, butter, paneer and chocolate too much to consider giving up on them. But now that I knew that I could have guilt-free versions of all these things (which are also way healthier for me and way better for our environment) there was no reason to continue doing so. We were fascinated by food-science and slowly figured out ways to emulate cheese, cheese sauce, mayonnaise, butter, and even ice cream. This took a lot of time to get right as most recipes and guidelines online pertain to a Western palette. Once we got it just right, we started cooking dishes with these core ingredients. 

One of our first good batches of vegan cheese

I signed up for Veganuary 2018 – Veganuary is a pledge to stay vegan in January – and let me tell you, I had the most foodgasm-ic January of my whole life! Everyday we would experiment with a dish to add to the menu and we’d “test” it all by ourselves. It took us 3 days and 4 batches of brownies to get it right, but we persevered! I must be the first vegan to gain 5 kgs in the first month of turning vegan! 

And there’s been no looking back – I have been a vegan ever since.

Slowly we started calling our friends over to taste the food and give feedback. Their feedback gave us a lot of encouragement. It was my dream – retirement plan actually – to open a quaint cosy cafe – and now it was seeming more and more important to open one – because we knew lecturing wouldn’t make people turn vegan – only good food will! The reassurance that they won’t have to give up on those cheese, paneer, chocolate or even meat cravings will convince people and give them the will power to try and go vegan.

I am an odd Gujarati because I hate the idea of starting your own business. I really love my job as a designer. But this cafe was now no more a dream or retirement plan but a necessity for both of us. We had to prove to people that vegan food is just as delicious,  and it was much healthier for our bodies & much better for our environment. We decided to build a business model to figure out how much investment we will need. We told a broker to check out available shops in an exciting, up-and-coming retail development in Mulund. It also happened to be really close to our place of stay and work (a common theme in my life!). When the broker got back to us we realised that there were only 4 shops left to be leased out in the entire complex – 146 shops were already taken! This was when we knew we cannot just keep messing around in our kitchen any more – If we want to do it , we have to do it now!

We did not overthink it – or even do the regular amount of thinking for that matter! We chose the shop and paid the token amount as a deposit. I think it was around 4-5 days’ time between the broker getting back to us and us paying the token. Once we started thinking, and planning, and getting scared we had already paid the token for the space and now there was no going back, just moving ahead. Now, there were thousands of things to do – we had to form a company before we could sign our formal rent agreement, we had to open a bank account, apply for all the necessary licenses, start designing the space and start the work on site, hire and train the chefs, choose each and every tile, fabric, faucet,crockery and so much more. It took us 50 days in all after the first brick was laid to be able to invite customers to the restaurant. 

We played of all the following roles between the 2 of us –

  • Interior Design –  We designed the space & procured the materials ourselves. We wanted the cafe space to be very simple, modern and vibrant. We custom designed almost all the furniture in the dining area and we even custom designed the storage, work tables and some of the equipment in the kitchen. We worked directly with our steel fabricator on the kitchen equipment – this meant we could build at a higher spec and at a fraction of the cost of branded kitchen equipment vendors.
Imagine cafe, Mulund, Mumbai

You can check out the 360 view of the cafe here.

  • Project management and site execution-  We were there, everyday, coordinating the work at site. It was April/May in Mumbai and it was hot as hell, but it didn’t matter. We also placed all the orders for materials and managed the cash flow. It was made much easier with help from a good network of contractors and vendors from our day-job as architects.
Us on the first day at site
  • Raising investment – We pitched the idea to friends and family and raised enough money to make sure that we did not need a bank loan – this meant, long term, that the cafe was on very firm financial footing.
  • Graphic design and social media –  We worked on the branding with Keith – a long time friend and collaborator. 
  • Hiring & Training– This was the biggest unknown for the two of us and it proved to be the most difficult part to get right. The restaurant industry is filled with shitty employers which has led to a complete, systemic breakdown in trust between staff and management – this is for another longer post! It was hard work but we put together a very good team when we needed to start. 
  • Licensing – We had to get necessary licenses and permissions before we could start running the cafe from the health department, fire department, food safety authority etc. All this took a lot of research and follow up visits to the ward office. 
  • Recipe and menu design – We had created the recipes over the last 4 months – now it was time to be ruthless and edit it down to a menu that fit on a single page. We wanted to do a select few things but do it right.
These mozzarella cheese sticks are one of the first recipes we tried at home with our cheese and is now one of the best selling items at Imagine cafe.
Quiche – Another Imagine special inspired by its non-vegetarian version which R’s mom would make when he was a kid. Vegetables, unKeema and cheese baked in a buttery, flaky pastry crust.

Also for both of us it was very important that the menu was – Vegan and indulgent. All our core ingredients like cheese, mayonnaise, cheese sauce, butter are all made in-house. Our menu is loaded with cheesy stuff which is otherwise difficult to find in a vegan diet like burgers, pizzas, pastas, quiche, cheese sticks, cheesecake and even ice creams. You can check out our entire menu on our Zomato page. 

Loaded nachos – Gluten-free nachos topped with freshly made salsa, beans and our signature nacho cheese sauce
Freshly baked pizzas made with our special in house pizza base, tomato sauce and melterella cheese.
Hot dog – A chorizo-style Italian sausage served in a bun with caramelized onions, mustard & thousand island 
Unchicken Burger – Fried unChicken strips, masala onions, Sriracha mayo, iceberg lettuce and tomatoes. A classic!

We bake and prepare all our desserts in the kitchen as well – there’s almost no outsourcing for even basic ingredients. 

Snickers का बड़ा भाई
Berry cheesecake ice-cream sundae – A scoop each of vanilla & strawberry ice cream served with a slice of blueberry cheesecake and topped with toasted almonds.
Classic Blueberry cheesecake

There is a popular vegan eatery in Berlin which has a big neon sign over the bar counter that reads: ‘no f**king salads’. Many vegan eateries conflate veganism with no gluten, no sugar and even no oil – this is very commendable and props to these places for trying to pioneer something new. But it’s not the kind of food we always crave. Sometimes we want that sloppy burger and we want to dip the fried cheese in some melted cheese.  Our menu has a lot of indulgent food. I think it’s important to know that you have these options and we believe the inclusion of these indulgent foods will help make the process of turning vegan and staying vegan a whole lot easier. 

Along with our dine in service we also sell our cheese, chocolate bars, cakes, pastries etc. To be frank – How often will you go out for dinners to a cafe especially if it is really far from where you stay? The bigger impact will be when our cheeses and butters reach peoples home so that they can use it in their everyday life as it makes people’s life easier and determination stronger to live a cruelty free life.

Imagine classic cheese
Just chocolate cake

Every week we do specials wherein we experiment with new vegan dishes so that even regulars get to have new dishes every time they come. We hold a lot of events and workshops at the cafe as well. 

Imagine chocolate bar – Loaded with toasted almonds & cashews
Topped with salted caramel

You can follow us on Instagram and Facebook for regular updates. 

Are you wondering about how my family reacted? Well my family was very supportive of my decision and did everything they could to help whereas R’s mom had started crying when she came to know that he’s turned vegan. It took them some more time but eventually they  got their heads around it and helped us by investing in the cafe as well. My parents were slightly skeptical about how I would manage both my day-job and the cafe but they got over that very quickly. My mom learned how to make vegan dahi so that she can pack a glass of chaas with my lunch everyday. She loves cooking and wholeheartedly experiments and cooks vegan meals for me. She veganises a lot of  Indian dishes like dal makhani, shrikhand, methi malai matar, strawberry basundi and even makes chocolate shakes and cold coffees for me. 

Starting Imagine has, for the first time in my life, made me feel like I am doing something for the greater good. The amount of happiness and satisfaction that we get with the knowledge that Imagine is helping people turn vegan or continue being vegan is incredible! This directly contributes to a world with less suffering and less environmental waste.  

If you want to know more about the benefit of turning vegan you can check out these movies,books and articles- 

To know more about benifits of turning vegan you can also check out these articlesVeganism is environmentalism, Veganism and health, Veganism – A compassionate way of life

and these documentaries –

Ethical – Dominion on Youtube, Okja on Netflix.

Environmental – Cowspiracy on Netflix

Health – What the health, Forks over knives, Game changers on Netflix

I will say goodbye for now hoping that you guys will at least check these movies and articles out with an open mind and take it from there. Also, do visit Imagine cafe whenever you get a chance!

Work+Culture

How I luckily got the best job ever!

November 2014, just 2 days after my thesis jury, I saw a mail for campus recruitment from Marathon developers. Usually, an architect doesn’t prefer working with developers as there isn’t enough design work, but, for me, this internship made a lot of sense as the location was very close to my home and I could go there on my new bike! I know, I know – it’s a pretty stupid reasonto choose an internship but I was so tired of 7 years of Mumbai-local-train-travel! So, I quickly responded to them and after 2 sets of assignments and an interview, I got the internship! All this happened in the first week after my thesis! Everyone else in my batch was still going through their post-thesis-hangover phase and no one had even started applying for jobs.

14th December 2014, I started my internship at Marathon developers. When I took this job I had no idea that this decision was going to change my life! 

I was a part of a very small design team started by Parmeet who was one of the sons of the owners. And by small, I mean really small. We were a team of just 3 people(including him). Parmeet (P) and Ritwik (R – my colleague and also his school mate) were two of the most amazing people I had ever come across in my entire life! They were so well read that it took me 3 months to realise that they were both not architects by education! Meeting them made me realise for the first time that in today’s world where we have so many resources available formal education is not everything. The most important thing is the willingness and passion to learn.  We have all read about Thomas Edison, Bill Gates, Henry Ford, Steve Jobs etc. who are all examples of people who succeeded in life without a formal education but this was my first time meeting people who would just decide to explore a new avenue and within 2-3 months would be skilled enough and execute big real life projects as well. (You will come across more stories about the mind blowing things these people do everyday in my posts to come!)

Ever since I was in college, I wanted to be an urban planner and do my masters from CEPT, Ahmedabad. Every year I would give the entrance exams for M-Arch courses and not apply to colleges. I was enjoying my work so much that I didn’t  want to leave it half-way and go. A couple of years after I joined Marathon, I went to interview students at CEPT to hire them and expand our team. When I came back from CEPT is when I realised that I definitely did not want to study any more. I really needed to convey that to my parents so that they would stop making me apply for these exams. Being with these people made me realise that there was no need to go to a college again for 2 years, spending lakhs of rupees to read books ( which I can do at home as well) and write theoretical reports when I could work on real life projects, actually impacting the society in a good way and earning money at the same time. Luckily, it wasn’t very difficult to make my parents understand my point of view and the post graduation chapter in my life ended before it started. 

Looking back now,  even today I am so proud of the young me for having taken such a radical decision and not getting overwhelmed by what everyone around me was doing. 

Coming back to how much I loved my job! 

Whenever I would meet my college friends I would hear horror stories from them about their workplaces. How no one was appreciated, everyone was underpaid, interns were treated like shit and above all that – the work they got to do was not engaging or interesting. 

That’s when I realised that I was the odd one out! Our team functioned in a completely different manner because we were led by two completely different and mind blowing people. 

  • I was paid well. My stipend was twice as much as the second highest paid person in my class and the highest CTC to start with once I became a permanent employee. 
  • I got really good design work and actual responsibilities irrespective of the fact that I was just out of college. Everyone would draft their own designs. I was designing a 26 acre township and a school in my first year itself. I was never ever treated as an intern. I knew they trusted me and that made me work harder as I didn’t want to let them down.
  • There was no hierarchy in our team. All decisions were made after a group discussion where everyone’s ideas and views were taken into account. No one sits in cabins. Everyone sits together in an open plan layout.   
  • Our team has flexible work times. We could come in whenever we wanted and leave whenever. We could work from home if we wanted.
  • We have unlimited paid leaves. I never had to take permission to take a leave, I had to just inform when I won’t be coming in. And this wasn’t just for me. Even P and R would inform us well in advance if they are not going to come in at work. Every member of the team was treated as an equal and with respect. 
  • I was always appreciated for good work and constructively criticised as well when needed but never in an insulting way. 

As a result of all this freedom, the overall productivity of our team is very high. 

Working with them not only made me a much better designer but a much better person. 

But this is not the case with most workplaces today. And this is a clear reflection of our society. Our society is awfully hierarchical – in communities, families and in workplaces. There often exists this hierarchical gap between the employee and the employer which hinders the flow of ideas between them. At most workplaces, subordinates cannot comment on or oppose the decisions of their bosses and bosses cannot accept the contrarian opinions of their subordinates in a constructive manner as it hurts their egos. As a result of this, many constructive ideas don’t actually get implemented affecting the improvement of the final product. One must never forget that good leadership requires one to surround oneself with people of diverse perspectives who can disagree with you without fear of retaliation.

Many of you might think that this method of working was possible because we were such a small team. But today in 2020 ,we are a team of around 30 people comprising architects, visualisers, accountants, engineers, marketing team and support staff.  We run all our projects independently of the entire Marathon Group system and still work in the same method we did when we were only 3 people. And we are not the only ones. More and more companies in the world are adopting workplace practices which promote non hierarchical attitudes of the members of the companies.

If not today, at some point in life all of you might be in a place where you will be able to define or influence the culture at your workplace or team. Make sure you do the right thing. Pay your employees well and listen to everyone. Everyone has their own strengths and weaknesses. In a good, balanced and diverse team, everyone gets to play to their strengths safe in the knowledge that a teammate has got their back. Keep in mind that culture is always a work in progress. It can and will change. Make your organizations culture as important as your business strategy. It’s too significant to ignore, and shaping it is one of your most important responsibilities as a team mate. 

Catching up on the last 5 years

Hi guys, 

So it’s been almost 5 years since my last post and a lot has happened in my life.

I am no longer an architecture college student. I have started working as an architect, built a few really cool projects, turned vegan, opened Imagine – Mumbai’s first vegan restaurant , found the love of my life and got married. 

It all sounds really glossy and nice but it wasn’t at all easy. I went through a lot of mentally stressful situations and had to make a few difficult decisions. Even though I don’t belong to a very orthodox family, at times  I had to fight against certain societal inhibitions and overcome them. And I am sure every person (especially every woman) in their 20’s is going to experience some version of this and I hope my blog will help them through their version of quarter life crisis.

I as a person have evolved a lot in the last 5 years. I have become much more aware of not only my issues but issues of others (people not as privileged as I am) as well. Through my experiences in life and using this blog as a medium I hope to talk about  the various issues in today’s society and my view on that.

This blog is no more going to be about just Thoughts and experiences of an absolutely common architecture student  but a lot more.

10 things one should undoubtedly do during Architecture college

10 things

Architecture college is always very frustrating in the beginning. At times one has to struggle to obtain passing marks. Initially, it becomes very overwhelming, to try and manage the intense studio hours, long after studio work hours, to familiarize with new skill sets,  learn to explain and present oneself, learn to become more observant and critical and in particular learning about the new design ‘language’ and discovering one’s own design principles is usually a big struggle.

It’s  almost a year since I am working, out there in the real world, and I have already started realizing what mistakes I made, what opportunities I missed and what processes of learning I didn’t indulge myself in during college years. Through my own experience and in no particular order here is what I think one should certainly do during the college years, for the future good, as college is not only about following the curriculum and having fun but also about setting up a foundation for one’s future.

1. Read…Read…Read…

Reading is very important, in general. But by reading I don’t only mean reading architectural books. Obviously that’s also important but your knowledge base will always become better and stronger once you are exposed to much more than only architecture. Hence, one should start reading about more varied topics like – photography, art, history, travel, different cities – their cultures and their trends, economics, business, management, design (Not only buildings. It can be furniture, electronics, automobiles etc.), etc. In short, whatever interests you! I know, at times it’s really difficult to read those thick heavy books but today we have so many other options to read from online (Your source could be magazines, blogs, cool websites or maybe even Pintrest boards!) that even if you are not a book lover you shouldn’t use it as an excuse to not read. Remember, where there is a will there is a way.

2. Have a broad set off mentors and advisors.

When studying Architecture usually students isolate all of their influences and mentors to people who directly work in the industry. While it is important to have these people guide you, it is also equally important to have many influences and mentors from outside the industry. This allows one to learn from people with vastly different perspectives and considerations and to then apply this thinking back into architecture, creating a broader and more interesting forum for discussion and negotiation.

Limiting your influences can quite simply lead to producing designs that look generic because one can only imagine the reproduction of what they know or have seen. Having broad motivations and influences will allow you to constantly inform your peers and tutors and to keep them engaged in your projects and processes by showing them a perspective which is unique and outside their own.

3. Take your electives with more interest to learn about that topic, rather than because of the fact that you have to do it.

I know, I know architecture college life is already full of submissions. Who wants to take upon more submissions on oneself? Hence, when you have a chance to choose one elective from a bunch of them your criteria’s are usually – Which professor is the most lenient? Or which subject would require least work at home?

To be frank even I never took them too seriously. But now, I really wish that I had taken the electives more seriously and tried to expand my knowledge in those subjects which would have maybe helped me with my job today.

4. Break the rules.

It is really important at times to go beyond the design brief and even question everything in the given brief. For example – ‘The structure shouldn’t be higher than 7 floors’ or ‘Allocate spaces for these 10 different sports’. However, if you have a better solution, break and/or negotiate the rules – but always understand why. Always remember, unless you ask questions you will never find their answers. Like, ‘Why can’t I go higher than 7 floors if I have the necessary open space requirements around the structure?’ Or ‘Do I really need to give separate spaces for all these sports?? Can’t I design a space which can work for most of them?’ There is never a straightforward answer rather it is all about hypothesizing many and asking the right questions. By doing this you think about how architecture works as opposed to only how it looks.

5. Be a creative problem solver.

Not an amazing sketcher like your classmates? Or a very untidy modelmaker? Or not that good with computers?

To be a good architect you necessarily don’t need to have all of these qualities within you, but you DO need to be a creative problem solver. Skills can always be developed but a good design always emerges from finding creative solutions to the problems (which now-a-days everyone calls OUT OF THE BOX THINKING) and also by rationally analyzing the entire critic you receive on your idea.

6. Keep upgrading your skills.

Your tools of communication will significantly affect your ability to communicate your design concepts and ideas. You need to develop strong visual, verbal and written communication skills. Also never be afraid of upgrading these skills or learning new software’s or techniques as and when things come in the market. Something as simple as mastering Google search, new software’s or getting models laser cut can increase your efficiency and the quality of the final output significantly!

7. Learn to take criticism positively and re-evaluate your thoughts.

Design is a very subjective field. Not always will you find your juror’s agreeing with your ideas. At times in the jury they might take your case which can be quite demotivating. But rather than losing your confidence or giving a deaf ear to their comments and criticism (Remember, it’s not necessary that you are always right!) it is very important to slowly go through each of their comments, analyze and re-evaluate your design. You never know, that criticism and the whole rethinking process it forced upon you might now take your design to another level.

8. Last minute changes do more harm than good.

It’s always hard to stop designing, especially in college. One always feels that there is still a scope to better the design but one must never forget that at some point the goal is to present the concepts, the drawings, and models to support your ideas. If you think that it is going to take you 3 days to build your model the way you want it, 2 days to complete and render your drawings and a couple of more days to compose your sheets, leave yourself the appropriate amount of time. If you have all these great ideas and no method to effectively communicate them it’s all a sheer waste.

9. Process is as important as the final product.

Once you have a strong thinking process and an evolutionary design it is difficult to stop, while without a base thought, it is difficult to start. Our beloved faculty hopes to see progress every single week and if you start developing your design from day one without stopping, it is unlikely you will feel the need to pull an all-nighter before submission time. The most successful projects are unlikely to be developed in just the night before the submission and design tutors are well aware of the students who haven’t slept based on the thoroughness of their project. Having this kind of design practice will also knock out the need for major last-minute design changes that often do more harm than good. Last-minute changes are usually less resolved and less likely to be communicated successfully.

10.Do smart productive work and not donkey work.

I have realized that I have done a lot of donkey work through the 5 years of college. It wasn’t always my choice, at times I restrained myself from taking the newer more efficient way and at times, the system forced me into it.  But I never opposed or never went to my teachers with better ways of doing it and trying to convince them to accept the new way to do things. Maybe, if I would have tried, they would have also given it a thought.

I hope everyone studying architecture, or planning to study architecture finds this article helpful. For anyone who has finished architecture college or currently learning things along the way I did love to hear your own experiences and advice in the comment section below.

Fundamental quirks of an architect

Comic strips are one of the best mediums to express an idea or explain a situation.

Here is a compilation of few illustrations by famous illustratours on the peculiar character of typical architects along their journey through college as a student to the real professional world out there.

When assignments put you in awkward socially humilating situtaions-

‘Research before design’ is the mantra we are always taught in architecture school. And the result of it we all have experienced…!!!!

9a_0-429x644

Source: theblueinkblog

The night before the marking-

This one needs no explaination…

panic-700x228

Source: http://www.calvinandhobbes.co.uk/

The day after the marking-

Neither does this…

13b-404x606

Source: theblueinkblog

When seniors choose the not so right way to teach their juniors-

Learning from seniors is an integral part of architecture college, but it has its own repercussions 😛

2010-01-12

Source: http://architexts.us/

When architects go out for dinner – 

Cant help but concentrate on everything else except food.

15_2-700x268

Source: http://architexts.us/

When you are one of the lucky interns-

The usual belief – Interns dont know shit!! So if you get to do somethimg productive during your internship you know you are the lucky one!!

2015-06-17-it's-good-to-be-an-intern

Source: http://architexts.us/

When being late at work is not as simple as only losing attendance-

Being late = Losing money *sighs*

2012-01-30-bootingup

Source: http://architexts.us/

Because everyone hates the IT department in office-

Yes we are architects. We work on atleast 5 softwares at the same time and need a beast of a machine to get work done. but alas, not all wishes come true!

2014-08-25-viruses

Source: http://architexts.us

Because we all know the bitter truth of an architects life –

Everyone earns more than us , right from the model makers to the rendering consultants to the interior designers. Oh did i just forget to mention my driver?

2014-08-27-architects-in-fiction

Source: http://architexts.us/

Because we are designing one of the most complex products-

Yes the whole process of developing one of the most complex products from its inception to execution to reality is not only tedious and full of challenges but an extremely slow process. And you have no option but patiently deal with it.

how long it takes to get a development permit

Souce: http://pintday.org/archimatects/

Text and compilation – Vidhi Shah

We preach, they practise.

I woke up today morning, planning to spend a lazy peaceful Sunday. Joining my family on the breakfast table, little did I know that the Sunday was not going to be that peaceful. My parents had the daily newspaper opened and were discussing the headlines which were about women harassment. They were discussing how walking on streets, using public transport, going to school or work, women and girls are subject to the threat of sexual harassment and violence. This reality of daily life limits their freedom to get an education, to work, or to simply enjoy their own neighbourhood’s. Not a very welcoming Sunday morning breakfast conversation, I thought. I decided to keep quite because I knew if I offered my disparate views it would directly affect my coming back home from anywhere time.

Hence, quietly sipping my coffee I wondered how putting restrictions on one’s girl child the solution? Definitely not when there are reports of women harassment in broad daylight. With surveys and understandings of what is happening around us, isn’t it time that the citizens join hands together to do something about the situation and not just sit at home discussing or waiting for the government to do something. Isn’t it high time people realize that government is just a governing body which cannot function efficiently without active citizen participation. So what can ‘we’ as the citizens do? Wait for the awareness to spread amongst men? Or wait for the day when every men starts respecting women? Or be a part of bringing about the change? But ‘HOW’ is the question?

Whilst I and many like me talk about the issue over social media, a group of students from Rachna Sansad’s Academy of Architecture took a step ahead and decided to get into action. Having taken part in an inter-national level competition in which the brief talked about designing gender sensitive public spaces these students took the competition to another level by creating an organization known as SUPERNARI, to not only create social awareness but also social participation towards understanding and thereby designing gender sensitive spaces. They at the macro-level put up a wish tree at a city level event called EQUAL STREETS in Bandra, in collaboration with an existing NGO called AKSHARA. This event helped them to understand the need of women and general public. Having known the needs of the women the next was to create awareness. For this, a group of college student’s along with volunteers from AKSHARA boarded an open bus in South Mumbai screaming out women safety slogans and holding up hoardings so as to stop gender inequality. Next, since they believed that awareness should be spread at the root level, they organized a poster making competition in the school ‘Our Lady Of Good Counsel’ in Sion on the theme of Women Safety.

Not stopping here, this bunch of students in reality painted the dead and dull Sion skywalk after taking the necessary permissions in an attempt to make it lively. It was a surprise to me when I heard about the enthusiasm of the onlookers and daily passer-by’s who happily participated in this event. This in turn helped in making the space energetic and vivacious. Also they exhibited the posters made by the students along the skywalk in an attempt to beautify it and spread awareness.

They adopted a three faceted approach which basically deals with solving problems at three levels namely: safety, comfort, and mindset. Their main aim was to encourage the use of public-public spaces by making them not only safe but also comfortable, via concept of place making and playscapes. Also, they aimed at introducing participatory planning to develop continuous and direct relationship between people and space and people and people and inculcate a self-development attitude so as to create a symbiotic relationship between the site and the people. Further, they believed that each city and in fact each neighbourhood is unique and requires a local response. Hence, they created a set of guidelines for designing public spaces in the future by establishing a gender norm for the same and proposing different types of value systems depending on the need of the area to aid building up of a healthy community and structuring up a hierarchy.

They demonstrated their objectives by redesigning on paper the area around Sion station which is a major transit hub and has a complex layer of all major typologies and a mix of various communities and proved as one of the suburbs where maximum crimes take place according to their survey.

I don’t know how big a change these small interventions by a bunch of college students has brought or how many minds have they changed but they without doubt have inspired me to be a part of the change in whatever small way I can. They have taught me that it’s important to start, to try without worrying much about the outcome. They have taught me to act and not just wait for someone else to try. Most important they have set an example which, if all citizens of our country start following, I am sure it won’t be long before we can tackle and find solutions for not only the issue of women safety but anything and everything else.

And so here I am feeling proud that it is my juniors who have taken this step. They have once again proved that ‘ACADEMITES ARE DYNAMITES.’ I have started with doing my bit by letting you all know that it is possible to BE THE CHANGE.

P.S. – For detailed information on their works check out their Facebook page SUPERNARI. Also if you want to take a step ahead and contribute to the change you can contact SUPERNARI to work in collaboration with AKSHARA- the NGO these students worked with and are still continuing to work with.

Is this really what we call development?

           As I stood at the window sipping my cup of chilled coffee looking at those devil machines digging deeper and deeper into the Mother Earth, I thought about everyone around me in my neighbourhood who were excited above the 54 floor township which is about to completely change the image and nature of my neighbourhood. Even I agree that it will change things but now the question is whether the changes will be for the good or bad?

            It’s not that I personally hate skyscrapers or glass buildings or have issues with them consuming high energy because I know that now with newer materials and technologies it is possible to design and build sustainable skyscrapers which help in catering to a high density. After reading about the pros and cons of skyscrapers I remember concluding that there is nothing inherently wrong with them.

            But the reason behind my unhappiness is that unless these skyscrapers are built already in a densely packed neighbourhood or where there is a huge unsuppressed demand, these buildings have the potential to drain life off the streets. There are numerous ways to structure a building envelope to house a significant number of people and a mix of uses without going up, up and further up. Also I am a person who has a strong opinion to have a healthy respect for scale. Imagine these 54 floor towers in a neighbourhood of buildings ranging from 4-12 floors at an average. Also what about the pressure on the infrastructure these skyscrapers create? Imagine the same 12m wide road after a sudden increase in the number of vehicles owing to these skyscraper townships. No doubt the building designs will cater to the problem of parking. And this problem is not only pertaining to my locality but exists throughout the country. I think it’s strictly essential to develop the necessary infrastructure first and then allow builders and developers to initiate projects of such scale and magnitude. Whenever builders market the project they only project things which happen within their walls but what about the streets, the parks, the other educational and health related amenities. What about the effect on quality of life with this sudden increase in density? What about the big picture?

            Do we really want the skyline of our city to be dotted with skyscrapers? Is that the only way to deal with the increasing housing demands? Shouldn’t we evaluate and reuse blocks of underused, unused and undervalued buildings as well as plots and populate those areas before shooting new skyscrapers? Should we ‘THE PEOPLE’ encourage these townships which are like closed neighbourhoods with privatized amenities or rather encourage social interaction through housing and use of common basic amenities beyond class boundaries?

            With too many questions and concerns but very few conclusions whirling in my mind I sat sipping my coffee looking at the machines doing their work and hoping that the people and the government realize the gravity of the situation before it’s too late.