Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Ginger Biscuits

Image and eaten by Pooja Ugrani

Of all the available biscuits, I like ginger biscuits best.

It is an acquired taste; so of course, they are the least easily available. When I can lay my hands on them, I tend to over-buy and hoard.  I have to, you see. In the boondocks where I live, resources are available only because they sell. 'Yeh item running hai'. New products do make their way on and off, but last only if they catch the imagination of the grand unwashed. Only running items are reordered.

This is not the way of the small kirana-wallah but the credo of the franchisee supermarkets as well- Big Bazaar, D-Mart, Hyper Mart will only stock items that will easily clear their shelves. The end effect is obvious- there is no diversity, no innovative products, no inclusion or freshness in the merchandise, only the staid and steady. So of late, no ginger biscuits. Also no coconut-orange juice, no basil and no Dindori.

In much the same way, our government has imagined 'smart cities'.

They have redefined ‘liveable cities’ to ‘cities that have the potential to give maximum returns’. In a great leap of associative fallacy they equate 'smart' with 'running items'- with economic viability. This ledger-book definition keeps citizens entirely out of the balance-sheet. If 100 crores are to be put into a city, it must generate 100 crores to be deemed smart.

This, in the long run, is a slippery slope. We can imagine stock patches of habitation with corporate built slickness and all round surveillance. A city where you can control your air conditioner with your mobile phone. But you cannot buy a packet of ginger biscuits, because not enough people like to eat it. Cities without diversity or inclusion, with only economic drivers, lacking socio-cultural touch points are cities heading for stagnation. We already have enough gated communities and failed malls to show us what such smart cities can become. No dogs, no bachelors, no women living alone or together, no musicians, no non-vegetarians, no Muslims. Nothing that is not conventional or conservative.

The great cities of the world have shown us one thing in the 21st century- they can run, grow, even flourish despite the government and their planners, not because of them. You live in one of them today. Look around. You have enough to complain about, but the city is not about to collapse. Diversity and everyday innovation power cities forward, social contracts that are made and remade on the streets power its spirit. And yet none of this is reflected in the Development Plans and indeed Smart City conceptions of the state.

Labels are all they are. Even definitions are difficult to come by, let alone directions.
Meanwhile, I dream of ginger biscuits.