This moment when wandering the city becomes synonymous with adventure. To be carried away by opportunities without a specific goal or objective. Guy Debord's theory, as I see it, was detailed in the introduction to the post "Derive in Delhi."

For this second derive organized in Sector 13 of Chandigarh, the effect of this theory was much more pronounced due to the urban density. We decided to follow our senses and disguise the one that would be most drawn to. It was first sound, then smell, and finally sight, touch, and taste.

The exercise required 6 hours of derive, half during the day and the other at night. The prescribed time served only as a guide to let go. Unlike my daily habits, which I considered somewhat similar to the theory of the derive, I realized that true deriving forbids having a goal; the objective is precisely to let the city create it for us.

4:30 pm

The derive had just begun when the vibrant music from a Sikh temple called us to it. Barefoot and draped in fabric covering our heads, we entered this place of worship located on the first floor of a makeshift, richly decorated concrete building. In the center, an officiant person reciting the prayer invited us to bow before the stage, and then a woman offered us a sweet dish known in Sikh culture.

While listening to the prayer, our attention was drawn to a small backyard whose contours were barely visible, but out of respect, we decided to restrain our curiosity. The woman saw our interest and invited us to follow her. She was the wife of the religious person, and the courtyard was her home. 

It was a single room where the bedroom, kitchen, and living room shared the space. In the center of the courtyard, there was a ladder leading to the temple. We realized that the temple called us back, again and again, and that if we allowed ourselves to be carried away by the repetition of the music, we might never leave this place.

Once we forced ourselves to leave, the bustling street regained our attention. A man appeared with a magnificent turban, and in the spirit of the derive and the hope of finding the same for our professor, we called out to him. Welcoming and helpful as Indians usually are, he offered to take us to a fabric shop, but he stopped to greet friends, and we were drawn by the muffled sound of drums on the first floor of the same building.

We gently pushed open the door and behind it, a music group was set up in a makeshift studio with walls covered in acoustic foam and artificial grass on the floor, commanding artistic respect. We were automatically invited to participate in an improvisation and singing session, and later, a composer joined us and shared his latest creations.

Once the decibels had reached the migraine threshold, we decided to continue our journey…

The city's acoustics would soon draw us to another temple, like typhoons juxtaposing the city and drawing us into their hearts over and over. This one was larger, more majestic, and more ornate, inviting us to enter from the street. Once again, we removed our shoes to join the prayer.

This time, a worshiper sitting in a corner pointed the way with a fluid index finger movement, asking us, in the beginning, to pass through the central path to greet the officiant. Then we sat for a while on a carpet adorned with a thousand motifs. When we decided to leave this place, the same old man signaled us firmly not to leave the temple. We obeyed.

We understood from the tone and rhythm of the prayer that the moment was important, and we needed to be attentive to the intensity of the chant and its silence. Then the congregation rose and followed the officiant to a back room where they placed the prayer book in a sacred bed. It was a magnificent moment of communion and belief to which we had been invited to participate. The prayer was nearing its end, and while the temple would remain open, the service was interrupted.

We thanked the old man with a wave of the hand - admittedly much less delicate than his gestures - and continued our derive. We discovered a micro-neighborhood of winding streets, buildings separated by only a few centimeters, and residents living right on the street. The street was an integral part of their homes, blurring all well-known architectural boundaries between inside/outside, private/public, open/closed. Since the street was not open-air but nestled between two buildings, the living room could extend into the street, the bedroom could accommodate scooters, and the bed could have a view of the living room.

At the exit of this area, a magnificent brick wall caught my eye. Climbing it, we discovered that we were facing the Manimajra Fort, which was founded in 1515 by Mani Ram under the dynasty of Delhi Sultanate to protect  the 84 villages newly funded and considered as the Encyclopedia of Sikhism. (Due to a large amount of misinformation on internet, the data concerning this fort needs to be verified)

This fort was originally supposed to be our starting point, so it was a surprise to stumble upon it this way. We decided to keep one of its bricks to tell the story of our derive. What a surprise when we presented it to our professor. Two Indians joined us, and with great fascination, they told us about the historical significance of this brick called Lakhori, which must have been at least 200 years old. An archaeological construction element made of lime, surki, jaggery, bael fruit pulp and 23 more ingredients incuding urad ki daal ( past of Vigny mungo pulse).

I must admit to having deep remorse about taking an element of its history from its place, but the fascination of these two Indians was such that one of them, an architect, decided to keep it, slightly easing my regret.

With our find in hand, we resumed our journey. The sounds of a lively and noisy market intrigued our ears. Merchants selling pigments, spices, art supplies, and fabric lined the streets. It was time to find a turban for our professor. We found a shop displaying brightly colored fabrics in a perfectly organized gradient, leaving us somewhat bewildered after becoming accustomed to the chaos of this country. Choosing the color was not easy, but I had recently been drawn to olive green, so we opted for it as a contrast to the cultural saffron orange.

The derive was soon coming to an end, but hunger called us to find a new sign. Unfortunately, this sign created a clear break from this human-scale, artisanal world filled with jugaad; we looked up and saw the McDonald's logo.

Capitalism reminded us with the same fervor as the Sikh temples. We were intrigued by the idea of following this sign at the border of Sector 13 and discovering the culinary adaptation of this multinational corporation to each welcoming country. It was less inspiring upon exiting the building, and we decided that this cultural and economic shock would mark the end of our adventures.

As we waited for the taxi to take us back to our controlled and programmed comfort zone, we saw two young men trying to repair an engine in the darkness of the night. I then became a light-bearing guide to assist them as we waited for our taxi.

Watching them, I realized that Sector 13 was the first area of Chandigarh where I found this human scale and artisanal soul born of great economic poverty and accompanied by great cultural richness. 

With our belly full of that addictive, monotonous taste from McDonald’s, I regretted following that capitalist sign guided by the straight roads of this thoroughly planned city.

I decided then that my next text would focus on the contrasts of this police-state city based on control with "modernity" as its tool.

delhi, Delhi - the eyes of a city

What does it mean for me to write about Delhi? A foreinger, an outsider, in the belly of the city-beast, often described as hell? A city born out of a navel, on a bed of snake and lotus? Do I write about Delhi, the capital of the newly independent India, the largest metropolitan of this great nation, home to extrodinary national monuments? Or do I write about delhi, the lower case city, conqured by streets ridden with trash, broken pavemens and everlasting smog? And what is it like, to walk in such a city, as a woman? To play a game of derive, free the movement from taylorism, adapt experimental behaviour and wander through alleyways, finding perhaps the beating heart of hers? 

We arrive at sunrise at India Gate. We were told that this area would be safer for us. The sun emerges out of its sleep, sheepishly peeping between the reddish stone and yellowish granite archway. We sit atop the fountain, by manicured lawns. Police men and soldiers are roaming the grounds, shifting our movements and motioning us around. We are under constant surveillance, we are followed, we are surrounded, we must escape. And so we turn, and again we are surveilled, but now we are under constant scrutiny of curious eyes, penetrating, pregnant with wonder. They see our foreign and feminine nature. We look back, through them, trying to decipher the city, as if they are not a part of it. 

Rather than a linear derive, we form a spiral path, walking the rigidly planed grid of the India Gate area, finding temporary autonomous moments of solace, when the street is empty and deserted. Two blocks, five blocks, the flowers on the trees bare no resemblance, each unique, however each of the same uniform nature. Under the apparent diversity, lies unity. Sometimes a butterfly emerges between lush leaves, sometimes a bike honks from nearer distance. We continue to walk, hoping to find something at least. We see the heat radiating from the asphalt roads, pulsing into the sky. We drench sweat, our shirts turning translucent. Our bodies cannot but interact with the city, and the city interacs with our body: small particales penetrate our skin and we start to share the same urban stench; we taste it with every sip, with every trickeling of sweat. 

The day melts under the blazing sun of Delhi, and night creeps in. We find no refuge in the night air: it is engulfing and as dense as an old heavy blanket. Not only does it not protect us, it exposes us, brings with it the anticipation of lenience, of promiscuity. Perhaps we should have dressesd up as men, set free and unseen. We are touched, fondeld, we feel the warmth of the stares growing colder.

 In a sense, just like Lord shiva's third eye that turns gods into ash, to see is to destroy. Trying to see the city, its truth, to peel it like an onion, layer by layer, to uncover its translucent truth in search of a core, eventually leads through a path of futility; the onion has no core, we had not found the heart of the city. It had regurgitated us, sent us on our way home on the sparkling metro line. I don't think it wanted us to see it, not like this at least. Not with our eyes covered by curtains of fables, true stories and fear. We watched, never fading into the scence, never truly drifting.


Once upon a time in Chandigarh

Chandigarh high court, circa 2007