An architect's vision for India's future: Building a country with dignity for all – The Indian Express

Having lived and worked as an architect in India for over four decades, my vision for the future of India is a country with dignity for all its 1.3 billion people.
To look at India at 100, I need to try and remember India at 25, India at 50 and India at 75. As I was born soon after Independence, these quarter centuries of free India coincided with significant personal milestones. These periods of change determined and shaped my life as it is today.
I grew up in Mumbai, a great cosmopolitan city of the time. My school and college years reflected an inclusive India. We had shortages and difficulties of many kinds, but it was one India. I have good memories of where we lived and how we celebrated with each other, irrespective of our age, gender, or beliefs. I went to the West to study further but came home as I did not want to be peripheral to society. One genuinely believed one could make a difference in many lives while keeping our value system intact.
The turn of the century brought out a new India, less isolated. Technology opened the world to us and that led to growing aspirations. In this new India, towers are rising, highways are unfurling, tunnels are being bored, bridges are being erected, and new dreams are taking shape.
I have three dreams for India at 100.
The first: A large construction site. India is building homes for its 1.5 billion people. The architect is a woman, but so also are many of the construction labourers. They are welding, tying the re-bars and supervising the general labour force. At night they go back to their labour camp which has electricity, water, and clean toilets with bathing areas. On their way home, they pick up their children from the site creche and the site school and collect their daily wages that are no different from that of men.
This will strengthen our workforce, and enhance creativity and productivity. After all, the motivation for inclusion should not only come from the desire to create a just society but also because it leads to better and more effective processes and solutions.
The second: The Mexican poet and diplomat Octavio Paz once said, “the past is not past, it is still passing by…”, this is true of India. The contemporary architecture of India today is the built expression of an interaction between our rich past and our present global culture. We need to be guardians of our built and unbuilt environment. I believe that if we want our future generations to feel a link with their cultural and historical roots, we must preserve the physical heritage of the past. If that link is lost, people will lose their sense of identity, national pride, and finally their self-esteem.
We must also restore, retrofit, repair, and ensure adaptive reuse of our existing buildings to preserve their embodied energy. The construction industry globally contributes to 38 per cent of the total carbon emissions and is the single largest unorganised sector in the country. This dream is to ensure a sustainable future for India.
The third: We all know that we want India, both its urban and rural areas, to be self-sufficient in housing, medical care, education, power, and water. I also want every Indian to have dignity. They need to have worth beyond their usefulness and abilities. Like architecture requires rhythm, harmony, and balance in design, India needs strength, heroic initiative, and assertive excellence in its people. These are some of the qualities that I believe make a society civilised and hence dignified.
I know we have many wonderful sayings and thoughts by Indians, but I would like to end with one by former US president Franklin Delano Roosevelt: “The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.”
This is the India that we all believe in. India at 100!
Somaya is an architect and urban conservationist. This article is part of an ongoing series, which began on August 15, by women who have made a mark, across sectors
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