Bringing the City Alive Through Games

– By Nikhil Jain and Nikhila Anoth

 
“A board game?” we gasped with our eyes popping out, after our mentor Swastik Harish raised the idea as an output for our site-based project. It was hard to continue listening, as we seemed stuck on Snakes & Ladders at the mention of board games. Despite our initial reaction, we ended up creating Butterfly, Snakes & Ladders, a game to understand the emotions of senior citizens in the Bengaluru neighbourhood of Sultanpalya. That’s how our journey with board games began, and what started off as a class assignment snowballed into our start-up, Urban Play. With each game we have created, we are experimenting with the form of traditional board games and interactive web-based games in an attempt to engage with complex urban questions.

 
Butterfly, Snakes & Ladders

Urbanisation is a complex process that isn’t talked about in depth. We require tools and methods that are not just participatory and communicative, but also drive policy making. With Urban Play, we intend to explore the potential of games in the challenging process of city-making. Games can significantly improve the practice of planning and governance, by simulating collaborative decision-making scenarios, extracting meaning from and visualising big data, and strengthening conflict resolution.

Our games are driven by exhaustive research and an understanding of different elements of the urban; like policy, governance, planning, identity, infrastructure and so on. Working on a board game, A Day in the Life Of as part of an assignment for Gautam Bhan’s course called Identity and Social Practice, we researched data on disability in India to understand how official documents and the law engage with it. We found that the Census data counted disability only in 2001 and 2011!
The Persons with Disability Act (1995) defines a “Person with disability” as a person suffering from not less than forty per cent of any disability as certified by a medical authority. We also found that the Act defines specific disabilities differently than the Census. For example, speech impairment is not defined in Census data. In terms of mobility and disability, we could not find any primary research studies in Bangalore. We question such official definitions and missing links in data in A Day in the Life Of, to stimulate healthy conversations around these issues.

 
A Day In The Life Of

We hope to generate the following outcomes through our board games:
Help policy makers look at the challenges around the urban and simulate scenarios
Build an informed community that understands the dynamics of its city
Educate and build awareness about individual impact and intervention

Board games have been a familiar part of childhood for many. The popularity of traditional board games like Monopoly, Scotland Yard and Settlers of Catan have long been established. Building on the ability of games to engage with and connect people, organisations around the world have experimented with interactive tools to address complex problems involving multiple stakeholders. Fields of View is an example of a non-profit institution in Bangalore that has created a game on solid waste management called Rubbish to engage conservancy workers and sanitation department officials. Used during focus group discussions (FGDs), the game helps to spread awareness about the entire chain of solid waste disposal.

The rationale for creating board games instead of app-based games stems from the experiential element of players interacting with each other physically rather than over virtual networks. Our games help create a connection between players, which facilitates a spirit of learning and collaboration. By grappling with complex simulated scenarios, players gain a deeper understanding of and engage better with issues on the ground. This understanding can then facilitate discussions and conversations in a workshop or FGD after the game.

 

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We can plan cities where water is no longer a scarce resource; where safe and affordable transport is guaranteed for the oldest woman and the youngest girl. Through board games, we can innovate to unravel the complexities of urban networks. In our vision, urban stakeholders from various backgrounds will come together and plan for more inclusivity and better services. Using the power of games, we hope to break through the event horizon of our imaginations to find solutions for the pressing problems of our cities.

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Mapping Memory In Malleswaram

Niyati Dave

Malleswaram is a residential area situated in the north-western part of Bengaluru city. It was developed as a planned suburb after the great plague of 1898 during the colonial period and became a hub of different religious and commercial activities. The area, which derives its name from the Kadu Malleswara Temple, is home to a number of temple complexes and traditional markets.

As part of a group (comprising Asaf, Haifa and me) project in the first half of the Urban Fellows Programme, we wanted to examine how religion manifests itself in the ‘physical-material’ and ‘mental-imaginative’ (to use the terms Janaki Nair applies in Promise of Metropolis: Bangalore’s Twentieth Century) conceptions of Malleswaram. We were particularly interested in understanding the logic of public space with regards to how religious institutions, practices and economies impact neighbourhoods, markets and street cultures. We were also interested in how the physical space of Malleswaram is being replicated and relayed to the Indian diaspora whose roots are from there. What do these new networks and their consumption say about how residents of Malleswaram make sense of and perform their own past?

We focused specifically on 8th cross road, since it houses three temples. We focused on the Sri Kanyaka Parameshwari Temple and the Mahaganpathi Temple, as well as the properties owned and operated by them. We also observed pockets of economic activity-both formal and informal-around these temples.

Throughout our fieldwork in Malleswaram, we conducted interviews, participatory observations at temples and did mapping and audio-visual recording of sacred, commercial and everyday spaces and practices. We then presented this research through narrative essays and visuals on our blog, Sacral Geographies.

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If you follow Sri Kanyaka Parameshwari Temple on Facebook…

On a wall in the Mahaganpathi Temple, along with pictures of deities, there is one particular poster that stands out. It urges visitors to like the Mahaganpathi Temple Facebook Page and scan the QR code on the poster to do so. At the evening aarti, a phone on a tripod is set up to live-stream the proceedings. The young priest who works on getting his B.M.M degree during the day, tells us that a number of people who are originally from Malleswaram are now abroad but the temple uses technology to reach out to them. Similarly, Sutram Kiran Shastry, the priest at the Sri Kanyaka Parameshwari Temple informs us that the temple has devotees from all over the world. ‘If you go onto our Facebook address, you will find multiple things and see how many followers from abroad we have…’

Mr. Murthy, who owns a decorative items and Puja goods store on 8th Cross, also states that the demographic of Malleswaram is changing. ‘Now many old people have gone away. Their children have settled abroad and have taken them to the USA, Canada. Hardly anyone is left.’ However, there is a sense that these diasporic persons also maintain a sense of engagement with their old neighbourhood, through these digital mediums.

This engagement is also tied to the model of the temple as a corporation or nucleus in a larger trust that governs multiple activities. For example, the Sri Kanyaka Temple’s youth hostel, marriage hall and health clinics. These Facebook pages are used for outreach in the same way a business might use them. The Sri Kanyaka Temple’s priest, Sutram Kiran Shastry’s parting words to us as he urged us to come to the temple’s Anant Chaturdashi, reinforce the idea of marketing the temple as corporation: ‘In the past you will never have seen anything like it, in the future you will see nothing like it. Please come!’

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O Kochi!

Jayati Narain 

I’m not really sure why I did it. I am sure that at the time I did have a reason. But right now I’m completely drawing a blank as to why I decided to go out that day, or why I wanted to go to that part of the city. That being said, much of the time ‘why not?’ is a good enough reason for me.

So why did I accidently walk across Kochi? Well, why not?

Navigating the inner streets, I began to overlay what I saw around me on to the Google maps layout. Which seemed to make the idea of getting lost more and more appealing. The sewage covering acting as a sidewalk kept me just aware enough to pay attention to where I was going. The persistent fear of falling in and having a fate like Prince stayed with me throughout my exploration (and throughout most of my time in the city). While the sewage covers were, by and large pretty reliable placeholders for the sidewalks, constantly checking on them kept me from staring at one of the best sights in the city; the sky.

Most people in the city did not understand my excitement about the sky, but having been in Delhi my whole life, a sky like this just felt fake. It was like the set of some movie, which makes you think of all kinds of ridiculously clichéd statements. Something like, ‘a sky so blue, it has been picked from an artist’s palette and spread across evenly’. The bright green heads of the coconut trees, against this blue did not make matters any better. Every time I looked at them, they reminded me of how limited my idea of a city was.  A clear blue sky and streets lined with coconut trees was enough for me to not consider Kochi a real city. For me, it was a beach town at best (the lack of an actual beach complicates matters slightly).

The city invited me to walk, with the slight hope that I may just find a hidden beach (none to report thus far). The narrow side roads, twisting and turning, allowing me to discover five routes to the same place, made up for the lack of proper sidewalks. While the city seemed to want me to wander, the people seemed to be pushing back. It wasn’t the kind of hostility or aggression I’ve learnt to deal with (an unconscious life skill developed growing up in Delhi), rather it was a confused curiosity.

With rapid ‘development’, like metro construction, road widening and planning the next flyover, the commercial capital of the state is trying its best to engulf the old trading port. And walkers like me seem to be caught in the crossfire. The city doesn’t seem to be developing for those who are walking along with no real purpose; out of place, and out of choice. The dearth of other women walking simply for the sake of walking, truly seemed to make me an anomaly. Unfortunately, the male gaze that I thought I’d be free of followed me to the end of the country, just slightly altering its character along the way.

When the bemused looks got a bit much to bear, a change in path always seemed to be around the corner. These constant ventures into different streets also led me to discover what would become one of my favourite places in the city. The ‘book hanger’ as I call it, was literally a large warehouse filled with second hand books, simply waiting to be bought by me. It’s like all the twisting lanes, and at times annoyingly curious glances were sending me towards the promise land. Back on the trail a few hours later, with a significantly heavier bag, I was almost pleased with my social awkwardness. All the issues of uncertainty and ineptness had finally paid off, leading me somewhere no bus or auto would have.

Blindly following the turns on the road, ahead of me was a familiar signboard; ‘India Coffee House’. After hours of exploring every street corner and gap in the drain covers, it was strangely reassuring to see a place I knew, or at least thought I knew. The moment I set foot inside, I realised this was not a place to sit around enjoying time, company and partaking in activities which may fall in legal grey areas. The traditional colonial uniforms the servers were wearing gave me the impression that I might actually get food here.

Staring at the calm sea in front, being challenged by the sounds from the main road (one of three in the city) that were filtering in, reminded me where I was and what I was doing.

I was on my own, learning to adult, starting out with the task of eating alone in public.

 

Do I belong here?

– Nikhil Jain

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I am kind, undemanding and silent (most of the time).

Every weekend I leave my temporary residence to experience the city and beyond. Generally, I am joined by my friends who take turns to lead, with me leading most of the time. A pounding begins inside me when I reach the highway, looking at the giant vehicles zipping by me. It doesn’t seem particularly calamitous, for I am used to this rush. Nevertheless, the indifference of these vehicles make me livid. But I have made peace with these gas ejecting bodies, rushing around me. I no longer claim the commons, although I wish to. The commons remind me of lakes. This city has many of them; some are well maintained, and others have been left to their sorry fate. I pass by one of the better maintained lakes every day. My rider calls it Sankey Tank.

Let me give you a snapshot of my society. The social stratification of this city is now an accepted principle. And it’s not just between different types of vehicles, there is a hierarchy within a certain type of vehicle too. For our convenience, let’s call them as varna and jati as termed by humans. Jati is recognised due to the social roles we play. For instance, the difference between road bikes, MTB and mountain bikes. Let’s not get further into this, for the world is complex and full of confusion.

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In this city of never ending complexity, I meet many fellow bikes. There are “modern” bikes that boast superior suspension and greater gear combinations. I feel the pride flowing, but I am content with what I have. I see many bikes belonging to different jatis. The riders chat among themselves, occasionally looking at us with appreciation and awe. What matters to us at the end, are empty roads and green fields all around. The smell of soil pervading, combined perfectly with the fragrance of leaves is what I enjoy. Some of my favourite journeys have been to Menchanabele dam, Nandi hills, Hesaraghatta lake and Turahalli forest.

There are few journeys where minor disasters have taken place, one such being a ride to the airport. Out of fourteen bikers, two were injured. One of them had to be taken to hospital as well. Part of the blame fell on us; but then we are silent, humbly accepting responsibility. With my rider injured, it was strange to be carried away by an auto, when I truly belong to the road with wind gushing past me.

A strange chord of subtle sympathy resonates when I see my fellow bikes not rolling down the road, dumped at a corner, forgotten or lost. How can I forget the powerful urge to roll downhill, cutting through the air?

Once out of the city, it’s all about the speed! My rider pushes the pedals hard, but with confidence. I roll, overtaking tractors and autos. Dew on the green grass shimmers in bright day light like pearls.

While they sit on the grass to rest, we rest on our stands, introspecting our belonging. I want to be there, amidst flowers and greenery. But I return to the city, every time.

City? Whose city?

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Happiness is just a phase, and it ends sooner than anticipated. I come back to the treacherous path where I feel lost, ignored and vulnerable. Sometimes I want to rebel against the boundaries society has prescribed for me. Is the city closing in on terrible doom? Since I go to IIHS every day, despite not having the privilege to attend classes I hear my rider talk about rapid urbanisation, and how the city’s rate of growth has exceeded its infrastructure capability. Big words! I dream to roll freely, not afraid of monstrous vehicles, not afraid of falling, or being hit or being ignored. I dream of being respected.

Someday.

Will I ever belong to this city?

यह एक शहर है

– सुशील कुमार

 

यह एक शहर है

मेरे सामने गुलमोहर के पेड़ पर फूल लदे हैं

पेड़ के चारों ओर कुछ चिडियाँ चहचहा रही हैं

उसके ठीक नीचे सड़क पर गाडियां सरपट दौड रही हैं

बगल के पेट्रोल पम्प पर अभी-अभी गाड़ी भरकर पेट्रोल उतरा है

मालूम नहीं यह तेल किस रिफायनरी से आया है

सरकार के या फिर अंबानी के ……..

पम्प के बगल में नारियल के पेड़ पर एक बाज बैठा है

कई घंटे से वह एक ही दिशा में सिर गडाए हुए है

उसके ठीक सामने……….

वो दूर कुछ इमारतें बन रही हैं

बहुत ऊंची, गगनचुम्बी

बाज की आँखें उसी दिशा में हैं

मेरी बायीं ओर शीशे की एक ऊंची इमारत है

उसके तीसरी मंजिल पर जैन फूड मिलता है

बिलकुल वेजिटेरियन

उसी इमारत के नीचे कई महँगी कारे खड़ी हैं

एक मेम अभी-अभी कार से नीचे उतरी

उन्होंने सड़क पर सोये कुत्ते के पैर पर अपनी कार चढ़ा दी

कुत्ता पो……पो ……. चिल्लाता दूर भाग गया

मेम वेज फूड खाने चली गयीं………

उसके ठीक नीचे ओर्गेनिक फ़ूड भी बिकता है

वे बड़े महंगे हैं……

एक बार मैं इस स्टोर में गया था

पैकेट में बंद मुट्ठी भर हरा धनिया सौ रुपये का था

मैंने भी एक बार गांव में पिताजी से ऐसी खेती करने की बात की थी

पिताजी बोले, ‘अरे बेवकूफ, दुनिया आगे भाग रही है और तू गोबर खाद की बात करता है

येसी खेती तो तेरे दादा जी करते थे’

खैर……….मैं खड़ा सोचता रहा……..

गांव की याद से खुद कों निकालकर शहर लाया

अचानक मेरी नाक में गमले के पौधे की ए़क पत्ती घुस गई

आछी…….आछी………..

यह भी ओर्गेनिक पौधा है

भाई……यह एक शहर है

Where We Grow Our Tomatoes

by Ooha Uppalapati

I want to eat the tomato I grow
Without pesticides
Without a farm
Without a farmer
Without the till
Without the water from pumps and motors
Without bullocks tied to the yoke

Where will you grow it then?

In a mud pot on my window sill
Water from my indigo sprinkler
Sunlight through the bamboo blinds.

Who made your pot
on your sill, of polished wood?
What water is this
in the wells and taps?
How was it let in, this sunlight
through blinds in blades of gold?

I will make a wheel, and polish
this wood from wax from the bees
You mock me!
I will walk miles barefoot
to where the rivers are born
You mock me!
There is no hole or pit, I believe
with no light and heat
You mock me!

What length of bitumen and steel and stone?
To lay your noble path
Who is your blacksmith?
From which forest is this axe?
How are the hills and the hamlets?
Or should I ask, the mines
The blinding red dust
And the corpses lost in fires?
Will the guardians say yes?
The history and the priests
For the water you will touch, where it is born.
Let me at least mock the tomatoes
And the cucumbers
And the pigs and the goats
laid to rest, before this tomato you will grow
In a mud pot on your window sill.