Category: Ahmedabad


Ahmedabad

State: Gujarat
Population: 7,208,200 (2011 poll)

Ahmedabad has been at the heart of many political uprisings in the fight for independence and fair treatment. Dating back to the 18th century when the British tried to occupy the city to the Dandi Salt March in the 1930s the people of Ahmedabad have worked hard to survive its oppressors. Mahatma Gandhi took residency in Ahmedabad along the Sabarmati river from 1917 – 1930 and established the Sabarmati Ashram which is now a museum and the headquarters for the Gandhi Portal.

Ahmedabad is very well known for its crafts and textile industry and many of its citizens are thriving through non-government organization (NGOs) that assist laborers and factory workers to be paid fair trade value. Other NGOs such as the Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) are working hard to protect, educate, and empower women in the greater Ahmedabad region. The word of their groundbreaking work has spread across some parts of India and beyond its borders in an effort to unite women. Ahmedabad is also considered an educational center in Gujarat and has many universities and colleges for higher education.

The diversity of soundscapes in this city expresses a full spectrum of lived experience from the stillness of Gandhi’s reflection to the generocity of citizens to the determination to keep traditional foods alive to the absolute fortitude and relentless passion to educate, empower and inspire woman and men to choose their destinies and create the change they want to see in the world.

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Ahmedabad: Soundscapes

Sabarmati Gandhi Ashram

Sabarmati Gandhi Ashram

Sabarmati Gandhi Ashram

We arrived on a private bus to the ashram and we were all ushered into the entrance and asked to pool around our “guide” Ashoke Chatterjee. Ashoke gave us an overview of the ashram and where things were located – book store, museum, Gandhi residency – then we were asked to follow him. We stopped by the Sabarmati River where many gatherings by the river had taken place and that sometimes people bathed there as well. It was a beautiful sunny day and kids ran around a bronze statue of Gandhi sitting cross legged in the middle of a grassy open area of the grounds. Our group arrived at the structure where Gandhi had slept, spun wool, and planned the Dandi march. The building was simply laid out and before we entered we were asked to remove our shoes. Looking into the room, the simplicity reminded me of his philosophy of life – so clear, direct, and unencumbered. There was a stillness, a quiet feeling of strength – the kind that comes from being grounded in principals and chosen action. Trees speckled the area towards the river and birds were chirping, flying from tree to tree. In the distance the home of Miraben – a British woman who participated in the freedom struggle alongside Gandhi – sat close to the river’s edge.
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Old Ahmedabad: The House of MG

House of MG

House of MG

I travelled by auto-rickshaw around 4pm to the famous hotel, The House of MG, both to record this area of town and see where Gandhi stayed when he had returned from South Africa. It was a pleasant place with tiled floors and arched hallways with plants, large bowls of rose petals and marigolds. I went to the roof top to record and found myself in a circular room with a giant God/Goddess mobile. They were wood carvings of Saraswati, Ganesha, Shiva, Vishnu, Krishna and Hanuman. As the man in a white shirt and tan pants swept the floor, I greeted him by putting my hands together and bowing slightly, saying “Namaste”. He smiled and put his hands together. I walked through this area and headed for the outdoor terrace. In the distance I could hear the distant sounds of traffic and the lilting call to prayer from the local mosque – the Sidi Siyad Masjid. I placed my recording device on the wall facing the street and began to record.

This recording was able to capture a typical background sound one would hear if distanced from the immediacy of the chaotic street hustle and bustle. The fact that The House of MG is a gated hotel, gives one the sense of oasis from the busyness – which by the very nature of the cost of the hotel – would reflect the privileged or upper class experience of the Old City of Ahmedabad.
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Diwali: sand art

Diwali food prepared by Draksha

Diwali food prepared by Draksha

We had been invited to the home of Draksha for Diwali which is the Indian New Year’s celebration.  We were taken by bus to the outskirts of Ahmedabad to a suburb called Vasna.  We arrived at a light yellow apartment complex and we were taken to the top floor where we were greeted by a beautiful floor sand painting and blessed with red kum-kum on our third eye.  We were asked to remove our shoes and entered into her living room space that was about 8ft x 8ft.  Some of sat on pillows on the floor, others tiered their way on a deep sofa and even more of us sat on chairs.  Our hostess brought in plates of food – Indian sweets and spicy pappad (pappadam).  We passed the food around and asked questions and found out our  hostess was an actress performing in semi political plays regarding women’s rights.  As time went on, we began to move up to the rooftop.  In the distance we could hear firecrackers exploding from all around.  As the sun slowly sat behind the buildings, we lit candles and sparklers enjoying the light they brought.  Some of us retreated back into the main foyer area by the sand painting only to find one of our cohort, Andrea Palframan, contributing to the sand painting in her amazingly gifted way.
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Vishalla

Vishalla entrance

Vishalla entrance

After our Diwali visit with Draksha We loaded ourselves back on the bus and headed toward a tribal restaurant called Vishalla. Vishalla was created out of the desire to preserve tribal foods in the greater Ahmedabad area that were being forgotten. A mother / son endeavor created the first Vishalla restaurant which was then destroyed in a natural disaster. The government would not help the Patel family to restructure their restaurant but independent investors saw the value in preserving tribal foods and donated enough money for set up costs and to buy the land the restaurant now sits on. Vishalla’s ethos is based on promoting freedom – therefore the structure of the restaurant is open with no doors, there’s no lighting except by lantern, musicians play openly in different parts of the restaurant and the seating areas are communal in style. The vision of this restaurant was to portray a typical Indian village, including eating at low tables sitting on rugs, eating on “plates” made from leaves, and enjoying endless servings of complex flavourful vegetarian foods.

When we arrived we had to wait for some time to be seated. We sat on large bench like structures talking and enjoying one another. I stepped away to a less populated area and began to record this soundscape. You can hear the Diwali celebration in the background along with chanting outside the restaurant grounds.
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SEWA

SEWA

SEWA

I had chosen to work with the Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) and we visited their Ahmedabad headquarters, the SEWA Bank, the Rudi no Radio station and a tribal village in Manipur, Ahmedabad. The SEWA Academy is located in Manipur and is the location where SEWA trains videographers, conducts literacy classes and also runs the community radio station called Rudino Radio.

We travelled for about an hour outside of Ahmedabad and finally arrived at the SEWA academy. We walked through the building structure and looked at the pictograms that were painted on all the walls – put there to assist those who were unable to read to grasp the fundamental ideas of the empowerment/disempowerment of women.

SEWA Academy

SEWA Academy

The building was shaped like a large square with the center area open for group teachings. The actual structure was a little bit in disrepair with chipped paint in places and dark water stains along some of the walls. We then went into the studio to view their equipment and meet the women who were running the station. They were interested in our thoughts of their programs and interviewed each of us on air. Then they played one of their radio programs for us. After that we were led into a sound room where an air conditioner was turned on and four women joined us. We asked them questions about their own path to Rudi no Radio and after some interviewing that was conducted by Nancy Coldham, we were asked to sing something from our country. Caught off guard, we scrambled for something that we all knew and decided to sing “You are My Sunshine”. When we were done, they said they wanted something more nationalistic – like our anthem. They recorded us singing “O Canada” and seemed pleased. The soundscape that I recorded here was of a music program they were currently broadcasting.
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Manipur

After we had left the SEWA Academy, we travelled for about 20 minutes into the tribal village area to meet with the villagers who SEWA has involved in their communication and literacy project. We arrived in a SUV on the dirt road, dust swirling up behind us. We got out of the vehicle and were invited into a family’s home. Inside there were three families living in a relatively small area. It was designed as a communal living space with three rooms to sleep in off the main area. Treating them as separate residences, a couple of families had painted their sections of the common area in different colours. We were told we could enter one of the rooms – the walls were lined with silver plates propped up high on the walls. There were cabinets of dishes and clothes and a small table in the middle. We asked if this was where people slept and were told yes – 5 people slept in that room. The room was about 12ft x 10ft – a pretty tight squeeze by western standards. Something else that was notable was the lack of beds in the room.

Manipur - Tribal Village

Manipur – Tribal Village

Soon we were asked to come out into the main courtyard and sit at the doors of the temple. Women, men, and children poured into the courtyard and the brightly dressed women sat row upon row on the temple entrance area with us. Kids and others looked on standing around the fenced area to see us and be included. We began to ask them questions about what their lives were like, what foods they grow, what their concerns were. Our leader, lectured them on the importance of not allowing their girls to marry young. Her voice was strong and intention clear and the women nodded with her every emphasis. When asked if he felt threatened by the empowerment of his wife, one of the men standing along the fenced area replied “No, if my wife is educated then she can work – this is good for our family and helps our community” I asked the women what they liked most about Rudi no Radio and they said, the music, the singing. So I asked them if they could sing a song for us.
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Map of Ahmedabad Soundscapes

Here is a map of the soundscapes conducted in Ahmedabad. I have also included the Lemon Tree hotel where we stayed as a point of reference. The blue markers are not hyperlinked to the soundscapes, but give brief information of what each location is. I hope you have enjoyed listening and sharing in my experience.
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