This is an, already vintage, interview with Nithya, young architect from Chennai. At the time, in the first week of April 2012, she was living in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, where she was working on a large-scale urban design project, unique in its kind in India.
I served Nithya breakfast on a working day, before going to the office.
How does your day start?
My alarm clock goes off at 07.30 and I snooze for another 30 minutes before I get up.
I would like to be an early riser – wake up and do some exercise and cook lunch before leaving to work. But I am a night-bird. If I could, I would wake up between 9 and 10 o’clock.
What is currently your main source of happiness?
Planning holidays and occasions to meet my family and boyfriend. I am always looking forward to what is planned for next month.
I also enjoy cooking a lot. It has a de-stressing effect on me.
When did you first start cooking?
I started when I was doing my Masters in Glasgow. That is when I started making my own full meals. Before I might give a hand in the kitchen, or bake…
Why did you choose to study in Glasgow?
Well, I was looking for an international experience and I did not want to go to the US.
I think that Europe has a greater experience of urban design. So I short-listed three English-speaking schools. Two in London and one in Glasgow.
Glasgow was cheaper both in terms of tuition fees and subsistence costs. On the other hand, the city of Glasgow was working closely together with the University. The whole city was like an urban lab.
What did you find most challenging academically speaking?
We had to perform an urban design analysis choosing a subject from our hometown, an area in Glasgow and Europe and present our results.
How did you actually choose to specialise in urban design?
It was when I was an undergraduate student. I had never thought of urban planning and design before.
While I was studying I was very interested in eco-friendly architecture and creating housing for poor people.
Nowadays, I am less idealistic.
What would your dream work project look like?
I would like to live in a smaller place, and create a sustainable village model.
Where does your interest in sustainability come from?
Sustainability was a horizontal element at the school I went to, until 10th standard: KFI, Jay Krishna Murti school.
We could run around barefoot in the school yard and climb on trees.
After 10th grade I decided to shift to a state board secondary school, as I belong to a forward caste and would need grades of 98% to get into university.
I found the new system unchallenging.
Generally speaking, I must say that today’s children are not really allowed to be children.
Parents put their children to accent training and other meaningless courses. India is very competitive.
Was there something that shocked you when you arrived in Glasgow?
Actually, being around so many Indians. I had so much looked forward to the international experience.
I also liked how I could walk everywhere, how safe it was for pedestrians.
Did you miss anything in particular?
Well, sometimes the sunshine, but not too much. The food once in a while.
I was vegan back then and it was really easy to find food. There would be special sections in the supermarket.
What did you find shocking when coming back to India?
The noise and the dust. I had to get used to tuning out the noise.
What do you like about Ahmedabad?
I like the small scale. That I can get around easily on foot. The variety of Gujarati vegetarian food and the fact that people here celebrate even the small things in life. In the South people are more stoic.
I like the street-food in Ahmedabad. In the South you do not see much of it. It is considered to be food for poor people.
And on the negative side?
The dry summer heat, the fact that people stare and the new unknown language.
Well, I guess the difference between Ahmedabad and Chennai are a bit like London and Athens.
Ahmedabad is a safe city. I would not want to work in N. Delhi where women cannot walk around alone at night.
What do you like the most about your job?
The project itself….
It is a first time initiative in India. Looking out of the window I can see the river-front.
The project started ten years ago. It took time to clean the sewage, drain it and clean it. Sabarmati is not a flowing river.
The project is of a total of 11 km on both ends.
I cannot get any satisfaction out of designing somebody’s house when I can work on a public project.
What would you change in Chennai if you could?
Chennai has a good coastline.
I would opt for better public spaces and promote a walking culture.
India is a developing country. What does that mean to you?
There is the financial aspect. We are developing headlessly. I think we need to take a breath and think about where we are heading to. If we aspire to be where the West is now.