Portuguese traveler Barbosa, who visited Gujarat in A.D. 1511 and 1514, had described Ahmedabad as “very rich and well embellished with good streets and squares supplied with houses of stone and cement.” In Sir Thomas Roe’s time, A.D. 1615, it was said to be “a goodly city as large as London”.
How things have changed!
Or have they? According to a recent report, Ahmedabad’s population is slated to touch the 1 Crore mark in 2030! That would, irrespective of the difference between the two populations of the time, still make Ahmedabad ‘as large as London’.
But that would be missing tree for wood. For, the embellishment of the description of Ahmedabad was provided not as much by the word ‘large’, as it was by the entirety of the phrase ‘goodly city’ viz. good, big and handsome.
So, what is a ‘goodly city’ in its entirety?
Depends on where one comes from! But a part of it is carried in Babosa’s description viz. “well embellished with good streets and squares”. While it is, as already mentioned, only a part of the big picture, it speaks of the nature of the populace. It talks of a society that is not only organized but also encourages room for togetherness via public squares. It talks of a society that is not only progressing with the times but also preserving the early-life goodness like community huddle, for sharing those anecdotes that make life such a good story.
Ahmedabad today has innumerable malls, multiplexes, high-rises and an increasing number of flyovers. But name one great public square a la Trafalgar Square of London that the modern day town planners have gifted the City with. In fact, today’s children might well say that the only squares they see are the various cross-roads; and those too are basically reserved for cows!
We have various chic cafes, but do not have the coffee-house culture. We have close to 40 movie halls, including about a dozen multiplexes, but do not have a cinema culture. Our theatre is basically imported from Mumbai. We have timers on crossroads, but we think that the traffic should zoom when there are 6 seconds to go! We have some of India’s finest educational and research institutes, but do not have healthy public conversation on anything. We have some of biggest home-grown business houses, but do not have professionalism at most levels. We have continental restaurants, but we think that the place is meant to shout trans-continent while having our mouth full. We have the latest mobile phones, but we believe that they work the best during a movie or inside an ICU.
It is tiring for me and must be boring for you to read the aforementioned. Moreover, one may argue that most of the aforementioned is applicable to most Indian Cities.
Maybe; but how does your neighbour’s diarrhea cure your tummy ache?
This is not a malicious diatribe against the City. All of the aforementioned is stated merely to illustrate the various factors that are contributing to our size but not to our character. Ahmedabad is today a ‘goodly city as large as most European cities’, but it does not have good enough reasons to attract travelers anymore.
Don’t worry about some of the new-age ‘happening cities’ of India. Let them fool themselves with hyperboles. The truth of the matter is that no Indian city is good enough. The fight for prestige amongst Indian cities is basically about being crowned the one-eyed amongst blind!
We have the heterogeneity and we definitely have the means. Now if we get it right, we might start moving towards becoming a really “goodly City”. But for that to happen, we will have to refrain from scoring inconsequential brownie points over the nearest rival and set the benchmark right. 1615 A.D. should be a good one to begin with.
You are encouraged to share your views on the city and its people.
Come, let’s spend some time together.