A Brief Story of Soft Concrete

Concrete as a symbol of destruction
Where is the love to be found?
Won’t someone tell me?
’Cause my (sweet life)
Life must be somewhere to be found
(Must be somewhere for me)
Instead of concrete jungle,
Where the living is hardest
Bob Marley, Concrete Jungle

If there is one element, regardless of its pros and cons, which depicts socio-economic growth then it should be ‘concrete’. The paste of cement and water, the aggregate, it is the epitome of urbanisation—the icon of growth and development in the 21st century. Before you realise it, as exceptions prove the rule, this epitome or icon has changed course and become a symbol of decay.

Here’s the reason.

The Meiteis, a majority of which reside in the Imphal valley, number just around a million. The number might explain why the entire race would follow together any trend that-be: you open a chicken centre and there will be another 10 guys in a locality selling roasted and fried chicken. If you open a Photostat shop, again another 10 more people will follow suit. This is cute when we compare it with mindless copies on a large-scale basis like the present age of machine has imposed on us such as the sentimental, overly done pop culture. 

To make the explanation more ‘concrete’, let me start from my locality situated in Imphal West. Until a decade ago, in summer, the youths in the neighbourhood will join hands and build temporary platforms for the annual week-long Lai Haraoba celebration at Lai Lampak. Of course, we still believe in collective living but the trend has changed completely. Now in those places where we used to have temporary platforms are the ubiquitous ‘community halls’.

Local elders would say it is better, that we will need lesser time and energy for preparation each year and that it is cost-effective. It can be as well a source of revenue for the local clubs as people who have no courtyards can use the hall for rites and rituals by paying a fee.

Incidentally, we are known for the number of rites that we have over our lifetime, starting from birth and continues even after death: the ceremony of a baby’s first eating and the rituals of ear piercing and so on that goes on even after death as in ‘sorat’ and ‘phiroy’.

So far so good, but these places were once used to be commons or specially a playfield for the kids and grown-ups alike.

The issue has even become a tool for street politics as well. Some elected representatives would boast by citing the number of community halls that s/he has built over a certain period of time. In this game of number counting, we have overlooked the fact that we are being overfed with unrealised promises.

On this blog: Quote Design: Wailing of a Mountain Man Lost in a Concrete Jungle

We can see it is overdone, for example from Sagolband Moirang Leirak where there are four such halls within a radius of less than one kilometre, excluding the one in adjoining Thingom Leikai. [Hope the popular Killing Field will stay as a playfield and not turned into another community hall.]    

This brings us to the issue we have today. We have a concrete community hall where it used to be Lai Lampak but that hardly counts as a development but rather it is just a case of convenience if we do consider the merits. A major crisis is the imageries we have for development.

Leave the community halls. To take another example, elsewhere, graphics of cranes signify building and construction, a sign of growth but for us, it shows that of a landslide or the headache of pulling up an ill-fated bus or truck from a gorge. Once again, in this context, concrete is the symbol of ugliness in this part of the world, with much thanks to the existing milieu of unabated protests, conflicts and social movements.

The city is not a concrete jungle, it is a human zoo.
Desmond Morris

If you want to see the worst buildings of millionaires, come to the great Imphal valley. It’s shame for the concrete but somehow hidden by buildings that resemble matchboxes and shoeboxes. Perhaps, it is an indication of the mentality of the people: ugly, lack of imagination and the Tarzan’s level of aesthetics. A resemblance of beauty, it is only seen in how people fake each other to greet, fake each other in showing how they are civilised and fake each other in flaunting innate sycophantic natures and what not.

You need not even go far in the valley to experience this ugliness proudly demonstrated by concrete buildings. Stand in one of the streets facing the backside of Khwairamband Keithel, the main market of the town, and you can come up with a couple of definition of ‘repulsion’ right away.

As a consolation, let us take this mass endorsement of foundation-less ugliness as a form of resistance. Extortionists in and around the valley have a weakness for new buildings. The word on the street is that they look out for new buildings in each locality. The undertone is like: if you are building a new house, you got to have money so take this demand letter. It’s just for a meagre10 lakhs. Pay up or get ready for grenades and blank fires at your gate.

With the blatant Tarzan’s aesthetic sense and a pre-condition of losing money, the people are building haphazard shoeboxes and matchboxes while the principle of life is to get and gather as much as possible. Money, for that matter, has got nothing to do with beauty. In other parts of the world, there are issues of concepts like placelessness and concrete jungle. We have our unique problem distinguished by the softest kind of concrete.



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