Pols of Ahmedabad

Monday, January 28, 2008

Ahmedabad is full of contradictions. Architecturally it straddles the old and the new. The new city is full of malls and boasts of clean lined structures by the likes of world famous Louise Kahn. But the old city is what gives Ahmedabad its texture. And you can't think of old Ahmedababad and not talk about its famous Pols.
The word 'Pol' in short for 'pratoli' in sanskrit and simply means door or 'entrance'. As one steps into the very narrow lanes crammed with homes stacked close and almost piled on each other, its easy at first glance to think- this...? And then you walk in and look around you will see beauty, in every peeling door, in every dusty frame- each differently intricate, each separately carved, with workmanship that speaks of royalty.
Our jaws dropped at this kind of intricacy...

"A Pol is a small residential unit consisting of a single street with a group of houses, which is usually protected by a massive gate at the entrance. When the gate is closed, the entire street becomes one big house often inhabited by people of the same trade or even by relatives. A compact housing cluster with dead-end streets forms a distinctive residential pattern within a Pol. "
"In earlier days, the Pols were self-sustaining for a certain period of time since each house had its own underground storage for water, and food grains were stored in the safest part of the house. At times, two different Pols opened for ventilation at the same point and they also had a common service bay for drainage, water supply and garbage collection. These Pols formed a kind of micro-neighborhood, which developed further as population density increased in the city."
Drying towels and the wiring form an odd and real contrast to all that carving that belongs to another century.
Not all of them are styled similarly though, some distinctly show strains of the art deco style

more art deco....

These kind of maddeningly beautiful details are just thrown around the dusty corners.

And the people were extremely friendly and inclusive. The gossip and the chores were all shared so much so that a new comer would never know who belonged to which home. Walking the narrow lanes was almost like walking around in their house and to get certain closer shots I had to climb onto the balconies. All of which ended up in someone asking if I am from NDTV or National Geographic (!) what made them imagine that someone from these places would land up with a point and shoot camera is a mystery. But the experience sure made for a brilliantly memorable afternoon.

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