By Kiran Bir Sethi
Designer turned educator Kiran Bir Sethi founded the Riverside School in the Indian city of Ahmedabad in 2001. Her organisation Design for Change is working in 65 countries to empower children to have an ‘I can’ mindset.
When you make Ahmedabad your home, the question is not whether you will like Ahmedabad, but whether Ahmedabad will like you.
I must say that over the past 30 years, Ahmedabad has turned from a reluctant host to a warm sambandhi (relative). It silently, sneakily enveloped me, embraced me and made me, dare I say, into an Amdavadi, as locals are known.
From the idyllic camel rides to the shimmer and sparkle of the women’s ghagras (skirts) at Law Garden public park, from the omelette kiosks at 3am to the nine nights of dancing during the Hindu festival Navratri, Ahmedabad is all this and more for me.
If Ahmedabad likes you, it reveals itself with candour and humility. It shows you the beauty of its deep-rooted cultural ethos: the courage of its people, the wealth of its history and the spunk of its entrepreneurial spirit. But if it does not, then all you see is the burgeoning mall culture, the loss of open space for children and the divide across the 10 bridges that could either reduce or increase the gap between the old city with its tiny alleyways and traditions, to the new city with its traffic and shiny new developments.
I have seen it grow, change, blossom and decline as we have used and abused it. I shall continue loving this city. After all, like all of us, it is a work in progress, flawed and fabulous.
Where to live — Hansol
I live in the midst of trees, birds and the laughter of children since my house is within the school I founded. This is in the suburbs of Ahmedabad in a place called Hansol — on a quiet day just 20 minutes from the city centre but, during rush hour, a good hour-and-a-half away. It is the greenest part of Ahmedabad and the airport is five minutes from where I stay. Other landmarks are the Sardar Patel National Museum, a national memorial dedicated to the politician of the same name, and the Calico Museum of Textiles.
Where to drink coffee
Gujarat is a dry state but you can be in high spirits by heading to Cheers Parlour on C.G. Road for a tall glass of deliciousness — the best cold coffee topped with sinful whipped cream.
Where to discover culture
The Natarani theatre, founded by Mrinalini Sarabhai and her husband, and then run by her daughter, Mallika Sarabhai, was the first of its kind in the city. It is a haven for artists, a melting pot of inspiration and a window into the world of art and theatre. From jazz quartets to Kalaripayattu, an Indian martial arts and dance form, from stand-up comedy to acting workshops, it is the one-stop place for culture and a great cup of coffee.
Where to relax
When I want to switch off mentally I head to the Gandhi Ashram, one of Gandhi’s residences and now a national monument. I imagine that I am having a conversation with Gandhi, watch the tourists find inspiration at the Ashram, and find perspective and stamina revisiting his life. Then all is well again.
Where to be outdoors
Ahmedabad is not much of a walking city but the newly-constructed waterfront promenade offers the open space the city needs, right in the centre. This riverfront initiative offers ample gardens for picnics, strolls or family outings, boating on the Sabarmati river, cafés and flower museums as well as cycling paths for early morning enthusiasts.
Where to see amazing architecture
Ahmedabad is home to some of the finest examples of old and new in terms of architecture. Not only do we boast the faculty of architecture at CEPT University, but we also have had the world-famous architects Louis Kahn (who designed the Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad campus) and Charles Correa (who designed the Ramkrishna House) contribute to the landscape of the city.
B. V. Doshi has shaped the language of style with substance in the works he has designed — be it housing for Ahmedabad Textile Industry’s Research Association staff or the incredible cavelike Amdavad ni Gufa art gallery that he designed for the works of Indian painter M.F. Hussain.
If you want a taste of the old, visit the 600-year-old Adalaj Stepwell, which was built as a watering hole for passing camel caravans. You have it all in Ahmedabad!
Photographs: Getty; Dreamstime