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Architects, Apathy and Coronavirus- Bhawna Jaimini’s satirical take on the current pandemic

Unless the internet God is angry with you or you are stuck in Kashmir where both the internet and human rights Gods are angry with you, you must know about the exodus of migrant labour from different parts of the country to their homes. Social media is abuzz with distressing photographs of thousands of migrant labour families stranded on bus and railway stations, completely violating our great PM’s call for social distancing. Has the parliament passed any ordinance virtually to prosecute these labourers who might be a part of some opposition controversy trying to bring shame to our country and its supreme leader? Is it at least time to call them anti-nationals or R-Urban Naxals till the government re-use old laws or create new ones to name, shame and jail these ‘kamchor’ and opportunistic people who are just using this pandemic as an excuse to go on a vacation to sip mahua coladas?

If you are an architect like me, you would agree on how unprofessional and lousy these migrant daily wage labourers can be. Our construction sites are full of them. Always extending their holidays and delaying the casting of the slab. We architects are always the one suffering and nobody cares about us. The photographs of these labourers are all over the internet but here we are struggling to get 5000 signatures on a petition asking the Finance Minister for an economic relief package to support architecture and design services in these apocalyptic times.

How do we get UNESCO to declare architecture the poorest profession so that people and the government start taking us and our poverty seriously? To worsen our woes, even the Supreme Court has allowed anyone to practice architecture without being registered. We spent 5 sleepless years trying to understand architecture as frozen music and compare ourselves with great poets, doctors, artists (always without them knowing) to know that we can just build without being called architects? Is that how 80 per cent of the country builds? They didn’t teach us that!

Yesterday, I got a call from another architect who sounded concerned about construction labourers and wanted to set up a relief fund for them. However, the poor man didn’t know how and where to find the labourers because even after executing multiple projects, he had no idea where most of the labourers who built his projects came from. Being poor can be a self-consuming task. Why are architects expected to socialize with construction labourers when they have deadlines to meet, clients to chase for payments and start change.org petitions? If Bimal Patel had spent his valuable time asking the mason about how many of his kids can afford to go to school, do you think he would have ever gotten the 20,000 crore Central Vista Project which all the other jealous architects are trying to sabotage?

Remember when Zaha Hadid clearly said, “I have nothing to do with the workers. It’s not my duty as an architect to look at it. I cannot do anything about it because I have no power to do anything about it.” If the Late Pritzker awardee Zaha Hadid had no power, how will the poor Colaba architect who was blocked by so many of his clients on WhatsApp, even know anything about the labourers on his construction sites. Unrealistic expectations!

A lot of my architect friends are distressed looking at labourers attempting to walk 400 kilometres without practising social distancing. Why is nobody explaining them the rules of social distancing? May be we architects can go explain it to them. After all, if they can understand our drawings and make those walls and windows exactly where we wanted them to be, surely we can explain social distancing and how to stay safe in this pandemic. It is pretty simple. Just stay at home, wash your hands, and maintain a distance of 6 feet with everyone whenever you step out, though limit stepping out to a bare minimum.

Someone tells me some of the labourers don’t have homes and neither do they have running water. You see, that’s not the architect’s fault. We didn’t make the social distancing guidelines. Also, we worked really hard to be where we are, just like our parents told us to. Aren’t these labourers taught that they can achieve anything they want to if they work hard? However, this is not the time to point fingers. Poor people are in distress and it’s not their fault that they don’t believe in working hard. Not everyone can become an architect you know. Didn’t your professors warn you in architecture school about not becoming an architect if you wanted an easy life?

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