[Image: “A woman crossing a stretch of India’s improved national highway system in a village in the northern state of Rajasthan.” Tyler Hicks/New York Times].
More Asian highway news: “The Indian government has begun a 15-year project to widen and pave some 40,000 miles of narrow, decrepit national highways, with the first leg, budgeted at $6.25 billion, to be largely complete by next year. It amounts to the most ambitious infrastructure project since independence in 1947 and the British building of the subcontinent’s railway network the century before.”
As the New York Times opines: “The effort echoes the United States’ construction of its national highway system in the 1920’s and 1950’s. The arteries paved across America fueled commerce and development, fed a nation’s auto obsession and created suburbs. They also displaced communities and helped sap mass transit and deplete inner cities.”
India’s automotive modernization, however, allows the New York Times this quick throwaway line: “Goddess versus man, superstition versus progress, the people versus the state – mile by mile, India is struggling to modernize its national highway system, and in the process, itself.”
A part of me wonders if the article’s author only wanted to cover the story in order to write that sentence…
[Image: “Migrant workers carrying cement at night to fill a section of a bridge under construction west of Aurangabad, in the state of Bihar.” Tyler Hicks/New York Times].
“At its heart,” the author continues, “the redone highway is about grafting Western notions of speed and efficiency onto a civilization that has always taken the long view.”
In any case, as the monolithic abstract surfaces of desert highways begin to coil and stretch themselves over the often rugged Indian topography, the mountains and swamps, passing through collapsing cities on shores, perhaps we will see a new kind of Indian Futurism arise, taking over from the outdated and Italianate F.T. Marinetti and Antonio Sant’Elia, an art of speed and travel and roadside architectural abstraction; or perhaps the fresh start of a counter-Bollywood, a traveling, digital, hyper-realist cinema that maps the outer edges of this newly autobahn’d Indian subcontinent with hand-held cameras and cheap cars, filmmakers traveling together at 90mph. DIY psychovideography, roadborne.
What, then, would happen when all this links up with the Asian Highway Project? When our possible future routes stretch from Finland to Tokyo, via Tehran and Outer Mongolia? What then? What future arts and structures will we make then?
A BLDGBLOG Guide to the Asian Highway Project. Interested funders, be in touch.