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January 27, 2013

Post-revolution Egypt: India as a model, Part 3/3

Dr. Mohamed Elmasry

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One of the major festivities of Ahmedabad is the international kite festival that is celebrated every year on the 14th of January. I was there.

Jawaharlal Nehru wrote in his final testament: “I thought I have discarded much of past tradition and customs, and am anxious that India should rid herself of all shackles that bind and constrain and divide her people … But I am conscious that I too, like all of us, am a link in that unbroken chain which goes back to the dawn of history in the immemorial past of India.”

Nehru was right: any nation can achieve progress while holding on its heritage. One more fact in nations’ building is this: extremism never did and never will sustain any progress for any nation. If the leaders of any country including Egypt remember and abide by these two facts then progress is possible and sustaining it is also achievable.

The kite festival falls on the same day as the Hindu occasion of Uttarayan or Makar Sankranti but it is marked by all the citizens of Ahmadabad irrespective of their religion; some 60% are Hindus and 30% are Muslims while the rest belong to other religions. The day is a holiday. On the night before, the entire city is abuzz with the young and old buying colorful kites and strings differing in color, design and style. On the day of the festival, people head to the open fields or terrace of their houses to fly their kites.

But when I was there the wind was not strong enough to lift all the kites high up in the air. As a result on the day after, almost every tree in the city was decorated by tangled kites of many colors – a scene resembles decorated Christmas trees.

Ahmadabad, the state of Gujarat’s largest city with a population of around five million was its capital until 1971. It is 32 km from the state current capital of Gandhinagar.

It sprawls along the banks of the River Sabarmati, 90 km from its mouth in the Bay of Cambay on the Arabian Sea. The historic heart of Ahmedabad has mosques and tombs of Ahmedabad's Muslim rulers, as well as vibrant bazaars and pols (residential areas) – labyrinths of high wooden havelis and narrow cul-de-sacs that still house families all belonging to the same caste or trade.

Ahmedabad is packed with diverse architectural styles, with over fifty mosques and tombs, plus Hindu and Jain temples.

The grand step-wells (Vav as it is called in Gujarati) were very common here and one of the well-known is the Adalaj step-well in the nearby city of Adalaj. It was built by the Muslim king Mohammed Begda in 1499. It is five stories in depth and beautifully constructed. Such step wells were common for the semi-arid regions of Gujarat as they provided water for drinking, washing and bathing. These wells were also venues for colorful festivals and sacred rituals.

The Calico Museum of Textiles, one of the worlds finest is appropriately located here as the city established itself as the home of India’s textile industry earning it the nickname Manchester of the East.

Ahmadabad’s Jama Masjid with its 260 pillars and 15 domes is one of the most splendid mosques in India. It was constructed in the year 1423 by Sultan Ahmed Shah the founder of the city and it contains his tomb.

Sarkhej Roza 8 kms to the south is the tomb of the spiritual leader of Sultan Ahmed Shah Sheikh Ahmed Kattu Gang Baksh. It also contains a mosque and a cluster of monuments, the origin of which can be dated back to the times of Mughal rule in Ahmedabad. There I bought a fascinating book written in the 1940s on the history of Ahmedabad and the state of Gujarat.

Mahatma Gandhi gave Ahmadabad a worldwide exposure when he established his Ashram here. Since that time the city was at the forefront of the Indian independent movement and many campaigns of civil disobedience to promote farmers’ and workers’ rights started here. He also promoted the purchase of Indian-made goods.

Last year The Times of India chose Ahmedabad as the best city to live in India. In 2010 the gross domestic product of Ahmedabad was estimated at $59 billion and Forbes magazine rated Ahmedabad as the fastest-growing city in India listing it as the third fastest-growing in the world.

The automobile industry is important to the city after Tata's Nano small car project. The city is the largest supplier of denim and one of the largest exporters of gemstones and jewellery in India. Two of the biggest pharmaceutical companies of India are based in the city. The Nirma group of industries, which runs a large number of detergent and chemical industrial units, has its corporate headquarters here.

The Gujarat government has invested in the modernization of the city's infrastructure, providing for the construction of roads and improvements to water supply, electricity and communications and built a modern airport which is connected to the city centre with a 12 km flyover. The IT-enabled services ranked Ahmedabad fifth among the top nine most competitive cities in the country. The city's educational and industrial institutions have attracted students and young skilled workers from the rest of India.

Most interesting is the fact that about half of all real estate in the city is owned by community organizations (cooperatives). According to Prof. Vrajlal Sapovadia of the B.K. School of Business Management, "the spatial growth of the city is to an extent a contribution of these organizations".

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