Within Ahmedabad's Old City or Walled City a neighbourhood is called a pol . John and Kinnari's house is in Jethbabhai ni pol or Jethabhai's neighbourhood.
Each pol traditionally was comprised of residents from the same sect, caste or religion. Many of the residents were even related to each other intern making a homogenous living environment where the front doors of the houses were often left open and the narrow streets of the pol became mere extensions of peoples living rooms; with residents moving seamlessly between houses as if the neighbourhood was one giant house.
The Old City of Ahmedabad is located on the eastern banks of the Sabarmati river. During the British occupation, Gujarat College was established on the western side of the river in 1845 and subsequently Ellis bridge, the first bridge was constructed, connecting the east and west sides in 1870.
This new connection encouraged development on the western side of the city and people from the Old city started to migrate out and urban immigrants started to gentrify the 'old' neighbourhoods, creating a more heterogeneous urban fabric, but one that is socially disjunct.
By the time John and Kinnari moved into Jethabhai ni pol in 1995, few of the original inhabitants remained. Many of the old houses had been crudely partitioned for renting, many houses were used as godowns or simply destroyed to make way for apartment building or whole sale shops.
By restoring their house, John and Kinnari brought awareness to the forgotten beauty of these homes and more importantly they made a statement that it was possible to have a modern lifestyle within the Old city.
Their efforts garnered awareness from various institutions like B.V Doshi's Vastu Shilpa Foundation, who sponsored the documentation of the pol under the US AID Research Voucher Programme in 1997.
The local Alliance Francaise and its director Olivier Debre brought the French Ambassador and the French Cultural Minister, Christian Dupavillon to Jethabhai ni Pol; who were then inspired to restore haveli’s and temples themselves. Consequently they sent a team from The Paris Heritage Office to study and document the uniqueness of Ahmedabad’s architecture.
Kartikeya Sarabhai, the director of The Centre for Environmental Education, a government branch, aided John and Kinnari to create workshops that brought awareness to their community regarding health, hygiene and an appreciation for the heritage of their built environment.
However, even after all their efforts and due to no landmark or heritage laws, the old houses kept getting demolished. Therefore, they decided to purchase the houses to save them, over 20 years they were able to procure six of them. All of them are currently being renovated.
Ahmedabad's Old city is now a UNESCO world heritage city and the local Municipal Commission has put forth 'Heritage' laws but it is slow going. The houses continue to be used as godowns and whole sale shops which cause the houses to dilapidate and the old narrow streets congested with pollution and traffic, there are no parking areas and new apartments exasperate the already overcrowded neighbourhoods.
In the meanwhile the 'bottom up' effort of making our immediate environment beautiful continues in Jethabhai ni pol with the hope that 'top down' legislation and building codes for the Old city will meet us halfway.