Gam is a small settlement organically formed either near a water source, or higher terrain. In Ahmedabad, most of the areas/ localities have gams like Naranpura, one of the oldest localities which have a gam in its center known as Naranpura Gam. The same pattern was seen in areas like Vadaj, Usmanpura, Mithakhali, etc. The newer developments in these localities start spreading from the ends or borders of the gams.
Amongst this Mithakhali gam is one of the oldest living settlements in the city of Ahmedabad, located near a railway crossing and a garden, developed by the gam residents, and later overtaken by the local authorities. This settlement is further divided based on castes or communities, allowing the resident’s freedom to celebrate among themselves, a sense of belonging develops. The factors that bring a community closer are business development, provision of recreational spaces, religious institutions, and spillover spaces. Some of the Vaas, or communities living in Mithakhali gam are Thakor vas, Patel vas, Ghanchi Bhai Nivas, Bharwad vas, etc. For instance, a Patel vas is a community living with main people belonging to the Patel community/caste, initiating a bond within the neighborhood.
These communities or vas are organically planned next to each other, with shared walls within the units, which are placed parallel to each other with vast central space. This central space is the life of the community, catering to all the users and their needs. This central space is a space owned by all the stakeholders of the neighborhood, they together organize celebrations for Ganesh chaturthi, janmashtami, holi, Diwali, etc festivals, in special occasions like pooja, hawan, birthday parties, marriage ceremonies, cremation ceremonies, etc ceremonies take place here in the heart of the gam. Gam is such a tight community living that everyone knows everyone, they know everything about each other, it’s like an extended family. Their children attend classes and lectures in the same schools or tuitions, they purchase groceries, items for daily necessities from the same vendor, for beauty treatments instead of visiting a spa or salon, they prefer going to someone from the gam. For the people staying in such a tight community, trust plays an important role.
They trust their neighbors to such an extent that they give their house keys to them, lend pieces of jewelry, for shorter distances or small chores, they leave their children with neighbors for a few hours. They don’t address the elderly by uncle or aunty. They are maasi, moosaji, dadaji, dadiji, chacha, chachi, they aren’t related by families, the bond is something they cherish.
The vehicular and pedestrian movement across the community takes place through the heart of the vas which is the central space. This central space consists of a raised plinth, which is articulated by a Chabutro(bird feeder) in the center, or a small temple of a deity, or a huge tree which almost shades the heart. Sometimes this plinth has a central pier with a statue in memory of the elderly, or the head of the community. The tree has a seating platform mainly known as Otla, a magnet, that attracts the elderly, women, men, children, vendors, every passer-by. Early in the morning seniors are seen sitting reading newspapers, sipping their morning chai, discussing the latest news, politics, etc. Later in the afternoon or late mornings, women are seen cutting vegetables or purchasing them from vegetable vendors, talking to each other, discussing their schedule, afternoon post-lunch is the calmest and silent time. Evening turns out to be even more lively, with some women washing utensils, some cutting veggies, some folding clothes, some cleaning the Aangan, kids are seen running, cycling, playing, across the community, with elderly sitting under the tree and talking.
With a small deity within the neighborhood, one can listen to the evening prayers, gather and perform aarti, distribute prasad. At night in summers, khat or Charpais are pulled out, placed in the center, or the front yards and they are seen sleeping under the stars. In winters a Tapnu( bonfire) is lit near the central space and everyone is seen sitting around it talking sipping chai or coffee, kids playing around, creating a lively atmosphere.
The units or houses in the community planned with minimal requirements, a living room merged with a verandah, a courtyard, a kitchen, and a bedroom. The spaces were kept minimal and tight, as all the major gathering activities take place in the center. These units are rigid yet flexible in such a way that they can serve both the purposes of life and work. Mainly the units facing the main road, have a transition space between the inside and outside, they transform this transitional space into semi-open spaces, with a temporary shed above. The verandah or living room transformed into a shop, or a workshop for carpenter, tiffin services, etc. cottage industries. The front of the units has additional functions like Chowdi(wash), a bathroom, and a staircase. These spaces are later additions with the units, which turn out to be the most interactive space, where household chores get finished along with some gossip.