The Astrologer's Chair

The Astrologer sits on a high chair at the doorway between Present and Future. She has been sitting here forever. While Future has always been silent, Present has been incessantly posing questions. The questions have always been about Future. The Astrologer enjoys these questions. Her answers are in the form of further questions. Sometimes these answers/questions bring joy, sometimes worry. For Present, these answers/questions give life. Without them, Present is unable to live.

While she speaks to Present, the Astrologer’s eyes are stationed at Future who is misty and unclear. Her high chair allows her to look into the distance. From her chair, she looks aimlessly as if there is nothing. It is hard to tell whether her eyes are blinded. They remain calm, and seem to constantly make contact with some celestial logic. The logic which Present and Future, both cannot understand.

Everything seemed fine until suddenly, Future shouts out and asks a question about Present. The Astrologer is puzzled. This has never happened before. She is nervous – not only she has heard the voice of Future for the first time, but also she has no answers to Future’s questions. She has never seen Present. It is at this moment, that the Astrologer starts noticing Present.

Future: Does everything become me?

Astrologer: Well… yes

Future: Are you sure?

The Astrologer starts focusing her eyes and realises that she can see. She notices something strange.

Astrologer: May be not. There is a man making pens.

Present interjects.

Present: He made sound mixing machines earlier.

Future: Why does he make pens now? That is obviously not me.

Present: The world changed and nobody uses his sound mixers anymore.

Future: So has he started earning by making pens?

Present: He earns nothing. He just wastes time making those stupid pens.

Astrologer: He loves sitting in his shop and making pens – those large, bulky, heavy ones that sometimes make sound. That is his trip – to make pens. He gets a kick out of making pens – that brings him joy. A visiting money-lender once made an elaborate calculation and showed him the losses he was making by occupying his shop and making several iterations of pens. The money-lender had advised him to put his shop on rent and make some money. But the man continued to make pens. Through his pens, he has escaped you, Present and will also escape you, Future.

Future: Are there many like him?

Astrologer: Let me see…. I see one more… this one wants to walk through five countries.

Present: He is a guard watching a warehouse.

Astrologer: He had tried leaving his country on foot fourteen times so far. Every time he was sent back by the army guarding the boundaries of his country. He wants to walk to Hajj. He has approached his government several times requesting them to facilitate his cross over. He also has a letter from the government offering him a flight ticket. He has refused it on the grounds that the air in the airplane is stale. He needs fresh air and the only way he would get this is by walking. He has been living to walk the earth. That’s his trip.

Future: Why does this man want to walk? What does he want to be – a walker?

Astrologer: I see another one. He loves searching lost people.

Present: Well he used to work in a textile factory earlier. After the factory shut down he does off-hand jobs. He has a lot of free time these days.

Astrologer: But has he not been searching for people when he had a job?

Future: Why does he search for lost people? And who are the lost people?

Astrologer: He loves being a spy. He belongs to a very orthodox community. People from this community want to run away and disappear into the city. He likes to search for them. He has found many so far. Most of his earnings have been spent on just tracing people. This is his trip. There is another one I see. He repairs clocks. Over the years, his business has reduced and he has rented half of his shop to a friend, who uses it to store goods. The friend had asked him to keep a watch on his goods. The clock-repairer had installed a rear-view mirror in his part of the shop to keep an eye on the goods. In the mirror he started seeing other things around the shop. Now he has installed several rear-view mirrors. He gets a kick by watching the world through these mirrors.

Present: Those are useless preoccupations. You need not be bothered about them, Future. They will wither away with these people. The world does not happen because of these preoccupations. The world happens with routine, with production, with capital, with property, with the rich exploiting the poor and the poor fighting the rich. Everyone wants to make you, Future. All dreams are about you. You provide the energy for life. Everything becomes you.

Astrologer: From my high chair here, everyone seems to have a trip. There is this one who collects cameras, that one who wants to build a temple for snakes, another one who wants to count every tree, one who wants to collect cars, one wants to track every person on earth, one wants to make grand plans to save the world, one wants to incessantly oppose all plans, another wants to open all machines … The world seems to happen through these trips and kicks.

Future: You mean it is not about me at all? Is anyone becoming me? Do I exist at all?

Astrologer: From where I see you Future, you seem to be a trip of Present.

Future: What is your trip Astrologer?

Astrologer: My trip is to look for you and I have made my chair for that. Many people come to me to ask about you. That is their trip.

Future: And what is mine?

At this moment, Present, who has become extremely impatient with this conversation, kicks the Astrologer’s chair and leaves to look for another astrologer. The chair topples and the Astrologer falls. The Future, who had become completely clear by now, suddenly disappears. The Astrologer erects her toppled chair and climbs it again, to look for Future.

Rupali Gupte and Prasad Shetty

Rupali Gupte and Prasad Shetty are architects and urbanists based in Bombay. They are co-founders of SEA (School of Environment and Architecture), CRIT (Collective Research Initiatives Trust) and partners at BARD Studio. They believe that the urban realm is incoherent, unbound, unstable and gets worked out through multiple and messy logics. Their conceptual journey has moved from an urge of mapping cities, articulating problems and developing corrective interventions, to, looking closely at urban conditions, formulating newer ways to speak about them, and developing engagements to live and find delight. Their work often crosses disciplinary boundaries and takes different forms – writings, drawings, mixed-media works, storytelling, teaching, conversations, walks and spatial interventions. They have a wide range of publications and have worked, taught and lectured across the world.

Some of their joint works include Multifarious Nows (2007) shown at Manifesta 7 at Bolzano, a multi-media map of the textile mill lands in Mumbai, Studies of Housing Types in Mumbai (2007) produced for the Urban Age initiative of London School of Economics, a compilation of twenty-one housing typologies, Being Nicely Messy (2012) a proposition for the future of Urban Mobility shown in Istanbul for the Audi Urban Future Initiatives, Gurgaon Glossaries (2013) a methodology to read cities, shown at Sarai 09 Delhi, Mumbai Art Room and the Sao Paolo Architecture Biennale and Transactional Objects (2015) an installation that is both a way of reading cities and a projection, shown at the 56th Venice Art Biennale, Spatial design for the X Shanghai Biennale (2016), Conversations between Systems and Madness at the Seoul Biennale of Art and Architecture (2017), a curatorial project titled ‘When is Space? Conversations in Contemporary Architecture (2018), Belly of the Strange, an architectural installation at MACBA Barcelona (2018).