As we count down to the grand arrival of India’s PM Manmohan Singh on 27 Oct, Brickfields has gone under the knife with major renovations. Be it a splurge of periwinkle paint, or swank arches that obstruct pedestrian pathways and the signage of shoplots — it seems like there’s been very little proper urban planning for the area’s existing communities.
If you’re looking to be alarmed, we’re spoiled for choice. The new Little India makeover does little to actually revitalize the bustling neighbourhood, but instead makes you wonder whether you’ve stumbled into a new theme park, complete with Malaysia’s tallest water fountain!
Colour plays a huge significance to Indian visual culture — you need only to walk through a city on the subcontinent, or watch a Bollywood movie, to see that. So to use it to symbolise the Indian cultural milieu may be appropriate. But, in the case of Brickfields, the over-dosage of periwinkle on the building creates a strange mood: one of uniformity.
That solemn and mundane shade of purple not only contradicts the vibrancy of India, but the multiculturalism of Brickfields itself.
I wonder how the new Brickfields will look at night, when it’s all lit up. Aside from the face paint, we also have rows of new lampposts installed, looking like alarming crossbreeds of mosquito-coils and lollipops.
Arches and pillars are also set up to complement the overall landscape, presumably to lend some poised elegance to the place. But beyond their striking colours and intricate engraving, the arches do very little beyond mere decoration.
There are some saving graces in the new Brickfields. Charming — but not overly so — these two large cubist structures stand as silhouettes, dancing and towering over grass patches. With their opaque features, they are quite a stark contrast to the bewildered funfair of colour in the background.
Perhaps this is the juxtaposition we require to best represent the multiplicities residing in Brickfields. The town, after all, has Buddhist temples, Hindu temples, Taoist temples, four churches, and a mosque — a melting-pot metaphor for Malaysia.
A great deal of cosmetic work has been done, yet Brickfields still continues to suffer from its perennial problem: traffic congestion. (The relatively clear streets on the day I photographed the place was an extraordinary fluke.) The persistence of double-parking, despite a four-lane road, clearly shows the lack of forethought in urban planning — especially since, with KL Sentral, Brickfields is one of KL’s major public-transport hubs.