8 min read

Walking in Chandigarh with Vinish Garg

Exploring and enjoying Jan Marg, visiting Cafe Coffee Day, the flâneur as a student of the environment, renaming a street Le Melange, and moving to Amsterdam.
Walking in Chandigarh with Vinish Garg
Fine Arts Museum, Chandigarh

I connected with Vinish online through Twitter DMs. We both share a passion for urban design and urban narratives, so I'm delighted to feature an interview with him on The Flâneurs Project.

Hi Vinish! Please tell us a bit about yourself, where do you live now, where have you lived before, and about any creative projects that you are passionate about.

I am Vinish Garg, a digital products consultant with many years of experience. I live in India's most beautiful city—Chandigarh. I grew up in Punjab, but when I moved to Chandigarh at the age of twelve, it transformed my perspective on life: the structure, merit, and how a city functions as a system of many sub-systems.

During high school, I studied science, and in college, I pursued literature, computer science, and journalism. These diverse fields revealed to me many intersections between digital products and real life. For instance, navigating a website to find information is similar to locating a person or specific information within a physical building. Additionally, the courage and timing required in journalism can be directly applied to product and design leadership roles.

I aim to bring a more holistic, systematized, and people-centric approach to our digital processes. This involves prioritizing message design and information design models first, then building technology to scale and amplify the collective message and intent.

One of my passion projects is interviewing people; I have previously run a series of interviews and am currently working on a new project called Around. Around is a digital service designed to support individuals through the bereavement journey, helping them build memories and engage in deep, thoughtful conversations. It also assists in finding vendors for grief-related services, legal matters, funerals, and post-life planning tools.

In conjunction with this project, I am running a series of interviews where I invite industry experts to share their thoughts on the challenges and opportunities in deathcare and bereavement. Here is the first episode of the series.

What is your favorite street / area in Chandigarh and why?

Chandigarh has many beautiful streets, and I love walking along many of them. My most immersive walking experience is on Jan Marg, from Sector 16, across from Sector 17, and then in Sector 10, across from Sector 9.

This road has an exclusive and beautiful walking zone parallel to the main road. When I am in Sector 16, I have the Rose Garden on one side and Sector 17 on the other. The greenery makes it an even more charming experience—the vastness of the space, the colors, and the views all around make me forget about paying bills, buying my son's shoes, or renewing a subscription.

I feel connected to nature's network, like an ecologist.

It's as if I am a train slowly moving on the rails, with multiple eyes watching the outside world through its many windows.

It feels like there are no boundaries, no constraints, and no points of stopping.
Credit: keshav_g5

What café and restaurant have you visited the most often in Chandigarh?

Since I do not consume alcohol in any form, I have visited a few coffee shops in the city. The one I frequent most often is Cafe Coffee Day in Sector 9, Panchkula.

There is ample space for car parking and a wide corridor to walk through before entering the café. It’s less about the coffee and more about the kind of audience it attracts. Sometimes I see two designers or engineers discussing a project, a couple of students working on an architecture model, a journalist interviewing someone on the phone, an elderly couple enjoying their coffee, a realtor closing a property deal, or someone just sitting alone. I can observe a diverse crowd within a few minutes, sometimes overhearing their conversations, noting their food choices, their vocabulary and etiquette, and their body language when someone else joins their table.

I love the smell of everything in this café. As for the coffee, I enjoy their Dark Frappe, accompanied by spinach and corn garlic bread.

Please share a serendipitous moment from a walk.

While I was in college, I used public transport and noticed that my city bus often took the route via Jan Marg. One time, a classmate who lived near my house suggested we try cycling to college—it was almost 4 miles from our homes.

I agreed, and while cycling on Jan Marg one day, I stopped and suggested we walk with our bikes alongside us. We did, and it became a daily practice. We would cycle from home and then walk along this stretch, sometimes alone if either of us were absent for any reason.

I was sixteen at the time, and while my classmate was immersed in calculus, Faraday's laws, or hydrocarbons even on the walks, I was captivated by the urban design, the curves in the landscaping, the lawn mowing machines, the grids and navigation, the squirrels, and sometimes the dew drops.
Sometimes it was foggy, or bright, sunny, and sweaty, or even drizzling—we experienced it all, observing people enjoying crossing the chasm in every situation.

What city in the world brings you joy whilst walking?

I love Helsinki, Prague, and Copenhagen. There's an untouched beauty to Europe that draws me, and I'd love to wander those streets. Beyond Europe, Wellington or Christchurch in New Zealand also hold appeal.

These cities evoke a sense of tranquility, as if one could move about freely without the weight of deadlines. They are clean, pedestrian-friendly, and seamlessly blend with nature while maintaining their distinct character and themes, whether it be art, colors, design, interactions, or the intricate sub-systems within their urban ecosystems.

When I speak of nature, space, or theme, it encompasses architecture as well. I admire the harmony present in these cities.

people walking on street during daytime
Photo by Nicolas Messifet / Helsinki

What is your personal definition of the flâneur / flâneuse?

A flâneur makes me feel like a student of the environment, which involves studying our collective life and interconnected systems.

We learn by observing how someone makes way for the elderly, crosses a road, crushes dry leaves with their shoe, or how a child splashes in a small pond of water when it rains. I appreciate how a girl walks past a vendor without responding to their calls to buy something, or how people adjust their steps when moving from larger tiles to smaller ones, sometimes holding hands. Everything provides insight into their minds.

A walk offers a blank canvas for inspiration and pattern-finding, and sometimes even meaning.

Often, it reminds us of our past—whether it's writing poetry, doing pottery, scaling mountains, diving into pools with friends, or hiding in the library. Or the moments spent with our parents or grandparents who are no longer with us. It encourages internal expression.

I believe that regular walks on the right streets can help us understand the people around us and the world better. It uplifts our spirits.

Walking is a profound education, and I wish we could receive certificates that go beyond our Fitbit targets—meaningful rewards for walking alone or walking with someone, even in silence.

What part of Chandigarh would you like to re-enchant and why?

Chandigarh's fundamental character has remained relatively unchanged over the past three or four decades. Naturally, the city adapts to new challenges posed by a growing population, an exponential increase in the number of cars, and the evolving expectations of its citizens, such as the demand for digitally-centered governance touchpoints. However, the city administration has been judicious, intelligent, and committed to preserving its core character and theme.

I aspire to restore the equilibrium between walking zones, cycling paths, and areas for cars. The city should prioritize long-term planning by investing in more car-free zones and creating more cycle-friendly and pedestrian-friendly areas, akin to what we see in Amsterdam, Copenhagen, and various other European countries. I am not advocating for a ban on cars in the city, but we can certainly draw inspiration from ideas presented in this The Guardian story. Furthermore, it would be beneficial if town planners are cognizant of the historical context of street designs and urban planning, considering factors related to commuting, pedestrian pathways, and vehicular traffic.

As an addition to the wishlist, it would be wonderful to have small mobile corners serving as public libraries for students, featuring books exclusively focused on urban design and civic planning. For instance, "A City is Not a Computer" by Shannon Mattern, among others, could be included. Twenty years ago, walking through Sector Seventeen in the city evoked a sense of art and culture; however, today, it has become more digitally-oriented. I wish we could draw inspiration from Helsinki to strike a delicate balance between modern art and technology.

If you could name a street, what name would you choose?

I would rename a street to Le Melange—a fusion of Le Corbusier's city and a blend representing the cross-cultural footprints of the city's character, art, and technology, in a few pre-identified zones. This street should serve as a global reference.

At this stage, I'm not entirely certain, but I may consider borrowing your concept (with proper credits, of course) for my service—Around, to organize solitary walks or companionship walks for survivors and the bereaved. It could potentially turn out to be quite lovely.

If you could move to another city tomorrow (and have every expense covered, job security, a new home) what city would you choose, if you had to go with your first gut instinct?

Amsterdam—it's a city of completeness. If you're aware of any flaws or gaps in the city, that's precisely what contributes to its sense of entirety. Here, completeness signifies wholeness.

What places do you crave when you're visiting a new city?

The most important aspect is to discover an open street café, offering an outdoor dining experience where I can enjoy food while observing people walking by or cycling around. Here's a related and intriguing story.

Imagine a place bustling with people, where you're relishing your meal under the open sky, with no immediate walls enclosing you.

Additionally, I relish visiting their university—you glean profound insights into a city and its culture by observing its students as they navigate through libraries, parks, and food establishments.

A university serves as a captivating intersection where the city's present meets its aspirations, shaping the students' journey forward. The scent of books, grass, tea, and the essence of achievement make it a truly distinctive space, especially for newcomers to the city.

Vinish wrote me this note and asked me this question:

I love this project and let us say that after doing fifty or a hundred posts, you want to stop or to take a break. What you would like to feel at that time, thinking of the possible gains or takeaways or the outcomes of this project. How would you describe that feeling. If I ask you to make a drawing, what shape will you draw to answer that question. You can use an image or illustration to support your answer.

My answer to his question:

After fifty posts, I hope to gain more clarity about the direction of this project. Right now, it feels like an almost obsessive process of collecting and publishing personal urban stories, with the main goal of connecting flâneurs through these narratives.

I imagine that once I hit the fifty or hundred post mark, I'll feel more connected to global urban stories and the unique ways we experience our cities and our lives.

scene from The Durrells

Thank you, Vinish, for sharing your stories with us!