Correa with rain

It became necessary to travel to Pune on one of the rainiest days in the year. The night before I was to travel, the floodgates in a dam over one of the rivers which run through Pune had to be opened. The resulting surge of water apparently washed away ten cars parked inside the city. The next morning, when I was to return to Mumbai, there was a flood warning in Mumbai.

The Mumbai-Pune Expressway makes it possible to drive between the cities in a couple of hours. The rain caused traffic jams at both ends, and increased travel time by more than half an hour. The continuing rains had damaged the surfaces of the roads leading in to the Expressway, adding another half an hour to the trip. Even so, I enjoyed the taxi rides. The hills along the way were the fluorescent green that the monsoon engenders. Streams leapt over mountain cliffs in ribbons of spray, paused at high meadows, and then fell in gauzy curtains to the sides of the road. Through the closed windows of the taxi I could hear the gurgle of water rushing through channels next to the road. When I passed Lonavala, the fields that I could see had turned into shallow lakes.

Sierpinski gasket in Correa's courtyard in IUCAA Pune

The rain made it difficult to travel inside Pune. The only thing I managed to see was the famous architecture of IUCAA, the Inter-University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics. This was designed by Charles Correa, one of India’s most well-known modern architects.

IUCAA is built as three interlinked courtyards, with low buildings and galleries running between them. I liked the courtyard called Akashganga, the Sanskrit name for our galaxy (the two photos here). Poincianas were planted in two rows. The ground beneath them was marked out in a triangular tiling which is supposed to call to your mind the fractal called the Sierpinski gasket. The trees were gloriously in flower; parrots fed on the fruits, and a wagtail skipped around below the trees.

The galleries would have been great in winter. In the monsoon they were traps. One of the galleries had artful holes in the roof which is supposed to look like the vault of the sky studded with stars. During monsoon it is a mini waterfall. The cemented floor with a compass rose is a slippery mess.

The flagstones set into the next courtyard have sunk in places, creating pools of standing water. The main building next to this has two open inner courtyards: one with a grove of bamboos, and another with a tree I could not identify. Both had turned into shallow pools. I need to come back in winter to see Correa’s creation at its best.

There was the fragrance of good coffee somewhere. I followed my nose and came to an espresso machine. Just the thing for a wet day!