Architect duo Kaushik Kumar and Arunima Shankar of the Akarmaa Foundation has devised unique ways to explore the city’s heritage through treasure hunts that involve interacting with the locals.
“We felt the usual tours one undertakes at any heritage location end up museum-ising the local residents, who would have better knowledge about a place. We learnt that this was not the effective approach to explore a place and hence began creating games and puzzles to learn about a place,” says Kaushik Kumar, the co-founder of city-based Akarmaa Foundation, which is working on educating and imbibing historic knowledge in people through fun games and treasure hunts
Called the Amazing Race, this treasure hunt takes one into the by-lanes of the city — to lesser known tea stalls, temples, mosques, public structures and allows one to truly appreciate the local architecture. It is a tailor in the locality or a tea shop owner who would turn into a guide to offer his knowledge about heritage sites in the locale. “The race involves people going to a place of cultural importance in the city and collecting clues from local residents and interacting with them to solve the puzzles so as to know their next location to complete the race. This way of exploring the city keeps even the residents involved,” says architect-conservationist Arunima Shankar, who began Akarmaa Foundation along with Kaushik about three years ago.
Asked if the race was inspired by the popular American TV show by the same name, Arunima says their initiative draws its name from the show. “The name is inspired from the show, but our intention is to explore our city,” she states. The race is all-inclusive, allowing even the differently-abled to take part in it.
“I have always loved exploring cities by myself or along with friends. As an architect, I used to make games to understand architecture, and found it as an interesting way to explore a city as well. I also love riddles, which are part of the Amazing Race. Through these riddles and puzzles, there is also a connection formed between the local residents and ones who want to explore an area,” asserts Arunima.
Through their initiative, the duo aims to document a common man’s perspective of history of a place. “We are more interested in the local culture than in just buildings and monuments. We have been doing similar trips around Triplicane, which is a huge mix of cultures. It’s the living cultural heritage that we want people to see through this. There is also a plan to bring out a booklet on a particular locality through the knowledge from the community,” adds Kaushik.
For instance, a particular arch in one of Triplicane’s busy streets, which may often go unnoticed by many, could have an intriguing story known only to the residents. “One can attempt to understand how any element in the city can be linked to its social fabric and evolution. Locals also tend to value the possessions of their community by being involved,” he stresses.
Arunima and Kaushik, who are involved in several restoration projects, also create board games, card games and installation games that can help learn history and culture of a place. They are keen to hold food walks soon, allowing people to learn about Chennai’s food history too.