Colonial Britain rules over present day Pakistan, India, Bangladesh and Burma. The decision to leave in 1947 presents a dilemma. “How do we deal out this land!”
Meetings, missions and accords hold forth with this faction (The Muslim League) and then with that faction (The Congress Party).
So the Muslims get Pakistan. The Hindus get India. The Muslims, on the other side of India, get Bangladesh (first called East Pakistan). Mahatma Gandhi pleads against this and reasons for a united India; “It’s a line impossible to draw!” Some areas are clearly Hindu or Muslim but others have mixed populations. Islands of minority communities dot here, there and everywhere. But the parties draw the lines.
It’s a moment of gravity called – The Partition – . It’s solemn. It’s severe. It’s grim. Its ramifications still back-fire today.
Immediately after, trains full of Muslims flee westward and Hindu mobs slaughter them at the new border lines. Hindus flee eastward and suffer the same fate.
The consequences of The Partition ripple all over the place.
The Punjab region, split between India and Pakistan, sees huge population exchanges. More than 10 million people change sides and at least 500,000 die. The Punjab capital, Lahore (now in Pakistan) swings from having 500,000 Hindus to just 1000!
The Indian half of Punjab now needs a capital city. The government commissions the world famous, Swiss-French architect Le Corbusier for the job. It is to be called Chandigarh. Le Corbusier sets off with a clean slate. Transport corridors mark quarters. Traffic circles split sectors. Neighbourhoods circle community nodes. A central spine hosts sweeping boulevards, lakes, gardens and grand civic buildings. Le Corbusier conceives a city-sized modernist sculpture in his favourite material; reinforced concrete.
The land is swept clean of hundreds of little villages. Chandigarh slowly rises out of the ground.
It’s all political NON-SENSE!
And in this hideous political landscape one man forges some SENSE!
He is Nek Chand Sani and arrives from the Pakistani side of the Punjab Province. He lands a job as a road inspector in the city-wide construction site that is Chandigarh.
He suffers his losses during these dusty days. Layer after layer of ‘the future’ covers his dear past. But his memories, of the village life, doggedly hang about. And it’s his imagination that soothes at night. Here his thoughts run wild and drive him to come out. He finds a patch of wasteland and lets rip. He collects stones and debris from flattened villages. He re-cycles materials left over from Chandigarh’s construction. At first, it’s a hobby, he works at night. Then it becomes an obsession, he works in secret. What the partition parts, he cures. Where politicians and planners draw lines, he forms circles. He fashions a jungle of concrete canyons, cascading waterfalls and bulbous trees. He sets free herds and packs and droves of animals. He lets loose moms and dads and girls and boys to work and play. Dancing girls, with arms full of bangles, rein free at festivals. Sporting boys, dressed in starched white shirts, face off at matches. A gala of life, as it was.
For 15 years he imagines and creates, alone, more than 2000 figures. Then in 1974 a government survey crew discovers his wonderland. Demolish it – there’s no permission! A fight for survival begins. Then one, then two, then more members of the City Council begin to marvel in awesome wonder. They grant Nek Chand a government salary and a crew to complete his project.
Today the Nek Chand Rock Garden covers 25 hectares with 5000 statues!
Harry & I visit the gardens one month after Nek Chand passes away, at the age of 92.
For us, it is a bitter sweet day. It must be all that NON-SENSE of the past that still percolates through Nek Chand’s beautiful, beautiful SENSE. But we take home the lesson from the road inspector and not from the great powers, politicians or planners!
Thank YOU, Nek Chand.
Harry takes these pictures.