By: Kanak Tiwari
Recently, all newspapers covered the sad news of the demise of SH Raza, a wonderful, wonderful artist. Most of the articles were accompanied by his famous ‘bindu’ paintings, which brought back a flood of memories…Memories of times past, of kind strangers, of unbelievable friendships, and of finding love, and of my struggle of survival in Delhi
Most people who know me would never associate the word ‘struggle’ with me. Most will not believe that ‘I’ found it difficult to live in Delhi for the first couple of months… I had almost given up on this city, had it not been for Ashi..and a few occurrences!!
Will come to that…later..
Why did I even choose to come to Delhi??? I had been selected at colleges in Roorkee, Ahmedabad, and Kharagpur… but my Pa wanted me to go to School of Planning and Architecture (SPA)..so that was it.
The other reason was KT (here KT is KT Ravindran, not me). A chance 5-minute meeting with him (long before I had even contemplated a masters’ course in Urban Design (UD) or even knew the meaning of the term) had convinced me that I had to come to SPA (where there were teachers as wonderful as this one).
In fact, as we did not have Urban Design as an undergraduate subject in our college, I read about it on my own – only because he had said ‘I teach in the department of Urban Design’.. I ended up applying in the UD Department at SPA to feed my growing curiosity for a subject I had just scratched the surface of..
I got selected for the masters course in UD at SPA… and KT was there… but that was where my happiness ended. From the first moment onward, I hated Delhi...It became the reason for my woes and worries!!! The city just rubbed me in all the wrong ways possible.. with very few things that served as saving graces..
Let us discuss the saving graces first:
The city beckoned me with its multiple charms – cultural programmes, exhibitions, and what not. Coming from Lucknow, I was quite familiar with performances that involved singing, dancing, playing instruments etc., but art exhibitions were a new zone for me altogether!!!
I felt like a real ‘independent adult’ visiting the various art galleries in Delhi, most of which at that time were concentrated in the Luteyen’s zone and central Delhi. Many of them, to my great delight, also offered tea and cookies (like Manna from heaven for any student). I devoured the cookies as well as the art that was put up. Thankfully, as there was no google at that time, I mostly relied on my own perception or reaction to any work of art…. It felt great.
My favourite place was the Triveni Kala Sangam – designed by Joseph Allen Stein (one of my favourite architects). The ambiance was to die for. We could sit and chat in the OAT or have tea on the tea-terrace, or just observe the talented and artistic people moving around. No one ever told us to leave the premises. Such open access was a novelty.
It was at Triveni one day that a silver haired gentleman sat me down and offered me water. I had been angrily mumbling some profanities at my water bottle as it had committed the crime of being empty. I immediately mumbled an apology to him, thinking that my mumbling had disturbed him… He just smiled – gave me a glass of water and asked me where I was from. It was an easy answer for me at that time. Over the years it has become tougher to give one correct response to this question. I told him I was from ‘Lucknow’ and my eyes became wet with tears of nostalgia. ‘There there’, he said, ‘what happened’. Itna kehne ki der thi ki...
Besides the saving graces:
I poured my heart out in complete gibberish for 2 minutes… I told him that Delhi made me miss Lucknow more than ever – people here did not know how to talk properly, everybody was rude, autowallahs tricked me into paying double fare (triple sometimes)…etc. etc. I think I even had to blow my nose a couple of times!!!
He kept smiling reassuringly and showed me 4-5 very old photographs of Lucknow. I remember wondering at that time where he got them from. We then talked about this and that and I felt light and happy. When I took his leave, he gave me his card and asked me to drop by again… He also told me -by and by Delhi would grow on me.
And, how right he was… How it grew…and grew…on me.
I have come to love and adore this city I had hated so much..
It was much later that I came to know that he was such a well-known personality. I cherish those 10 minutes with him, which made me realize that one should know and understand more about a person or place or context before forming an opinion or a prejudice.
In case you were wondering – his visiting card said – ‘Ebrahim Alkazi’.
So, after a while, I decided that I could stay on in Delhi… BUT only on one condition – if my best friend from architecture – Ashi -would also shift here and leave her job at some Architect’s office in Ambala (where her father was posted). I told her that if she didn’t shift to Delhi that very instant, I would go back to Lucknow. She loves me and knew how much I had wanted to join Urban Design.
And so, she shifted to Delhi..just like that…and joined an office here…leaving delicious home-cooked Kashmiri food for the daily fare of the mess at a working women’s hostel.. Hard to believe?? Well, I am truly blessed. One friend like Ashi… bus aur kya chahiye..
Delhi soon became exciting-given the combination of the Urban Design community and Ashi…
And soon…at SPA,
I met the guy who is the father of my children now and incidentally also my husband.
One of the early days, I complained to him about some cobwebs in the corner of our classroom. He said – ‘Rehne do na unhe…Vo bhi kisi ke sheher hain!’ And, I fell for that…can you imagine that!!! I was foolishly bowled over by this statement!! completely floored – topsy turvy – head over heels!!
That night I dreamt of cobweb cities and spidery things…
The day after this incident was another one of my forays to art galleries and I came across SH Raza’s paintings for the first time. I remember standing and staring at the Bindu and concentric circles painted by him– and thinking of cobwebs! I don’t blame you if you don’t see any similarity… I was partially blinded by love at the time.
But, isn’t there similarity? Most definitely, there is……I think!
Fast forward many years to January, 2016, when the idea of CCU (Centre for Contemporary Urbanism) materialized after being lodged ‘at the back of my mind‘ for 10 years.
I can proudly say that CCU has functioned – for the past eight months – entirely through voluntary efforts and enthusiasm of the following people.. (Shabana, Anand, Gauri, Zeeshan, Yusra, Sobia, Vidya, Kedar, Gautam, Ishleen, Mohit and others who pitch in from time to time).
It is a great example and evidence of what can be done with diverse people, talents and networks available in a city like Delhi.
But, all that in a later discussion. Right now, JUST LOOK AT THE LOGO OF CCU… (picture below)
It was designed by Mohit Dadoo, one of my favourite people in the whole world. He had made 9-10 options with varied computer software, but I kept telling him ‘it should be simple yet convey layered meaning – just like a city’... Frustrated with me, he drew our current logo on the back of an envelope (literally) with a black sketch pen and sent its photo to me through whatssap…
As the drawing of the logo filled up the screen space of my phone, a bell started ringing somewhere in my brain (the good, musical kind of ringing)…some nerve was touched (the bindu/cobweb nerve I suppose) and I said – This is it!!!
Now, don’t you go telling me you don’t see the similarity…