Edgar Demello (ED): In introducing not one but two eminent personalities, Charles Correa and Dr. Jyotindra Jain, who’ve worked in different disciplines, I thought it a good idea to search for the times in their long and distinguished careers when their individual trajectories intersected. When they got the opportunity, which was apparently time and again, to collaborate on projects, publications, exhibitions and the like. I think these Intersections might form part of the Conversation.
Both Correa and Jain spent their schooling-college days in Bombay. Obviously their intellectual rigor has been shaped by the complexities and cosmopolitanism of that city. Prof Jain studied art and cultural history at Bombay University with an MA in Ancient Indian History. This was followed by a post graduate study in Museology at the University of Vienna leading to a doctorate in Anthropology. He is a scholar of and an authority on folk and ritual arts of India and an author of numerous books on our cultural heritage. Some years earlier Charles Correa had gone to the US to study architecture at Ann Arbor, Michigan and urban planning at the MIT in Boston. He has since been architect, planner, activist, writer and theoretician and the most important force in the shaping of India’s modernist architectural sensibility. A recent RIBA exhibition on him and his work simply said: Charles Correa – India’s greatest Architect.
Returning to India during the heyday of liberal Nehruvian thinking he saw a great hope for a New independent India, one that was to be influenced by scientific temper, our diverse cultural heritage as well as the ideas of the modernist movements of Europe. At the time Corbusier was completing Chandigarh and a few other projects in Ahmedabad. Much earlier Raymond had built the Golconda in Pondicherry. Kahn was yet to arrive. But not for Correa the direct transfer of ideas of these European masters. Between his two most feted projects - built five decades apart – the Gandhi Memorial at Sabarmati Ashram and the Champalimaud Centre for the Unknown in Lisbon, he has been able to fuse ideas of the abstract and the metaphysical in our tradition with a solidly uncompromising position for the modern. Dr Jain returned to India in the middle 70s, a time when the research and study of our cultural heritage and habitat was gaining ground through Govt. sponsored initiatives. INTACH, established in 1984 was one of them. Along with his association with INTACH Dr Jain has been Trustee-Secretary-Director of CIVIC, the Sansktiti Foundation the IGNCA and the Crafts Museum to name a few. Over the years he has undertaken intensive field studies in and around Central India.
Correa’s Gandhi Memorial Project, was the result of a deep understanding of the spirit of the Mahatma – his intellectual rigor, his openness to conflicting ideas and his deep spirituality. The building is a lyrical expression of this. This experience must have firmed-up in Correa’s mind the need to place his practice within the framework of India’s urban reality. Research projects for pavement dwellers, instant housing for migrants and housing for the poor were imagined back to back with Kanchenjunga (Henri Ciriani in 1995 called it the best skyscraper in the world), cluster housing as well as his extensive work for the sciences, the arts and culture as well as for Government – the largest of these being Navi Mumbai.
But getting back to Intersections: Prof Jain’s concern for the other was as acute as Mr Correa’s concern for social equity and what Ciriani refers to as the spatial democracy. Jain’s book Other Masters: Five Contemporary Folk and Tribal Artists would hold its own with Five Contemporary Masters of the Progressive Artists Group, if there was such a book. And rightly so because the influence of traditional abstract figuration on the This Mumbai Movement has always been underplayed! Other Masters was also a stunning exhibition on Adivasi Art in Paris 2011 curated by Dr Jain. Correa’s large sized wall paintings by local folk artists in The Jaipur Museum and in Vighyan Bhavan in Bhopal have been in collaboration with or at least with the influence of Prof Jain research and publications. Just like the long collaboration panned out in the process of setting out the Crafts Museum in Pragathi Maidan, New Delhi.
The early 80s was a time for showcasing Indian art, culture and heritage through Government sponsored Festivals of India, an international celebration initiated by Indira Gandhi, the then Prime Minister with Pupul Jayakar as Chairperson. It was an ambitious project – with festivals in Paris, London, Moscow. The task of compiling a comprehensive catalogue – as Chairman – fell on Correa. This was another Intersection when he and Prof Jain, amongst many others, worked on and brought out Vistara--The Architecture of India, a definitive treatise on Indian art, culture and heritage that forms part of our built habitat. Prof Jain, with his understanding of the essence and meaning behind the rituals and traditions of rural and tribal Indian habitat, posed an interesting counterpoint in one part of the book to the examples of the Contemporary in Indian architecture of the cities, in the other part. This coming together of the Vistaras of our history, of heritage and modernity, research and imagination, makes it a must read for professionals and students alike.
Both Mr Correa and Prof Jain have written extensively in their respective fields. Correa’s A Place in the Shade and A New Landscape are a set of essays on the urban condition of our cities and ways and means to repair and rebuild with commitment and imagination. Prof Jain’s Ganga Devi, Other Masters and Kalighat Painting, amongst others, are definitive works in the field of cultural anthropology. Both have lectured world-wide and have been published internationally. Both have received numerous fellowships and awards. Correa the Padma Vibhushan, the RIBA Gold Medal and the Praemium Imperiale from Japan, amongst others. And Prof Jain the Alexander von Humboldt fellowship and the Prins Claus Award from the Netherlands.
You’d think that with such staggering oeuvres they would rest on their laurels. No. At 80 plus Correa shames architects half his age with his physical and intellectual energy. Thirty odd years after founding the UDRI – a research facility to study and initiate urban design projects in Mumbai – he has last year set up the CCF, the Charles Correa Foundation in Goa. Another facility to support students and professionals engaged in the betterment of Goa’s urban and natural habitat. Situated in the Fontainhas, the heritage part of Panaji, it promises to be a dynamic catalyst, a sort of common platform for students and architects alike. Prof Jain at 70+ continues in unraveling the mysteries of our oral and graphic art traditions – both in the ritual and the folk tradition.
Coming almost full circle I’d like to end on a personal note. I had the good fortune of spending just one day in Lisbon two months ago. And what better way than to head for the Champalimaud Center for the Unknown, that quiet spectacle on a historical site at the confluence of the Tagus River and the Atlantic sea. Charles shows an amazing sensitivity to the site and to the program, a brain cell research cum healing centre. He skillfully calibrates the privacy and quietude that the facility required and in the process offers the people of Lisbon a unique public space, one that would remind them of their history, of the Age of Discovery and how its voyagers affected cultures in distant lands. Ours included.
Charles Correa (CC): You said something very important. That the Other Masters1, which was an exhibition of five…you describe it (to Jyotindra Jain) is probably as important as the Modern Movement of Raza and all others.
ED: The Progressive Arts Group.
CC: Yeah, except what was wonderful about India, when I got back in ’55, both were equally important. There was no need to be modern. The rest of India was accessible. When I loved handloom, it wasn’t because of Gandhi, it wasn’t political. It was just so stunningly beautiful. When I saw some drawing, one of these old tantric drawings they were like a Paul Klee. It spoke to you. Today it is sad that people choose between being ethnic and being modern—how stupid. Design is to see right through that. So I think if you had to choose between these two exhibitions, I would think that the Five Other Masters is more important because it opens our eyes to what we weren’t looking at for all the way through centuries, at least the whole of the 19th century and we have lost that.
The other day…excuse me, I’ve lost my voice so I’m going to sound like something out of The Godfather or worse. But don’t forget you’ve got to respect me (gestures like Marlon Brando). There was a meeting of the editorial board of Marg and a whole lot of very bright people were there. They all said something I had never thought about. They said India had engaged in this dialectic between the past, like Nehru wrote a book on the discovery of India - it was a brand new nation, but he also wanted to open a door to another future. That’s amazing to do both these things. Any great leader tries to do that.
Now, India had about 30 of 40 years of such... again it goes back to the thirties I would imagine. You would know more (to Jyotindra Jain) but at least 25 years—right up to 1990 of a huge engagement in painting, in music, in dance, in architecture, in writing—between what is the relevance of the brand new, of the shock of the new, to our heritage, and vice versa. And we suddenly abandoned it. When I drive around in Bangalore I feel I’ve landed on Mars.
So what we’ll do today... we’ll try and talk about what makes cities, [in terms of] culture, in terms of architecture. Please we want everyone to join in and I will start the process by saying as architects we see cities as buildings. We see them as streets but we also all know that cities are people and cities are events. The history of a city is not just the way it looks, it’s what happened there. And what happens there happens in its places where people meet. That is why the public spaces of a city are so important. Well it’s not just parks—parks are important—it is the places of mental and physical interaction, where new ideas are born. Its institutions like libraries/museums which actually add to that richness. Why don’t you take over if you can (to Jyotindra Jain)
Jyotindra Jain (JJ): Good evening. As Charles was just now mentioning, and we have discussed it over the last couple of days - culture and the city. Now whenever we talk about culture, we talk about certain institutions as if they make total culture. But culture is outside those institutions and primarily so. Institutions are supposed to represent a fragment of that. But culture is much wider a phenomenon.
Whenever we talk about culture, we start to talk about Museums. Whenever there’s something to be done in a city.. oh! what should we do in memory of so and so? Well, let’s make a museum. When there’s some site available, what should we do with that site - let’s make a museum. But I think museum in India, at least, has also played some kind of non-role in the sense that the colonial institution of museum, and this is my feeling, and I have spent at least 30 years working with museums, that the institution was stillborn in India. Even today, as you all know, that when some inauguration takes place, then maybe 100- 150 people come and then after that when you go to the museum there are hardly any visitors. Museums are abandoned completely. People don’t anymore relate to that. I remember in 1990 when I worked at Crafts Museum, designed by Charles, we conducted an experiment, in Delhi, in Connaught Place, we would stand and ask people whether they belonged to Delhi and when they said yes, we asked about 150 people, if they have been to the National Museum and 80% of them said they didn’t know where it was and what it was. So people don’t go to museums and those who go just take a round and go out. So museums did not work out. Now the entire burden of increasing visitorship to Museums has fallen on children. Children are carrying the burden of [ensuring museums] continue receiving finances from the government because the figure of visitorship goes up. What happened to that institution?
I’ll come to that but before that I want to say, if we discarded the institution of Museum, we did not discard art practice. We did not discard our connection with the past and the present art practices. I am so delighted to tell you that what has happened in the last ten to fifteen years is something phenomenal, that outside the Museum so many changes have begun to happen. Altogether contemporary art practice is an extraordinary expression of social and political concern for the society in which we live.
Now in 2008, in Delhi, the India Art Fair was held. This fair was started by 2 or 3 people and a girl called Neha Kirpal. She was 25 years old and she thought of starting an art fair because museums were so constrained and 90% of our cultural property in museums are owned by the government and therefore [there were] highly bureaucratic constraints. This girl along with a few people started this art fair. In the first three art fairs more than 2 lakh people visited. When I went first time to the art fair, I felt that there were milling crowds of people - there was no space for people to move. So many people, ordinary people from the streets were coming. They were wondering, they were kind of curious not knowing what they were watching but curious about the whole phenomenon of art that was happening. So the museum was left aside but the energy and the creativity was not left aside. It was an extraordinary experience for me to see this. Similarly at the Kochi art fair, four lakhs of visitors came there for the first edition. And who were these people?
CC: I think you said the whole of Delhi gets about 2 lakhs in a year and Kochi got 4 lakhs in one shot.
JJ: This is another kind of space [that] people have created because Museums lost their meaning. People find ways. I remember four years ago Max Mueller Bhavan in Delhi created an event, in which they invited fifteen artists and they were told to create installation works related to environment, and the entire city of Delhi, spaces were taken by different artists, in Connaught Place, in a village within the city, somewhere near the old Fort, these fifteen artists put up installations over there and the entire city space became an important space for putting up art which was seen by ordinary people.
I think what is very important is that when an exhibition takes place, a hundred people come there and these hundred, maximum, are known to each other - its almost like a wedding reception, they come, say hello - and they talk about each others art, there is no meaningful art criticism anywhere in newspapers. So these are the people, a kind of very promiscuous group and we thought we lost art to this kind of clique. But then when we look at these alternative sites that have been created for representing art in the city—for example this exhibition which Max Mueller Bhavan put up, which was called 48° Centigrade—and here the art works were huge, and people were coming and wondering and looking at things. What I feel is that the city has many other such possibilities.
I remember also an example for looking at alternate sites for showing. Dayanita Singh, the renowned photographer, once told me when I was in Goa with her, that she had done family photographs of Goan families—middle class, lower middle class families. She had done this work over a year and then instead of showing them in a museum or gallery, she put up these photographs in those very families where she had taken these photographs in the home, in the living room and then she created a map of the city and then she distributed this map and advertised and people could follow that route and go and see in people’s homes and people were very proud to show their own photographs. They would give you a cup of tea and they would talk about the photograph and about themselves and this was a new way of doing things. These are a couple of examples that I could say that when you talk of art and culture and the city, there are other possibilities and much more vibrant and much more engaging and much more connecting people with that than leaving it to be so elitist.
CC: Well, we are saying all this in the context of Bangalore because really you people are at a watershed point where you’ll could go in for the conventional Museum and maybe you should. What do you think the chances of that working over here are? What do you think will happen? (to Jyotindra Jain)
JJ: I suppose, because what I said is not something difficult, and I already heard about architects meeting together and talking about things not architectural. So, in a way this kind of thing I have not seen either in Bombay or in Delhi, both cities where I have lived for many years. What Dayanita did is so impressive, so extraordinary for me - that she was saying that “I do not go to galleries—either they are government galleries, they are bureaucratized - they don’t understand what it is or you go to private galleries which are very highly commercial and why should art be shown in that manner of something hung on a wall or something hanged from the ceiling.”
I think the spaces of the city can be activated and through the activation space can become a kind of practiced place. That possibility exists in every city. I think it exists in Bangalore much more because it is such an intellectually vibrant city. And I wonder how differently these people think and they are longing to do things differently and all the architects that I have met in the last few days.
CC: Also this saying of not putting it in a Museum or gallery apart from the horrors of the commercial world this practice has been debated for so long. Going back to Coomaraswamy—there was a man called Coomaraswamy who hundred years ago, in Boston, who is the most brilliant man if you get to know his work—he raises this issue.
If this is a pot, … [gestures a pot] …. pretending it is a pot, and he said it is a pot made in Egypt and I take it to a Museum and it is on a white wall in the Metropolitan. I denude it of any meaning, it is completely an abstraction. This is the new aesthetic which was created in the nineteenth century Europe. I must be misquoting him but he said aesthetic is static, an ethos is meaning but aesthetic is if I take away the meaning, … how would you like it? It is like amoral.
So, if I don’t know if this pot was used for bringing water from the well, what would you think of it? And for us it would be
like Gone with the Wind or Sholay, and you are color-blind and you didn’t follow the soundtrack and you come out and say “great movie”. That’s what you do in a Museum.
The great thing about Nita was that she showed the context, there was no need for a catalogue. So, it would be wonderful if you do your dotcom stuff around and your pubs and all that. You could only put the things in the context of where they are—like an example I would give you—if you look at wineglasses and discuss them aesthetically, and you didn’t know that the funnel glass is made only for martinis because you’ve never read that the people whoever drinks martini () you couldn’t have made an appraisal of it.
So context. Coomaraswamy was brilliant when it came to context. When we get the Crafts Museum in which Jain was appointed as director, this was the biggest problem. How to take things and put them there and they look beautiful?
And people said … and once you give the context, geographical or chronological with centuries. Let’s say there are three kinds of art, or craft. One is village craft, one is sacred craft and one is palace craft. So people have three areas and it was so powerful, and all that I had to do was to make streets so that you could go down courtyards and if you liked something you could go down into caves and see that. It was such a powerful metaphor because through that I began to understand India. In India all three are simultaneously important. All three co-exist. All three have a different meaning to the object.
JJ: And I also think that this fragmentation that happened. But partly from colonial times, immediately after independence in Nehru’s first five year plan schemes began.
Major cultural institutions of India were planned in the first five year plan and a couple of them in the second five year plan. These two plans were in a hurry because of the fact that we got independence in 1947 and in 1950 we got the constitution. And Nehru then began with the planned economy.
There I think a severe mistake had happened and that was when this fragmentation happened and hierarchisation had happened in the country. I will give you an example. Craft was identified by the British as one monolithic old on category in which all ritual arts, all artisanary, all women’s art,—anything that was an expression outside the modern and something that was not ancient all was put under the category of craft. And craft was then put under the commercial industry. So the Department of Industry in the first plan of 1950s had a small budget to deal with the entire visual expression of village and rural communities of India. And it was under the Ministry of Industry.
After five years at least seven people were categorized under the commercial industry of craft and they were placed under the Ministry of Commerce. On the other side, contemporary art practices—Modern Art practices—flourished. The NGMA was established and that was placed under the Ministry of Education which was dealing with culture. Where contemporary art practices were culture and the total art practices of crafts were under commerce. This is how our institutions were hierarchized. Since then, the entire development of rural art forms would be displayed around in pavements. Their body language would change. The best of folk artists would come and bow to you.
This is way of hierarchization brought about a complete way of injustice. And also reduced their expression to a very small level. Similarly design. Design became a part of the the system. iI was again placed under the Ministry of Industries.
National Museum was also for culture, and what was there in National Museum was craft-based and I remember that when National Museum organized a purchase committee and when they purchased objects—like if it was a 11th century natural statue from south India—it would be placed there, but if it was made today and purchase it, it would be sent to the Crafts Museum. So this was how tremendous injustice to artistic expression was made.
CC: When there were two industries, when you were in the Department of Commerce, how did the Ministry of Commerce help you?
If you produce an object of 10 rupees and if you produce 1000, it is worth five rupees, it is how it changes. So you start to crank it out and spoil your art. Whereas wonderful lucky people like Husain were artists and came under culture and they were put under human resources. So a craftsman when he produces a commodity, according to the government.
Well I would comment if anyone produce any commodities, he is our craftsman and the commodity could be for capitalists to speculate on. This is not the reason they paint but this is the process, but no one goes that commercial. Because finally we want to live in a box called ‘contemporary’ and ‘modern’, and others live in a box called ‘tribal’. And that is the real game that is going on in India … but then I would say if anyone of you could contribute anything crucial you can never bring back your handicrafts but you would end up in the world of modern art which is nothing more than the crappy world of capitalistic speculation.
I’m sorry! I am not against capitalism. Actually I am. I think it is terrible. But the greatest thing about architecture is that you don’t get any more fees or any less fees than Corbusier. It is not like Picasso and someone else. Secondly a house by F.L.W. put up in the market isn’t ten dollars more than a house by anybody else. That keeps you human. That stops people speculating. If you want to do something better it is because you want to. That’s the one wonderful thing about being an architect. I would like you to tell people more about how these craftsmen and artists are put into boxes. Especially in terms of the biography of Ganga Devi.
JJ: I was talking to Charles about this exhibition I had curated with this in mind that British had told that Indian men are not creative, but they were excellent in craftsmanship and craft completely included all forms of rural expressions. I am not talking only about weaving or pottery but artistic expression. I had wanted to question this. I talked to a contemporary artist who had worked for many years in Weavers’ Service Centre. The government of India in order to develop handloom has created a chain of about 21 Weavers’ Service Centres in the country and top Indian artists including KG Subramanian—who has his exhibition running at NGMA— or even MF Husain were working in Weavers’ Service Centres in India. It was believed that folk artists were repetitive and I wanted to question that and I talked to one such artists who worked at Weavers’ Service Centres. He was in the same Ministry as I was. The Ministry of Commerce. He was a truly Ordinary artist., mediocre—and since I’m going to deal with the issue of creativity, which is entirely appropriated by the contemporary artists—I wanted to make a point.
He had taken early retirement and when I met him, he said he left the government four years ago and that he was completely devoted to his art practice and he told me that he is considered a modern master, and immediately a phrase came to my mind “what about the other masters”. Because he was particularly working with the Weavers’ Service Centre and I had selected five of the greatest geniuses of Indian weaving to do this exhibition. They had to show how wonderfully creative they were and their entire stream of creativity was just put aside.
One of the examples I wanted to bring was that of a woman called Ganga devi. Ganga Devi was from Mithila, from Madhubani and she was a traditional artist from Bihar. She used to do ritual wall paintings when she was real young. And she was married to a very poor man. She gave birth to a daughter who was stillborn and thus was disliked by her husband. At some point of time her husband married another woman and she was completely fine with it. Because it was okay in her traditions for a man to marry the second time if the wife couldn’t give birth to a baby. The new woman had come to her house. And Ganga Devi said, that the new woman and her husband came to the room that she was living in—which was outside the room near the compound of the house. Both of them came on an afternoon and she said that they came like dacoits and she was told to open her trunk and they began to plunder everything that she had which was two sarees and two bangles a silver coin and cake of soap and a few other things. She accepted her husband’s second marriage and yet her complete life was plundered. She began to cry and she had slept and when she had woken up it had occured to her that she could paint because she used to help her mother in painting and out of personal circumstances. She had this sudden thought of paint and that she need not depend on her husband. She went to the house of another woman to whom a Frenchman would come and collect artworks annually and she asked her for some sheets of papers so that she could do some art on it and when the Frenchman came there she could also sell her paintings. Ganga used to paint due to completely personal circumstances.
Now in parallel imagine other artists in the city who came out of different situations. Now this woman had told Ganga Devi that she would do it, but Ganga won’t be allowed to sign on her paintings and the woman would tell him that they were her paintings. And when he came, he recognized that these paintings were extraordinary and they were not stylistically the other woman, and asked here whose works they were. The woman said him that they were hers. The man threatened her that he would not buy anymore paintings if she refuse to tell him whose painting it was. But then the woman also refused to tell him whose works they were. He liked the work and had bought a bunch of them and somewhere at the back he found Ganga Devi’s signs, but then, they were scratched. He went to the office of the Government of India and they somehow helped him find her. She says that “suddenly a car came and stood in front of my house from which a white man had come out and he asked if there was anyone called Ganga Devi?” with all sense of shame and worry behind Ganga Devi came out and told him that she was Ganga Devi. And Ramachandra Gandhi, the grandson of Mahatma Gandhi once told me that it had to be a white man. He gave large sheets of paper to Ganga Devi and she made extraordinary series of paintings. She had never seen large paper before and it was pull juicer and Indira Gandhi and Mithila was extremely affected by droughts and every household had beautifully painted walls.
Paper was distributed to women in Mithila and the entire series of paintings known as Madhubani painting is a revolution that occurred. When they had painted on a wall—they painted only ritual iconograpyh—and they painted on a certain wall and they were limited to certain scale. As soon as paper came, there was an explosion of creativity, and Ganga Devi was a foremost artist who came out and stopped being confined only to the style of ritual painting to mini expressions. Ganga Devi won much recognition—she was given a Padma award—and she was sent to all festivals of India and later on she got cancer and she came to Delhi to get treated. She got admitted and she was cured but she had to wait in the hospital for a long time.
Folk and tribal artists never do autobiographical work. Contemporary artists did autobiographical work. We had housed her at the National Art Gallery and she stayed there during chemo therapy. She asked for paper and I gave her and she did a series of six paintings based on the whole experience of cancer treatment and how she came from her village and other stories. And when she had come to Delhi, she had to lie down flat and the angle of looking at things changed, and in those paintings things like ceiling fans began to appear, and a temperature chart appeared. So how can we say that village people lack creativity and it was paper that expanded her horizons and the work that she did was so moving. Similarly this Maharashtrian painter—when he was commissioned by a mall in Bombay. The first time he had come to Bombay, he landed at Bombay Central railway station. He was so frightened of policemen and all those entered his work and these five masters whose works I had exhibited had gone beyond tradition of subjectivity that came in and after this exhibition, a major Museum in France had asked me to do an expanded version for the same of other masters.
There are thousands of artists in India whose art now is reflecting upon their personal, social and political predicament in their work but we are not interested because the territories are divided. The galleries belong to modern artists with influence. The rest are not contemporary.
The fact is we should distinguish between cotemporary and modern as a style. They are not modern, but they are contemporary, and probably from what you say, they’re more alive to stimuli than more modern artists. So they are not modernist and nobody’s claiming that. But that doesn’t mean that they cannot be contemporary. And this is a very very important point, even for the culture of a city. Not to get trapped in a little box.
Bijoy Ramachandran (BR): Listening to the conversation, the story of the artist Ganga Devi, it is a personal endeavor, one taking ones on initiatives and doing things. For example these are things that happen outside of the Museum , you are not waiting for someone to say they come on! Let’s do this. It is very inspiring and opens my mind that maybe it is not time to wait anymore. There is a city, there is a culture. There is also us. The individuals.
Question to Jain: When we speak of Modern Art and Contemporary Art, Ananda Coomaraswamy also spoke about educating the artist and as we see our education is more prototyped and our education system is producing graduates without any aesthetic sense. And as we see, he wrote a book on the way of literacy. The way Ganga Devi takes it up. The children do not take art anymore. Most of them want to become engineers, or go to NID and what not. They are not taking up art anymore because we are concentrating on GDP and Technological Development. Technology is ruining the art and the artist.
So, what is your take on it and how do we protect art. As you know kamala Devi goes to villages and help children take up art. Everyone is coming to a city and become a security guard and something like that. What do you think about it?
JJ: Yes. It is very unfortunate. For example, the next generation of craftspeople are not interested in taking up their profession that they’ve been put at such a lower level that after school, after learning to fiddle with computer, they don’t anymore feel like going back to the level. Because right at the planning level, they are somehow not interested. I think in our education system, this hierarchization of artistic systems has to be broken to inspire children take up art. So maybe the way we define art, the way we talk about art, I front think it will change. As a director of the Crafts Museum, I continuously feel, that their children are not interested in taking up art. And in the classification of India, craftspeople had been called the shards. And also this section of artistic expression being marginalized.
BR: You made this distinction between art and design and somehow among architects, we aspire to be artist to create things of sublime beauty and of no use.
CC: You must create things of sublime beauty. That’s your job. But don’t make a useless object of sublime beauty. Architecture has a use, like this table. And I would like to discuss about this, more in the context of Bangalore. It will probably resonate in your head for days or weeks to come. As he was talking, I was thinking … the City of Bangalore, when I first saw it, it was a cantonment. With small little houses at Richmond Town. It was a city of suburbia. It was the Anglo-Indian idea of how you lived and it goes all the way to Jefferson’s white house; it is anti-urban, it is completely different from a colonial town like Pondicherry—its streets actually connect buildings—but it was at least in a small scale.
But now, what I find frightening is that if you look at something like the chawl in Bombay, or the bashes in Calcutta, they are communities. That’s very important. However terrible they are, people know each other and help each other, but you have been moving from a cantonment town to high-rise buildings which don’t build communities and the way you react is to keep them gated because you understand dangers of anonymity and hostility is a brutal combination. People whom you don’t know, who can mug you—which is what happens in America—you can do nothing about it. You try and keep them out. The gate. Then you move into much more frightening territories. You are moving away from the possibility of a community. It is actually a parallel of what you said, then I wondered if any of you architects had a though about the danger of the gated community? The ugliness of loneliness? You are a very hospitable crowd. But there’s a phrase of Churchill, who is not my biggest hero and he says “We build our buildings and then our buildings build us”. So just be careful. 10 years down the line....
JJ: I remember, whenever Charles came to some of the sites. He just come there and I’m doing this Vidhan Soudha building. Talking about people, art and architecture. I remember an extraordinary incident. Assembly building was just finished and a few things were being installed, and Charles had acquired a group of sculptures of the artist Raghu and this comprised of four people—it just had figures. Like the figures were people with opened mouths. So there was a group of terracotta sculptures that he had acquired. That of a man, a woman and 2 children. And this group made the family and we were discussing where to place them and what to do with it. If it is placed in a corner of a building, it becomes a decorative object. So there would be some art in a building and Charles wouldn’t do that. So, as we came out of the building. The built space was next to this lawn and outside the lawn was a driveway. That was the outer periphery of the complex. and Vidhan Soudha is the house of people. Representative of the people. So Charles said at the spur of the moment, why don’t we put the family on the edge of the lawn. Because these poor people will not have any hope to enter this place. They don’t know what’s going on inside the assembly. So we put it there outside the building these statues of four people helplessly looking at the sky.
CC: We commissioned Raghu to make a little group. The building is a monumental government building but it is not more than a (factory there) but to put these people, what you do as an architect is that you are on the other side frightening them from a double height. We will have to understand that …
JJ: Yeah just its placement was a strong political comment.
CC: When things are there, I don’t know you people will have to discuss. Are you concerned?
Q to CC: I have a question related to something you have been talking about. The ugliness and the modern ideals of the city. I feel honored to be here because I live in a building designed by Charles Correa. But coming from there, I see a city as the ugliness that it portrays through, you know the metro, buildings related to the metro and my question is how we as public would have any right to be in the processes of the government in the public domain and how do we even begin to question it? And I am not an architect, so I would know if I could at all.
CC: I don’t know the process in Bangalore but usually, the plans are showed to the authorities. Now that’s where a lot of smoke, they just show and they don’t really bother about your comments. But the actual fact is that you have the right and we should enforce it and until its being done. I will give you two examples. One is of course you Mahatma Gandhi road, for year’s I’ve been saying this. From years since I was not doing buildings in Bangalore. I was on the BDP. And I was asked. And there was somebody to come up upon and there was this fellow called TPS (). His one comment delivers absolutely emphatically. There must be gothic windows. Architects who produce ten storied buildings with gothic windows and an ugly building (). So it was status quo and people got used to that and suddenly out of the world there came these railway people. These criminals, I have no other word in the middle of the night and they come and dong with concrete (the metro) and destroy mg road for the next 500 years. So I happened to meet this chief engineer was very proud of what he had done. And he ... I said why didn’t you go to the next road. The Cubbon road and we also asked why you wouldn’t make it underground. He said we used all our money to underground Vidhan Soudha and we started discussing. Yesterday I was just repeating that at Vida south intersection, we had 3 completely different buildings which was intentional. One is British and one is () and the third is the lick building. Between them there was an elevated railway which should be made out of stainless steel. Very elegant and every five minutes I would come back from hell comes the train. Because gab said what is the new Bangalore. And architecture takes the aspirations of what you want to become. Even if he had done this horrible MG ROAD in steel you all could have dismantled it. One thing I would recommend that you use steel because concrete would cost you 10 to 15 % lesser than that of steel but () cost of concrete is impossible and you should insist whatever they build, if you can’t stop it. If you can’t blow them up insist that it is demountable.
BR: I would also like to invite Sankalp to join isotheres the building and there’s all these spaces that are between the building. The space we name as the public () the amphitheater. That’s the heart of the project. IT comes so strongly in the film that it says that the heart of the project is outside of all that. Do you want to comment on that Sankalp? About your experience.
Sankalp Meshram (SM): I don’t know whether the heart of the project is outside. I think the heart of the building, the usable part of the building is very much inside. I think the garden links all the spaces because the garden is where people work when they underwent chemotherapy and the grade was where the people had the benefits of science and also contact with nature. And all the other scientists who were working also constantly looked at the garden and I think the building works by itself and I don’t think the building only works because of the pathway. But what the site does and the entire pathway does for the site is that it unfrightens people. It is a point of access and its inviting. One thing that I noticed is that you enter because of the two pillars there and some strange psychological thing is that once you start walking along that pathway, you have to reach the end and that’s when you see the sea. The unlimited. And there is a beautiful payoff at the end of it and it is a very beautiful thing. I have been on the site and I do not understand the animatic nature of the space.
CC: The point of the building was something completely different. I had thought if I ever had cancer I would love to look at the blue sky and the nature and the sea and if I said if I would like to think of guilt and I won’t be happy. So the architecture must help. At the end of it all before it opened, when a lot of people had come to see and they all thought it was a Museum of modern art and I was so proud that it wasn’t. I am so ashamed that architects no longer produce things like schools, housing but they produce something completely (). If you had to do housing, you had to know the lifestyle, the complete way in which life works for them. When you do a Museum there is complete cultural freedom. The airport. If you are an ordinary architect in the west, you do housing. And if you are the superstars you do only airports. Yet the finest building Gropius ever di for me is the Bauhaus. To me it is the only work of architecture he ever produced. And I think that he believed that the education is important. And I believe in our bonds that you do something like housing. It is something that you’d for people. That is gone out of our lives and to me that is the point go building. The way in which spaces covered and opened is a whole different ballgame. But I wish the importance of architecture in the way in which Churchill said and the NCPA Bombay and they had a brilliant doctor called udwalia and he came and he had spoken like this and he gave examples. Wonderful examples that when certain music is played, for example Mozart it increases the amount of endocrine or something secreted in the brain. Cows give better milk when they hear his music. The t () someone described it to me and they told me that there’s a garden and it goes around like a courtyard and there’s a verandah facing the outside. Every room looks at the garden. And when people want to exercise, they walk in the garden. That is the traditional pattern of the French and the European space. They saw in nature’s therapy. When I was in the hospital, I had to do my exercise along a double loaded corridor dodging whoever was on the way. What are we talking about?
Q To CC: this is a question about the fragmentation of the cities to gated communities emerging everywhere. Do you think consumers of architecture today are ready enough to consume something that is not fragmented? Something which is not gated. WE can see that they are trying to break away from the fragmentation of arts like dr. Jain said about the revival of art and the way we present it but architecture is much harder battle to fight.
CC: When I started i mentioned to you that cities are about people and events. And they need shared public spaces for those events to happen. The great cities, like I would put Jaipur there. Certainly Paris and London. All the public spaces are shared.
And that’s true even today in San Francisco or Boston. Americans don’t have gated communities. They have it in places like Los Angeles. What you are looking at here is not a true urban model. It is the worst kind of what you call market forces. Americans had wonderful cities. In the 1920s there were cities like St. Louis. Anyone here....have you watched this movie called meet you in St. Louis. It is a typical American family movie who won’t leave the city that they love. Because it has schools and hospitals. And now when you go to St. Louis. It is a place that’s mugging. If you go to Detroit, they just shoot you. As you go by. We go to America and see the money that is being made there and we also see Americans who live in suburban houses. The one city in America which really works is Manhattan. In Manhattan, nobody has a car except, the only families left are very rich whites and very poor blocks. All the middle class ran away. That is what is happening to Bangalore. It happened to Bombay. The city happens to become confrontational. It has happened in America, in Nairobi, Johannesburg. Everywhere. Nothing could be beautiful than the Brazilian people. The songs and they () over and they knife each other. Because of the confrontation. SO, this image of the gated community. Is not about cities but about market forces selling real estate. And it ruins the cities. It is advocated by firms like McKenzie which are totally irresponsible. Who know nothing about planning? They have a way to do it. One of the greatest cities in the world like London were made by developers. They wanted to make money and they made a beautiful city. They did not ruin the city. You people have that choice so don’t pretend you don’t. You have no right to ruin something. IF you are giving that poor girl that she has no choice but a gated community, that’s pathetic in a city. In a country which has New Delhi where all the public spaces are shared.
Q to CC: When you returned, there was hope. There was buildings happening and 50 years later there is a shrill cry, Smart cities. Now we are actually unable to come to terms with handling problems that we have in cities. How does one actually confront a situation like this? And bring sense into so called builders and the ideas that they have.
CC: I think smart cities could mean many things. It could mean higher productivity, higher connectivity. I think we have to be realistic. I think we have to worry about everyone in the city. A friend of mine Ramus dyer, you know. He has written a book about Bombay. A very gentle book. Not like the way, I speak sense. Suddenly at the middle of the book he has a chapter that says ominous. Which says, you can judge a city by the way poor live. So, we have a responsible. WE are making Bombay, a city where the well to do can move on a ceiling. You know the ceiling, you can never see passers. And you can see many expensive cars passing by. And it is a very quick way to the airport. For a minute and 38 seconds, I can illuminate that I am in Seattle. That I’m in San Francisco. I don’t have to think about the buzz of poverty and bullock carts. Forget bullock carts, not even buses. Now what will happen if the ceiling is open to public for the first two hours? Only two lanes. There are four lanes. The amount of pressure can reduce by drastic levels. You know it is our failure for imagination. We should come up with ideas and we should force them through will. That’s the best way to deal with the government. You should work out with the government. You know your traffic problems are horrendous. Unless you bring in public transport. IF its surface transport, you are going to have a terrible city and its beautiful city. And you get all this air conditioning in the natural. I think when you notice you are giving so much fish because there are too many cars on the road that’s very late. Much before you run out of car space, for schools and hospitals. Youve come to Bombay, you’ve come to Goa, you can see that we are going way past the point of diminishing the earth. Because we are only looking () but all the things that make up a city are outside the city. The playgrounds the hospitals the schools, now Americans changed that in except 2 or 3 these cities. No one can live in Cleveland. But people live in Venice, live in Paris. The importance of interactive public spaces create the cities. Even the quit India movement was launched in Gwalior tank. SO it is not a question of gated community, it is a question of a public arena and you could have with this wonderful climate. You don’t even need restaurants to move into spaces, rent what city you could have. You must take a scheme, make a small section of it. I’m very impressed with all of you. It is the liveliest bunch of architects and now you have a crusade. In his name start saving the city and start wiping the stupidity of market forces. Market forces never made a city. IT made money. They’ve lived up and it never made great city. It never made a city because cities involve other values. You can make money, I’m not against it. But you should have many other goals. When you are an intelligent balanced society. Otherwise you are...
BR: Thank you so much Sankalp that was an incredible film.
SM: One of the things that we tried to put in the film was to overt explanation of the idea of the non-building. Because it was something that if you try to put in words, you know it takes away. It is like trying to explain poetry. But I think it is something worth thinking about the question of what is at the heart and why the building tries to move you. There is always this sense of being transformed or being touched and very whitening and of course, the forms are open ended. They defy easy comprehension and you look at it and in a way you keep trying to look at it and there’s a point at which you at least admit to yourself that I will not be able to understand. The point at which your intellect surrenders to say. Then at that point you learn to accept that space and place that could be an extension of your own consciousness. The space is allowing you to shape your consciousness and at that point I think something wonderful happens. That thing that you are trying to see and see, the word seeing is the question of comprehension and understanding. When you can’t see it anymore is when the building becomes a non-building. It is a logical experience. But it is not something that you can see and experience and finish off. In venues like this you could discuss about it but then, you can’t show it in a film. I think among so many ideas of Charles, I find this idea of the non-building extraordinarily amazing.
BR: Prof. Jain, its been a real pleasure to have you, thanks for accepting our invitation. Its been a wonderful session.
Mr. Correa, its such a privilege, we are so happy. None of this would have happened if you had said you couldn’t come. Its been such a pleasure - despite your voice! You have to come again when your voice is better!
CC: Thank you and I speak for Monika too. We are so happy to be here.
- 1. Source: http://www.thehindu.com/features/magazine/magical-idiom/article391448.ece