Nek Chand -- 1924-2015: He gave Chandigarh its spirit | chandigarh | Hindustan Times
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Nek Chand -- 1924-2015: He gave Chandigarh its spirit

Le Corbusier designed the city’s modern structure, but it was Nek Chand who defined the spirit of Chandigarh. In essence, the remodelling of discarded material into figures from Indian culture — women carrying earthen pots, farmers with sticks, village belles in colourful attire — defined the rebuilding of an India, specifically Punjab, that was geographically ravaged by Partition, yet robust culturally.

chandigarh Updated: Jun 13, 2015 09:38 IST
Aarish Chhabra
Nek-Chand-Rock-Garden-creator
Nek-Chand-Rock-Garden-creator

Le Corbusier designed the city’s modern structure, but it was Nek Chand who defined the spirit of Chandigarh. In essence, the remodelling of discarded material into figures from Indian culture — women carrying earthen pots, farmers with sticks, village belles in colourful attire — defined the rebuilding of an India, specifically Punjab, that was geographically ravaged by Partition, yet robust culturally.



Nek Chand Saini, born in the Shakargarh region of what is now Pakistan on December 15, 1924, was a sufferer of the trauma of 1947, but had found some solace in a job as road inspector with the public works department of Punjab by 1951. But it was an apparent longing for a vibrant life in the sharp-angled and exposed-concrete architecture of Chandigarh that eventually manifested itself in Rock Garden.



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Nek Chand, creator of Chandigarh's Rock Garden, dies at 90


By the early ’60s he had cleared a forest patch near Sukhna Lake to create a set of statues in a garden. It grew to several acres with hundreds of sculptures. With labourers who worked with him on roads, he worked at night for nearly two decades to create it in a state-owned forest.



“Rock Garden is a fantastic work of free thinking,” says BN Goswamy, prominent art critic and resident of Chandigarh.



But when it was discovered in 1975, there was a threat of demolition. Thankfully, the public rallied behind him, and he instead got glory, salary and a staff of 50 to work on the project full time. He remained lifetime chairman of the society that manages the garden. He was awarded the Padma Shri in 1984. Now 25 acres are dotted with sculptures in winding courtyards; there are buildings and a series of interlinking waterfalls.



Expansion is planned, though held up.



Legendary athlete Milkha Singh puts it succinctly, “We shared the wounds of Partition, sitting together over long tea sessions, discussing our past from the ‘other side’. It was Nek Chand who made Chandigarh a lively place, else people used to not want to live in this city, which had scary forests and impersonal buildings.”



Chand died 11 minutes past midnight on Friday, at the age of 90, and on Saturday his body would be taken to Rock Garden from his house in Sector 27, from the same route that he used to take on his bicycle to build the wonderland, piece by piece, one idea at a time.