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Chandigarh sector scan: Sector 19, first among equals

The rallying point for architects and engineers who built Chandigarh, today this sector attracts both shopaholics and the devout

punjab Updated: Aug 22, 2018 14:03 IST
Saurabh Duggal
Saurabh Duggal
Hindustan Times, Chandigarh
Chandigarh sector scan,first among equals,Sector 19
Once the workplace of architect Le Corbusier, Old Architect’s office, traces the city’s heritage. After the office was shifted to UT Secretariat in Sector 9, this historic building was converted into Le Corbusier Centre. It displays the work of Corbusier and making of Chandigarh, and also houses a souvenir shop. Entry is free, and on can visit it from 10am to 6pm every day, except Monday.

After the site for Chandigarh was finalised at the foothills of the Shivaliks, between the two seasonal rivulets of the Patiala Ki Rao to the east and Sukhna Choe to the west, the next big task was to select an appropriate place to set up a base camp from where the new capital of Punjab could be made from scratch.

Since the adda (chowk) of Nagla village on the old Ropar-Kalka road was one of the most well connected junctions in the selected site, it became the obvious choice for setting up the base for Corbusier and his team. Its market only added to its charms.

The old architect’s office (Sector 19), from where the team of young architects designed the entire city, was built here. This office continued to monitor the growth of the city until it was shifted to a new building in UT Secretariat, Sector 9, with a new name, Department of Urban Planning.

The old architect’s office was designed by Corbusier’s cousin Pierre Jeanneret, who went on to become its first chief architect, keeping in mind the mandate of cost-effective and climate-responsive design.

Later, both Sector 19 and 27 were raised on the land that once belonged to the Nagla village.

The Nagla adda

The old Ropar-Kalka road used to connect the two cities and Nagla adda was an important market for the nearby villages. The other two markets at that time were at Bijwara village on which Sector 22 was built, and in Manimajra.

Satpal Sharma, 72, the owner of Kailash restaurant, says he has seen the entire city come up in front of his eyes. “We used to have an eatery by the name of Kailash hotel at Nagla adda. When the area was acquired, the shopkeepers of the Nagla market were given preference for allotment of shops in Sector 19 market. Ours was the first shop to come up in the C block of the market and my father, late Pandit Kishori Lal, opened an eatery by the same name (Kailash) in 1958,” recounts Satpal Sharma.

He says both Corbusier and Pierre Jeanneret used to frequent their old hotel. At that time they were the only food joint in this area. Barfi was and remains their specialty. “We have been making it from the days when our shop was at the Nagla adda,” Sharma beams a satisfied smile as his father looks on from a wooden frame.

Bridge between VIP & commoner

The PWD B&R office, which now houses Haryana government offices, came up almost at the same time as the Punjab Capital Project’s architect office that has now been converted into the Le Corbusier Centre. A small market and some makeshift residences were set up near the PWD B&R office to cater to the needs of the architects and engineers working on the project.

“It had three shops, namely, Kangra Bakery, Sharma Tea Stall, Kailash Sweet Shop, and a post office. Later, with the sector taking shape as per the master plan, these four were dismantled along with officers’ residence and servant quarters,” recounts 81-year-old Daulat Ram Rana, who came to Chandigarh in mid-fifties and used to work at the Kangra Bakery for a monthly salary of Rs 17.

Rana used to deliver bread and muffins to the architects’ office. Former President of India Giani Zail Singh, who was then a minister in Punjab, and the sister of then prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru, Vijaya Lakshmi Pandi, were also among his clients and he would deliver bread to their houses every day.

“I have seen both Sanjay and Rajiv Gandhi visiting their aunt as kids. Whenever they came visiting, I would deliver muffins. At that time, VIPs didn’t had much security and they enjoyed a close connect with the commoners. Had Giani Zail Singh been around, he would have recognised me,” says Rana, who still owns the British Raleigh cycle on which he used to deliver the baked goodies.

In the 1950s when Chandigarh was still being built, lifts (elevators) at the Secretariat in Capitol Complex, Sector 1, used to be a huge attraction, recalls Rana. “I knew a policeman posted near the Secretariat. I would occasionally request him to let me ride the elevator. I think at that time most people hadn’t seen the elevators,” remembers Rana.

From Quetta to Chandigarh

Chandigarh was conceived to make up for the loss of Lahore to Pakistan during Partition. The idea behind the city was to accommodate people from the other side of the Radcliffe Line. Besides, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru wanted a new city free from the encumbrances of the past.

“After Partition, our family moved from Quetta to Mussoorie and from there to Shimla. While in Shimla, we read a government advertisement in a newspaper regarding setting up of the new capital of Punjab. That is when we moved to Chandigarh. We were allotted a 7.5 marla plot in Sector 19 (opposite the UT education department office). At that time the reserved price for 7.5 marla was Rs 2600 and we took some loan to construct this house,” says Sohal Lal Oberoi, 75, whose house was among the first private houses to come up in the sector. “Partition gave us some sorrowful memories, but being part of the city, which was built in front of our eyes, gave us some solace.”

One of the early shops to come up in D-block market was of the Peshawaris. Its sales tax number dates back to 1957. “From Peshawar, we flew to Patiala before finally laying roots in Chandigarh. My grandfather purchased this shop and named it Peshawari in memory of his home town,” says Hitesh Gawri, the third-generation owner of the shop.

Market for all

Sector 19 has one of the most well-known and well-stocked neighbourhood markets of the city. Popularly called rehri market, it boasts 432 booths, which were allotted to the vendors in 1980. But the market itself dates back to 1965 when the vendors first started selling their wares here. Eight years later, they were registered with the Municipal Corporation. “In seventies, we used to pay a license fee of Rs 30 per month for a rehri. The booths were built after a fire broke out here in 1993 and the allotments were made for Rs 15,000 a booth,” says Tek Chand, who has been running his business in the market since 1972. Before the booths were constructed here, some of the vendors were allotted shops at Palika Bazar (in Sector 19), he says.

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Dhobi Ghat: A place for dirty linen

Sector 19 is a shining example of a self-sufficient space that Le Corbusier sought to make all over the city. Besides parks, schools, dispensaries, markets and places of worship, it also has a dhobi ghat (washermen’s dock).

Le Corbusier sketched eight dhobi ghats in the master plan for Chandigarh, of which the oldest is in Sector 19.

Corbusier sketched eight dhobi ghats in the master plan of which the oldest is in Sector 19, while the biggest is in Sector 15. Built in 1957, this dhobhi ghat was allotted to a group of 12 dhobis at a monthly fee of Rs 4 per member (Rs 48 from 12 dhobis). “My father (Sham Lal) got this allotment in 1957 and we still have the receipt,” says Ajay Kanojia, president of the Dhobi Sabha of Chandigarh.

He recounts how his father used to wash the clothes of PL Verma, then chief engineer of Punjab, who chose the site for Chandigarh after an aerial survey. Subsequently, Verma allotted them accommodation on rent in ‘Cheap Houses’, constructed for skilled workers in 1953. “We were among the few non-government servants to get a house there. Later in eighties, the houses were sold to the occupants under a government scheme. These are the only government houses in the city which were sold to the occupants,” says Kanojia

There are 66 units of Cheap Houses-- they are called cheap because of the cost-effective material used-- adjoining the Dhobi Ghat in the C-block. Initially, they were numbered from 1 to 66, but later their number were changed and the counting began from 2000. There is another set of Cheap Houses in Sector 19 D and Sector 15. Many of these old houses remain the same even as the city has grown from just a few buildings to a bustling metropolis.

First Published: Aug 22, 2018 14:03 IST