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Thursday, Sep 19, 2019

Sector scan: Sector-27 is the greenest of all

Sector 27 harks back to Cobusier’s Chandigarh with its well-manicured parks and a bounty of trees, many older than the city itself, and a clutch of young institutions in pursuit of excellence.

punjab Updated: Oct 22, 2018 14:06 IST
Manraj Grewal
Manraj Grewal
Hindustan Times, Chandigarh
The majestic peepal at the community centre in Sector 27 is among the 30 heritage trees notified by the UT administration.
The majestic peepal at the community centre in Sector 27 is among the 30 heritage trees notified by the UT administration. (Karun Sharma/HT)

It’s the greenest sector in the city with a bounty of 5,797 trees. And it gave Chandigarh Nek Chand, the creator of rock garden. Wedged between the bustling Madhya Marg on one hand and an equally busy Udyog Path on the other, the inner roads of Sector 27 owe their lazy vibe to this profusion of trees, well-groomed parks, and a sprinkling of art from waste by the master himself.

For long, the sector was synonymous with Nagla Adda, a stop for buses as far as Delhi and as close as Kharar. Joginder Singh, Pendu Sangharsh Committee president, says the sector was carved out of agricultural land of three villages, Nagla and small parts of Gurdaspura and Dalheri Jattan. The soil was fertile, mango trees flourished, and people spoke Puadi (eastern) Punjabi.

The tree tale

The giant mango tree in the big park of Sector 27-A has seen it all. No one knows how old it is, but it’s part of every resident’s collective memory. Come summers, and it supplies mangoes for pickles to whoever embraces its thick branches. Bhupinder Sandhu, 80, bought a 2-kanal plot in 27-B in 1965. Pakistan had bombed Ambala and prices had crashed. “People told me I was insane to invest here,” recounts Sandhu. Three years later, she began to build her house. Madras hotel serving dosa-idli was the lone occupant of the market besides a cloth shop selling south Indian cotton. Sandhu would walk to the Calcutta provision store opposite the Sector 18 church to get her supplies; that was also the nearest rickshaw stand.

For going back to Ambala, she would wait under the peepal tree on the Ropar-Kalka road, now the dispensary in 27-A. That was the iconic Nagla bus stand. Surinder Singh, who runs a taxi service from the Nagla Taxi Stand in 27-D, says a few khokhas, cabs and the peepal made for the bus stop that catered to passengers from as far as Delhi. “We stuck to the name Nagla for old time’s sake,” he smiles.

The vibrant Press Club in 27-B also has a tree tale. Gobind Thukral, a founding member of the club that celebrated its 26 years in 2017, recounts how when they were allotted a plot along the old Kurali to Kalka road, they would sit under a peepal tree nearby and make tea. Today it stands along with its old friend, a neem tree, next to the swimming pool.

Late Nek Chand came to the sector in 1965, and fell in love with its trees. Anuj Saini, his son, remembers him setting up a huge nursery on their rooftop. “He knew the art of bonsais and had a collection of bonsai pomegranate, oranges and mangoes.” Neighbours remember seeing Nek Chand cycling down to the garden. The plump palms, the towering Kaner around his pars bear testimony to his love for trees. Many neighbours also display his art. “He was happy to make a mural for anyone who requested him,” says Anuj.

Not many know that he saved the hoary peepal at the Sukhna Lake. “It was 1958, they were cutting the trees to lay the road when he chanced upon this majestic peepal. Later, he cycled back at night and tied some red threads around it and lit a diya. The next day he told the officers that then Governor Sachar’s wife comes here to pray. That was it, the tree was saved,” says Anuj.

The 27-D market has a big banyan with a parontha-wallah, a juice vendor and others working under its canopy. Close by, under another young but shady tree sits the bespectacled, grey-haired Ram Baksh Singh, a cobbler who has been working magic with his fingers for 42 years. He still remembers the old Nagla Adda with its peepal tree. Even today, two trees serve as bus shelters for residents of 27-A and D.

Gurvinder Singh of Sadana General Store that opened in a booth in 1957, says, “We were among the first to come here, there used to be nothing when my father Gurcharan Singh opened this shop.” Today, it’s quite an exhaustive little affair with its own food street and a market that offers everything from organic quinoa and towels to mobiles and stationery.

Sharma Provision Store, the oldest grocery shop here, traces its origin to Nagla village. Pulkit Sharma, the co-owner, says his father Amar Nath Sharma was given this shop-cum-flat as compensation when his ‘khokha’ at the Nagla bus stand was razed. Today, it’s a smart, self-service mart.

Temple run

The sector was among the first to get a plot for a Jain temple back in 1956. Navrattan Jain, former president of Shri Digamber Jain Society who trades in costume jewellery, says the construction began in 1967 and the panch kalyanak puja in which the idols were sanctified, was held in 1968. Today the temple also has a dharamshala in which you can get an AC room for as little as 650 a day. It’s also perhaps the only place in the tricity where you get food sans garlic and onion for less than Rs 100.

Right across this temple is the Sanatan Dharma Mandir, which sits by the Ram Lila ground, which hosts one of the oldest Ram Lilas of the city. Right next-door is the Ramgarhia gurdwara, which started off as a small gurdwara in 1965. The bhavan came up much later and is now used for hosting weddings and functions. Drive into 27-D and you will be greeted by the oldest Radha Soami Satsang Ghar in the city. KJS Sekhon, a guide, says the land was bought by the body around 1965 and then cleaned up by the devotees, who hold a prayer meet here every Sunday and Wednesday. Devout worshipping another peepal tree across the road from the gurdwara gave birth to another small temple two decades ago.

Few people know that the sector also has a ‘mazaar’, nestled deep in the government school. Come elections and politicians make a beeline to get blessings there.

Schooled for success

The sector is home to a couple of distinguished schools, the oldest being the Moti Ram Arya Senior Secondary Model School, which has one of the largest auditoriums in the city with a capacity of 800. But what it takes pride in is its vintage. The school is run by JMBL Charitable Trust founded by two brothers Jhanda Mal and Bihari Lal Mahajan at Chuharmunda in Sialkot district in 1924. Its list of VIP visitors includes former President SD Sharma, and then vice-president BD Jatti among others.

The sector is also home to Aurobindo School of Integral Education run by Puducherry-headquartered Sri Aurobindo Society. Arvind Mehan, its chairman, says the aim is to provide children with holistic education that opens their consciousness. So don’t be surprised if a Class I student here gives you a lesson in meditation.

The Bhavans

UT administration has earmarked the sector’s institutional area overlooking Madhya Marg among sites with heritage value. Jat Bhavan is among the oldest buildings here. Dr Rajwanti Mann from Jat Sabha that runs it, says they use it to promote social and educational activities. What most people don’t know is that it also publishes books on Jat culture and history.

Sikh history is the focus of Kalgidhar Niwas at the other end of the lane, which houses the office of Sikh Itihaas Board. Gurdarshan Baiya, who worked closely with late Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee chief GS Tohra, says though the plot was allotted to them in 1977, the building came up only when the Akalis returned to power in 1997. “Tohra wanted it to be a serai for visitors from Punjab, but now most of the rooms are occupied by securitymen.” The complex also has a gurudwara.

Heritage houses

No account of this sector can be complete without a look at its government houses in 27-D, which range from Type 10, 11 and 12 to Type 13. Designed by the expatriate team of Pierre Jeanneret, the first chief architect of Chandigarh, Maxwell Fry and Jane Drew, they were made with low-cost local building materials designed to provide light and air. Now some of them have been proposed as heritage structures.

Meanwhile, the peepal tree on the campus of the community centre in 27-B has made it to the list of 31 trees given the heritage status by UT administration. The trees have another story to tell.

In pursuit of excellence

Rajendra Kumar Saboo still remembers the day then Haryana Governor Jai Sukh Lal Hathi, an eminent Gandhian, called him in 1979, and casually asked, “Why don’t you set up Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan here?”

Saboo, a Calcutta boy who had came to Chandigarh at the age of 26 in 1960, had his hands full as a growing industrialist and a Rotarian, but he respected Bhavan’s philosophy of promoting education and culture dating back to 1938. “I said yes and started scouting for able people to head the trust here,” recounts Saboo, who proposed the name of retired Justice Tek Chand, known for his integrity and discipline. While the justice was made the chairman, KJ Khosla was appointed the first honorary secretary. Hathi asked him, ‘Tum kya banoge?’ “I told him I don’t need any post but he made me the vice-chairman.”

The bhavan began by hosting cultural activities but soon Saboo realised the need for evening courses for working professionals. The evening classes, then a novelty, were a big success with 400 students by 1983. Then it was time for a school, and the Trust launched a primary wing.

But Bhavan Vidyalaya came into its own only after Saboo took over as chairman in 1996 and Meenakshi Mohindra became the principal followed by Vinita Mehra in 2008. “Those days, Chandigarhians preferred convents, I was determined to make my school the best.” He was told he would have to change its name. “People said it sounds like a putri pathsahala.” But Saboo didn’t budge. “I said if Vallabhbhai Patel school in Delhi could attract such long lines, so would my school.” He got his first win when his grand-daughter Satvika moved from Carmel to Bhavan Vidyalaya in Class IX.

Today the school has an enviable record in academics. “Our students bagged all the positions from 1 to 15 in commerce nationally in 2016,” says Saboo. Among its firsts are a program for slow learners, the model United Nations and an initiative called Udaan for coaching under-privileged children.

But there are no full stops for Saboo. “It’s a continuing journey in quest for excellence.”

First Published: Oct 22, 2018 14:04 IST