HOUSE NUMBER 699, Phase 3-B1 of Mohali is a special space, the home of Dr B S Chandok, the outer wall of which has been conceptualised and created by Nek Chand, using stone that has been used in the Rock Garden. Dr Chandok had been the family doctor of Nek Chand since 1985 till his death and two shared a deep affection and mutual respect.
“I renovated my home a few years ago and Nek Chandji used to visit it often. One day he told me that he wanted to do something for my home that he had never done before. So he created this beautiful wall, which has geometrical shapes in white, the pride of our home, apart from as many as 10 sculptures, each unique, dot our home and take pride of place. Placed on a height, these are for all to enjoy. These gifts by him constantly remind us of his generous and simple personality, his love for his work and constant experimentation. In fact, he had taken the measurements of a waterfall he wanted to create on our garden terrace, but sadly he passéd away before it could have his stamp,” recalls Dr Chandok.
]Two years after his death, Nek Chand lives on, not just through his acclaimed Rock Garden, or the tall sculptures that greet people at the entrance to the Railway Station, but also in many houses in Chandigarh, Mohali and Panchkula, where Nek Chand’s work occupies a special space. His memory is cherished in unexpected places across the city with which he was associated from the time it was being raised, and in Tricity as a whole, both in public and privates spaces. That is because Nek Chand’s circle of friends was large and he loved meeting people.
“His generosity and giving nature is known to everyone he came in contact with. He would never sell his work, but simply gift or donate his sculptures and other artistic creations to people. He lives on through his work in so many places, including many important museums in Germany, England, Japan, Italy and USA,” says Anuj Saini on his father’s second death anniversary.
Closer home in Sector 25, Prof Yojna Rawat’s garden, verandah and sitting room has as many as 11 works by Nek Chand, using waste tiles, bangles, stones et al. Rawat has some special memories of the works, many of them which were gifted by Nek Chand to M N Sharma, the first architect of Chandigarh, and then passed on to Rawat. “I once asked Nek Chandji for a piece and he simply told me, take as many as you like…I have placed these treasures at different places, and one is absolutely unique, that you won’t even find in the Rock Garden. It’s a set of few sculptures put together, that he first cast in iron and then covered in cement. Nek Chandji lives amongst us,” says Rawat, chairperson, USOL, Panjab University.
Nek Chand’s sculptures also take pride of place at Dr Sandeep Chhatwal’s home in Sector 8; the entrance of a home in Sector 16-A where three different sculptures, one in cement and two made of broken, discarded tiles welcome visitors; photographer R P Sharma’s residence in Sector 48; Sunil Sharma’s home in Sector 22; Anil Puri’s residence in Sector 45; and a new home in Sector 44-B. Apart from the big sculptures, he gave away lots of smaller souvenirs to countless residents of Tricity, including sculptures of ducks, his unique bead necklaces and other objects crafted by him.
In veteran journalist Vipin Pubby’s home in Sector 30, Panchkula, Nek Chand’s arresting sculpture of a watchman greets visitors at the entrance. “He first gifted me a memento of a child, when my son was born. I cherish that immensely. Then one day he suddenly said that you don’t have enough of my art pieces and so he sent me this huge sculpture in a truck. All his sculptures have different expressions and emotions, and that’s what makes his art distinct and living.” In 2015, when Major (Retd) R S Virk was designing his new house in Sector 8-A (105), the theme was Le Corbusier and the Rock Garden. Nek Chand would often go over to inspect the progress and make suggestions. It was during this time that he gifted many sculptures that went with the theme of the house and also many rag dolls. “I was born and brought up in the same neighbourhood as Nek Chandji’s house, and his son and I would visit him at the Rock Garden and see him at work. It was like a second home to me and he was a father figure for us. I am an ardent admirer of him and his love for art. His gifts to me are a priceless possession,” says Maj Virk.
Amarjit Singh Randhawa remembers his long association with Nek Chand, as he proudly and lovingly talks about the many creations and sculptures that he was gifted by Nek Chand for his Sector 27 home in Chandigarh and also his house in the US. “I was fortunate to have a personal rapport with him. He was a man ahead of his times, so renowned, yet humble and innocent, one who kept the child in him alive until the very end and he will live on through his work.”
Chandigarh’s public spaces also have stunning creations by Nek Chand. There are four sculptures of tennis players holding racquets at the entrance to the tennis stadium opposite Sector 10, and further ahead, six magnificent horses created in white. The Punjab Governor’s House, the Adviser’s residence, Chandigarh Railway Station, the Western Command in Chandimadir, are other places where Nek Chand lives on through his Art. Apart from the Tricity, he also created a park in the Army base in Kargil, and in Talwar township in Pathankot.
“Daddy created special works for these places, including many rag dolls for the American School in Delhi, which proudly display the collection,” adds Saini. Former civil servant Rupan Deol Bajaj’s connection with Nek Chand goes back almost 45 years, and back then, she would proudly call herself his “right hand man”. Bajaj was also one of the members of ‘ANCROG’ (Admirers of Nek Chand’s Rock Garden), a small group of people, who would draft letters and form resolutions to send to the government, all in support of Nek Chand in the 1970s.
“He created a distinct art form made from broken pieces of rock and stone. Many public places, dhabhas et al have also started decorating their places with pieces of broken rock, stones and tiles. I feel there should be an official, new genre of art under his name ‘Nek Chand’s art.’ We as ‘ANCROG’ first called the Rock Garden as Nek Chand’s Garden. The name Rock Garden does not signify the hard work, dedication and effort of a single man who created this masterpiece. So, the legacy he has given to Chandigarh and us a gift must be referred to as Nek Chand’s Rock Garden,” says Bajaj.
Bajaj says that Nek Chand’s Rock Garden should be preserved in its original form, as any reconstruction would make it lose its original essence. In Sector 6 in Panchkula, Dr K L Nayyar’s residence (House 197) has three sculptures by Nek Chand gracing the entrance. A dear friend of Nek Chand, 88-year-old Nayyar was gifted these, with two sculptures of men, and one of a duck, made from broken tiles, bangles and waste material, with a small waterfall in the backyard creating a special effect.