AS he cut his 93rd birthday cake in his beautiful home in Sector 8, architect MN Sharma celebrated, apart from a life extraordinaire, two dreams that have enveloped his being for many years now — a UNESCO World heritage status for Capitol Complex and the release of his memoir, “Making of Chandigarh: Le Corbusier and After”.
The book, published by the Chandigarh administration, with the help of Chandigarh College of Architecture, took shape in his mind in 2006 on a visit to Paris, and on which work began in 2011, after Sharma visited Le Corbusier’s grave at Roquebrunne Cap Martin, in the South of France.
While Sharma could not attend the ceremony due to ill health, the book was released on Thursday morning at the Government Museum by Prof Kaptan Singh Solanki, with many friends and associates of Sharma in attendance.
His friend, associate, and general secretary of MN Sharma Architectural Society, Yojna Rawat, who has been closely involved with the making of the book since day one, shared Sharma’s thoughts with the audience about the unique work.
“Unlike many books on Chandigarh, this records a personal account of the making of this unique city, from its inception to date. Writing this memoir is rediscovering myself, not just what was achieved in bricks and mortar, but also what motivated and inspired me. It has given me the space to reflect on my relationship with Corbusier, who reposed trust in me, showed his affection in many ways. In the process of writing about my life, I began to understand the meaning of life and recognise the unknown occult powers that guide all acts of creation,” writes Sharma in the book.
As the first Indian Chief Architect (1965-79), Sharma was occupied in the realisation of the unaccomplished works of Le Corbusier, the completion of the first phase of Chandigarh and the design of its second phase, including the plan of Chandigarh Urban Complex.
“At 42, I was given this great responsibility, inspired by the greatest architect of the 20th century, Corbusier, who envisioned Chandigarh according to his philosophy of a “Radiant City”. Chandigarh is a city which inspired the entire world. So, the past, present and future come together in this book. It’s a collection of what I had been observing during the making of Chandigarh, an in-depth study,” said Sharma, as his eyes welled up while thinking about the past.
Rawat, who had typed the first draft of the book, which Sharma dictated word by word, recalls how the architect has a great memory, and is precise about dates, facts, names, incidents, checking every little detail from various offices in Chandigarh, with no room for doubt.
The soul of the book is Sharma’s narrative of his life and work, from the early days in Lahore, education in Mumbai and England, joining the Chandigarh project, his work with Le Corbusier and his team, the early days of Chandigarh, his building projects and the work at the Capitol Comple. One of sharma’s closest chapter in the book is “Le Corbusier as I knew him”.
“People like Corbusier are born in one or two centuries, and I got a chance to meet great people and understand their vision. You need great minds to think of things, and even greater minds to give those plans a shape. Chandigarh is a hand-made city, built brick by brick. You can see the beauty of the brick, a poor man’s material. Many rich countries won’t be able to afford this common man’s material with which we made this city — one of its kind in the world. In fact, it’s a matter of pride for UNESCO to have Chandigarh on its world heritage site list,” shares Sharma.
The book looks at events that shaped Chandigarh, the marvel that is Rock Garden, a chapter on his wife Amrita — his love and support — major problems besetting Chandigarh and Sharma’s lust for life and creation.
Replete with rare photographs of the making of Chandigarh and the team which realised the dream, sketches of plans by Corbusier and other members of the team, copies of important letters, and special images of Sharma’s personal and professional life, gives it a soul and unique texture.
“The city is an idea of life, created by life itself. The book has been inspired by Corbusier — a man of many disciplines. I remember how he always had a sketch book in his hand, and never missed an opportunity to quickly draw what absorbed him,” recalled Sharma.
“We cannot live without a purpose, and I hope the book inspires young minds to take forward the great work that has made this city what it is. As for me, I want to create something new for Chandigarh,” Sharma said while enjoying a piece of his favourite cream cake.