By Anup Tripathi
“NEK CHAND’S art has a sense of attracting you naturally and effortlessly, even as an untrained lay person. He is the common man’s artist, a once-in-a-lifetime person. I have been lucky to know him so closely. I was fan number one of Nek Chand,” says Rupan Deol Bajaj, whose Sector-2 home has several of his pieces. “As big a personality he was, Nek Chand was really humble,” says Bajaj. “Whenever I would compliment any bit of his work, he would say, ‘you can keep it if you want’, but I would say I’m not praising it because I want it but because it looks so beautiful here. He would often stand around the exit and try to hear people’s comments in a covert manner, the people leaving would often say, ‘either this person is mad or he is a genius’, she recalls.
The former bureaucrat was associated with Nek Chand since 1973 when she was posted as under secretary at the Chandigarh Secretariat at the beginning of her career. She remembers how her colleague Jawahar Lal Sarin, who used to live in Sector 4 then, had spotted Nek Chand’s work once walking towards the Sukhna Lake. He and Bajaj then visited what was then the beginning of the Rock Garden. We were stopped by the chowkidaar who refused to let us in. They left a note for Nek Chand, saying that they were keen to see his work, leaving a phone number and address. “The very next day, a man on a cycle showed up here. He introduced himself in a humble manner as Nek Chand and invited us by saying, ‘Tussi ji aao, tussi malik ho, tussi aa key dekho’.”
A Nek Chand memento close to Bajaj’s heart is a plate he presented to her at a function with the inscription: “For Rupan Deol Bajaj, who stood by me like a ‘rock’ throughout and every time, turned the wind in my favour.” Her home is decorated with rocks carved by Nek Chand into elephants and Ganeshas. “Whenever I used to visit Nek Chand, this stone-based statue outside his room would often catch my eye and he gladly gave these to me.” Apart from the well-known sculptures made from cement and waste material by Nek Chand that Bajaj has at her Sector 2 home and Minerva Academy, she also has metal sculptures that he had made out of foundry lime kiln waste, which she considers “very rare”. Bajaj’s lasting regret is having given away a statue of a peacock that Nek Chand had presented to her in 1978.
“We were celebrating our son’s birth and some transgenders came for shagun as is the practice at the birth of a child. After a few days, they came back and started begging for the statue. I was reluctant, for it was a prized possession, one that Nek Chand had personally crafted for me. But they said to me, ‘For you, it’s a work of art, but for us, it’s divine. And, we wish to establish it in our ‘mandir’ as the centre piece’. I regret not asking where it was installed, but I feel if the work is really a part of a mandir, it’s even more fitting for the stature of the work as it is considered divine.”