By Ajay Singh
If there is one monument that epitomises modern Indian history, it is the Rashtrapati Bhavan. It has been witness to the high noon of colonialism, negotiations of a painful Partition, the dawn of Independence, and countless events that have shaped the republic since.
As a symbol of the seat of power, its majesty is overwhelming. A report published in The Daily Telegraph of London on December 12, 1928, said that the palace that Lord and Lady Irwin would occupy contains “340 rooms, 227 columns, 35 loggias, 37 fountains, 14 lifts, 45 lac bricks, 14 lac cubic feet of stone, 7,500 tons of cement and 1,350 tons of iron and steel”. Its architecture, though European in concept, was executed predominantly with Indian motifs and craftsmanship. Spread over 330-odd acres, it is also called a “geometrical extravaganza” because of chief architect Edwin Landseer Lutyens’s fascination with a mathematical balance in architecture. This is why it is bound by a distinct thread of sound logic.
While the grandeur of the Rashtrapati Bhavan is often assumed to be out of bounds, President Ram Nath Kovind in his addresses has often extended an invitation to people to visit the monument, where his own residence is confined to a portion of the estate. “It is your place” has been his refrain.
Over the years, historians and architects have done their part in familiarising people with the place. Yet, there are many stories that have remained confined within these sandstone walls. Those who have worked with the President’s Secretariat for years have lived and jostled with these stories. That sense of history is quite palpable, be it the cabinet room where every detail of Partition was discussed, the Durbar Hall, the Ashoka Hall and the array of places across the estate.
For the first time, long-time staffers share behind-the-scenes anecdotes of the Rashtrapati Bhavan. The Indian Express has partnered with the President’s Secretariat to launch this series as a platform for the stories of this splendid building.
(Ajay Singh is press secretary, President of India, Rashtrapati Bhavan)
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