India Chronicles...Rock Kingdom – Part II…The Making
Fairy tales, they say, are encapsulated with doses of intrigue, surreal, take flight of imagination, transports one to the land of make believe ó a walk through Rock Garden is nothing short of that experience.
The colossal structures, meandering, abstract and asymmetrical pathways open from one world of intrigue to the next of awe; this 'kingdom' started as one man's dream to build a small garden for himself.
This story takes us to a flash back, and perhaps is nothing short of a Bollywood potboiler, minus the hip gyrating movements of lovers professing their emotions. Nek Chand, a road inspector, in 1952, started working as part of a team to build independent India's first planned city, Chandigarh, designed by Le Corbusier.
In his spare time, Chand used to spend hours in a forest clearing, building a garden from the waste materials from the massive urban development project he was employed to, for self gratification.
From 1958, his life was revolved around his job and the clandestine journeys to this green belt.
For 15 years, Chand's creations were kept under wraps by the foliage, and then came the twist to the story, his garden was discovered by the authorities ... and the hero of the Rock Garden was hit by at string of 'punches'. Chand lost his job for illegal construction in government land, and his decades of hard work was set to be demolished.
His struggles came to a full circle, in a preverbal anticlimax, public interest spiked in Chand's unique creations and a movement grew, in 1976 the city authorities decided to formally take the park under their control and opened it to the public and Rock Garden was born.
Chand was relieved of his job as road instructor and was made in-charge of the park and had 50 labourers assigned. The second innings for Chand commenced, under his tutelage, Rock Garden became the focal point of Chandigarh's activity. The structures that were built went from subtle to grandiose, and as the demand of waste material shot up, he set up collection centres around the city.
Tribute to divinity
The magnanimity of the project was, according to Chand, his tribute to the divinity.
"My intention was to build a kingdom for gods and goddesses," he said in the book Nek Chand's Outsider Art: The Rock Garden of Chandigarh. "It is a gift from God. [This garden] is more than an offering to God."
The former road inspector built his dreams, training unskilled labourers into artisans, and employed the methodologies of construction that he learnt to build colossal structures.
Rock Garden found its way on a postage stamp in 1982 and Chand, for his contributions to arts, was honoured with Padma Shri, the fourth highest civilian award, by Government of India in 1984.
But, over the years, the funds to upkeep the park depleted, sections of the park were vandalised and there was also an attempt to shut down park, which again was thwarted by public protest. In 1997, supporters of Rock Garden created a foundation to maintain and upkeep the park ... the rest is history. Chand passed away on June 12, 2015.
This self-taught artist has left behind an unsurpassed legacy a Taj Mahal in its own right and his dream encapsulated in the words of former president of India, scientist, educationist and thinker APJ Abdul Kalam, who once said, "Dream is not that which you see while sleeping it is something that does not let yousleep."