118 years of Trust Chandigarh Heartbeat THE TRIBUNE
saturday plus
Saturday, August 8, 1998

Remembering city’s spaces, verdure
By Sonoo Singh

K. Atmaram

Kanta Saroop Krishan

Saudamani Bhamba




"The sun, space and verdure are the ancient influences which have fashioned our body and our spirit. Isolated from their environment, all organisms perish, some slowly and some quickly, and man is no exception to this general rule. Our towns have snatched men from essential conditions, molested them, starved them, falsified them, embittered them, crushed them even sterilised them; the third generation to live in great cities tends to sterility. Fashioned throughout millennia by the conditions of nature, man cannot with disrupt the natural order. Shut up in masonry walls and conditioned to the smell of petrol fumes, men in large towns lead a cramped and unhappy life, deprived of the essential joys of life — sun, space and verdure".

— Le Corbusier on Town planning.

AND in this search of the sun, space and verdure came up the City Beautiful — Chandigarh.

From simply being a city to rehabilitate refugees, to a babu’s city, Chandigarh has passed through many ups and downs. Though acclaimed as an architectural wonder, the city is often branded as a concrete jungle or a city of the retired people, with no cultural life.

When Chandigarh is referred to as a city that forms a link between nature and man, it becomes meaningful that the bestower of life — The Woman — is placed in the centre of its macrocosm. No wonder that some prominent women of the city, who have abundantly ‘lived and experienced the growth of this city, painted a distinct nostalgic picture of the city’s past and present cultural life

.“Chandigarh was a neat, clean and a healthy city once. But with the kind of water and electricity problems today, it is fast becoming like any other Indian city. In fact, the growth of the city has gone far beyond the original plan and a large population brings with it its own set of problems”, says Kanta Saroop Krishan, honorary secretary of the Blood Bank Society, Chandigarh. Moving to Chandigarh in the 60s, Saroop Krishan joined the Indian National Theatre as its vice-president, started by late Miss Doongaji (the then Principal, Home Science College, Chandigarh).

“A city that had more than an adequate share of breathing space for its residents, has obviously not been able to maintain its dignity. Whether it is the social or the cultural aspect, with the increase in population, the interests of the people always get divided. But I still feel that the people of Chandigarh do wield a healthy influence on the residents of other cities of India. Such is spirit of this city, she adds.“It’s only city in the country that has retained its character, while infusing the different flavours from all over India. Chandigarh sees the Bengalis having their own associations, and the Keralites and the Garhwalis their own,” says Champa Mangat Rai, who came to this city way back in 1953.

Associated with theatre activity in the city, as the founder-member of Chandigarh’s well-known theatre group—Abhiner, she first joined the movement in Shimla, where she started the Little Theatre Group with some friends. Once in Chandigarh, she joined late Eulie Chowdhury’s Chandigarh Amateur Dramatics Society (CADS) as a make-up artist. She went on to produce a number of plays.

Moving to this city that was personified by open spaces in the year 1956, Saudamini Bhamba, who taught physical education at Panjab University, says, “I remember the time when people thought nothing of walking from the university campus to the Sukhana Lake and back. Entertainment at that time in this open-handed green city was mostly social. With the presence of a very progressive theatre group, cultural life here was synonymous with theatre”. Remembering the “everybody knew everybody” phase in Chandigarh, Saudamini remembers the social and charity programmes at the campus in which “everybody used to devote some time to help the not-so-fortunate.

In our times, we were a dedicated lot. But with the kind of affluence that has set in, the children have inflated their needs and demands. Chandigarh is no more a laid-back city”.“A jungle full of dust” could have been the starting point of the growth of any city, but to be called a “continuous modern symposium on the principles and practice of architecture in our time” definitely means a view above the esoteric Indian view of connecting life with grovelling in the dirt, remarks K. Atma Ram, who retired as Director, Public Instructions Higher Education, Punjab, and arrived here from Patiala with her family 1956.

M.S. Randhawa should be given the credit for releasing the human values to this city and providing it an artistic landscape. And today, because people are multiplying like flies, Chandigarh does not seem to be in a very happy situation. But even now nature seems to emanate peace, especially in the old northern sectors. The openness of certain sectors seems to be the only saving grace for this quickly growing city”, she adds

.Agreeing to the drawbacks of the industrial units at the periphery of Chandigarh, she remarks, “Industries have been known to cause pollution. The Chandigarh Plan should have arranged to check for this kind of growth as well. And there are people, especially the youth, who are interested in beautifying this city. But if they are planting trees you can’t expect them to take water-hoses everyday to the streets and water the plants. The administration needs to step in”.

Adds Saudamini Bhamba, “Though most people in the city have beautiful gardens, those are a result of encroachments on the pavements. Ironically, if these encroachments are cleared nothing else but parthenium will grow.However, growth always brings with it the inescapable mutation of the previous form.

Remarks Champa Mangat Rai: “The satellite towns of Mohali and Panchkula are a result of the inevitable growth of the city. So with the changes that have occurred every where else, I don’t think that too much philosophising on this change is desirable”.

Though many Chandigarhians have come to think of the ‘Babu city’ or the ‘dead and dull city’ label pinned on their city as a bad joke, there may still be some amount of truth in the nickname. Of course, today Chandigarh has its fair share of discos, wondrous eating joints, typically freakish clubs and even a bowling alley. Gone are the days when being with friends meant samosas at Kaku Shah’s; when education included TKTs — talk over tea, an informal interaction between teachers and students; when entertainment meant chamber music concerts or productions based on Bhai Veer Singh’s compositions; when traffic meant cycling down the roads and sometimes seeing an odd car.

“Because most of the people who first settled in Chandigarh migrated from the culturally-alive Lahore, a lot of work in the field of theatre seemed to be happening. But now the kind of understanding and appreciation required for such things seems to be missing in people. In a city where once the post of a lecturer of music was abolished in the Men’s College, there is definitely little success in developing the finer sense of the residents.Youngsters feel that culture is what happens in the clubs!”, laments K. Ram.

Adds Saudamini Bhamba, “It was in Chandigarh that we started a school for the construction workers on the university campus, by collecting money from each other. Later, we also started students’ Aid Society, which got the Ankur School built with the help of donations.

One doesn’t really see that kind of commitment any more. But that then is also a national phenomenon.”Observing the state of theatre in city today, Champa Mangat Rai asserts, “the sad part is the free theatre that is available to the people of Chandigarh.

If there is a need to cultivate the desired kind of audience, theatre should be ticketed as it is done in the other cities”.“I’ve raised my children, and now my grandchildren in this city. And obviously there is a whole lot of difference between them, but I hope the younger generation would take some steps to correct the wrongs”, says Saroop Krishan.

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