These lines are sometimes just a trifling string of words, isn’t it? It’s just stupid to be affected by them. However, accidently so, if it begins to heedlessly prick our brain, becomes a constant reminder, then maybe we give it another read; then another…. then once more… one last time and then we are incessantly obsessed with it, like an infatuation that constantly flashes in and out of our minds. Ha these careless words! They have us engulfed in their cause.
These string of words envelop one thought and aligns them to a chain of several deeper thoughts. Mind you, now we are involved; an affair, very similar to the regular ones but slightly more honest. There are moments of disagreement, then a ruthless fight that turns into a sleepless night. Then there are moments of intelligent conversations, honest reflections and a close connection.
Even time sways away without ticking. Oh these mindless reveries, a classic romance, they lead us to some very unlikely places, both known and unknown; they overwhelm us with sentiments, both beautiful and sad. What can I say I am an admirer.
Anyway, I remember, when I first read that quote somewhere and got caught in its spiraling understanding. I just burst out with newfound realizations about buildings around me. I observed them wherever I went, letting my eyes guide me. I tried to notice the designs and patterns of buildings in my colony. I tried to figure out its blueprint. It was only a pass time, a mindless reverie then.
Gradually, it developed into an affection. Affection, not for just any building structure, but for something rather exquisite and well crafted. Mostly, ravishing and elegantly decorated houses or government buildings in rich neighborhoods; but, with time, I uncovered even finer details and delved deeper into fascinating revelations about certain ideas and where they were inspired from and then everything I had read and experienced about religion, culture, history and geography came into application. It was a grand feeling. Lastly, when I exposed the real genius plan, it was those simple and uncomplicated plans that blew my mind right into the clouds; it is true, simplicity really works. Besides, that is when you are truly looking at a work of a genius. I realized, that sometimes these men were exhibiting their philosophy in these structures but other times they were just making a statement. I become a silent spectator in their affair. All in all, these buildings became a pure delight to my eyes, a comforting corner in times of chaos.
Just like most relationships, it starts of as a healthy flirtation, but no sooner does one get entangled in the webs of passion.
Similarly, my amateur recreation transformed into a serious affair. It has taken over my afternoon reveries as a beautiful idea.
It arose in me a strong sense of formally pursuing architecture; like it’s has been my true calling. It goes out of hand and I have never stopped to reflect and reason; and maybe that is why, it reoccurs all the time but I have taken real delight in them. Anyway, that’s a far cry to even talk about right now but at least I can absorb as much of it as I can right now.
In that search, I came to Nepal. I might not have discovered as much about architecture as I have in these past fifteen days. It has been quite a fulfilling ride and yet, it remains unfinished.
I spent several days exploring palaces and temples in and around, Kathmandu; wandering aimlessly from one part of the city to the other. Honestly, a major part of my wandering was occupied with buildings, apart from the Nepali language I was trying to learn. I used to spend several hours of my day in the library reading and then taking off in the evening to explore a different part of the city. I had learnt all the major routes and roadways of the city and I cannot imagine the distance I might have covered on foot to accomplish that.
On one such run, I happened to visit Bhaktpur, a city of devotees. It was only a mere coincidence, a lucky accident and an impulsive decision that landed me onto a bus to Bhaktpur. I was told that it was an old town of historical significance but nobody told me that it was an architectural extravaganza and as soon as I stepped into the narrow lane that led to the Bhaktpur Durbar, I knew I had something grand in store for me. I was ready to soak in as much as possible. Slowly, I walked the narrow lane between red brick houses on both sides. Some of those houses were new, with polished wooden window frames and doors, while others were falling; long steel bars were diagonally fixed to support such walls. The 2015 earthquake had done some pretty serious damage to this city. There were small kirana shops at every corner; children rushed in out of them with cheerful faces. Men, largely aged, sat in their verandahs smoking and looking on. I reached an open area. There, I walked to center to view all the temples, cafes and shops that surrounded me. They were mostly Hindu temples, built according to traditional Newari architecture. Most of these temples differed in size but their basic layout was the same. They had squared boundary and were built on several plinths, high steps, which raised the structure. The elevated platform not only gave the monument a colossal height, but also provided for enhanced stability in this extremely seismic region. The building itself was raised only two or three floors at the most and as it moved upwards, with every succeeding floor, the floor area narrows down like an inverted cone. Externally, the aesthetics of such temples were their sloped roofs that encircled each floor. They protrude from the ceiling of each floor and were supported by wooden struts on each side. The slopped roofs themselves shrink, just like the floors, as we ascend. The entire edifice was decorated with detailed wooden work on the window frames, the struts and the doors. Usually, these struts were scrupulously carved with images of god; the window frames displayed a variety of patterns while the doors were chiseled with both type of artwork. Some big temples had added aesthetics of stone and terracotta sculptures of mythological animals at their entrances. In its entirety, the city filled me with a deep sense of wonder to see art and religion have such a timeless romance. Again, I was only a silent spectator to this affair and yet I was so deeply affected. I had found new meaning to my art; it was inspiring. Only stepping into that lane took me back centuries. I was unreal to experience such a strong presence of history that still bound the walls of these temples and the lives of its people.
I left the city thinking to myself if we still have the gift to build such spectacular towns or the artistry to work on wood or stone. But the right question would be, do we have enough people to appreciate it?
My walks on the streets of Kathmandu had a deeper sense to it. Usually when you take a taxi, everything flashes in and out of the window with such intensity that a traveller does not get enough time to soak in the city. They miss out on a lot finer details of the city that lie outside the usual tourist spots and are dedicated to the regular city life. Soon, I was included as its member and not an outsider. I became versed with simple and useful Nepali terms, I found out good places to eat and drink and most importantly, I discovered some new styles in buildings that I never thought had an influence in this valley. I spotted a few temples with large domes that were influenced by Mogul style. There were palaces, libraries, ministry buildings and offices that were set to imported ideas from the British. A wave of neo-classical and Edwardian architectural styles abounded the valley. Personally, I explored very little of such styles and consequently, I have very little to say about it; but, there was this one garden, the Garden of Dreams, that I have wanted to visit since the time my brother had mentioned about it as a lover’s point in the city. Unfortunately, I had to go in all by myself but in retrospect, I don’t think I had a less intoxicating affair than any couple around. As soon as I stepped in I was at a loss of words for this garden. I gave it a second glance and came to believe that it was for real; that, in this bustling part of the city a garden so calm and tranquil was ironic and as magnificent as this was unfathomable. I walked around quietly as though I was hit by a profound realization of this possibility. Moreover, it felt as if I walked into a new country; a country of different tastes and styles. It had no likeness to the culture, people and history I had previously been exploring but I simply appreciated every aspect of this natural and architectural flavor that I had found. The architectural style of the garden is formally called Edwardian, I had no idea what it meant, so I called it ‘European’. Founded in 1920 as a private estate, this garden had six pavilions, each dedicated to one of the six seasons of Nepal. Sadly, only three of the six remain but they have been restored as per the original concept and were overwhelmingly beautiful. Moreover, it has a café, a bar, a tea salon, a pond and an open-air theatre apart from other attractions like the garden itself.
But honestly, the high point of this architectural specimen was its amphitheater. It stood out as the only austere layout amidst these grand and complex settings.
The indiscernible boundary of the amphitheater imitated the shape of a rhombus; the seating and stage was spread along its wider sides in a semi-circular outline, like ripples in water. The seating was only slightly sloped with leveled terraces of grass for each row. There was a narrow water drain encircling the semi-circular staircase that led to the stage. It separated the seating from the stage. The water in the drain diffused a lime green pigmentation of natural ponds. It was completely enchanting but hypnotizing if you stared too long. The semi circular staircase had low-rise steps and it narrowed down as it ascended to the stage. The marble that covered these steps looked more or less one piece. One got a feeling that that hot liquid marble was poured on these steps and later let cool. There were no unwanted decoration or any kind of engraved designs or patterns anywhere in this open-air theatre. Utmost attention was paid only to the most important requirements of this structure. The open-air theatre was a perfect example of a minimalistic philosophy. Earlier too, I had mentioned about how some simple and sober designs stand out.
My indulgence in architecture has only begun but places of history such as forts, tombs, palaces and temples, the humble abode of the royalty, are scenes where indulgence has no limit; it is a different level altogether. Your attention is held under the command of these inspiring edifices. They play with your emotions and all you can do is simply observe. Most of the times you are flooded with sheer awe and respect for whatever stands before you and what it had stood for in its glorious days; now and then, you also sympathize with its decline.
Me? I simply flow into the past and relive it.
Subhankar Agrawal (Reading for MA in Economics_South Asian University)