“Always do right- this will gratify some and astonish the rest”, Mark Twain once said. Apparently, the rest of the British population did not believe so. At least, not the ones who were shaping the ‘future’ of India in the 1900s.”Always do British- this will gratify the English and fool the rest” was the popular mantra of the English colonizers.
Let me take the example of Delhi, the capital of India. The seat of the President and Prime Minister of our nation are present here. These consist of the Rashtrapati Bhawan, the Secretariat, and the Parliament Building etc and compose what we today call Lutyens’ Delhi.
Very rightly so. It actually is Lutyens’ Delhi. It is thought to be a true representative of India and its people. More than eighty percent of the Indian population would agree with this. However, I beg to differ. In my opinion, the respected Sir Edwin Lutyens and his compatriots such as Mr. Herbert Baker, Henry Lanchester, Lord Hardinge etc, who happen to be architects and planners of the aforementioned buildings, did no more than beguiling us into believing that Lutyens’ Delhi is the ‘it’. In reality, it is far from being ‘it’. By ‘it I mean that which embodies the essence of India.
When it was designed, Lutyens’ City with its urban fabric was meant to keep the “lowly native Indians” out of the core city. Ironically, it continues to do so even today.
What Mr. Lutyens, who happened to be a classicist architect, essentially did was to import few Victorian buildings here, choose a set of Indian elements, combine the two, and voila, the face of the Indian democracy, today representing six billion independent souls, was ready! However, being an Indian myself, I can quite confidently say that this is not the recipe for a building representing Indianness.
Before I venture further, let me elaborate a bit on his entity called ‘Indianness’. Indianness can be said to be the measure of one’s inherent Indian character. It is a quality that is as innate as being a man and never asking for directions! It is an impact that is not just seen, but also felt by others.
If one tries to fathom the Indianness of the previously spoken buildings, the following is the conclusion to be arrived at-
The planning of the buildings is evidently Baroque in nature. The axis, the symmetry, the bold geometry are all exponents of the European style of architecture. The concept of raising the buildings from the road level was taken from classical Greek architecture in which the important buildings were built on the acropolis to facilitate their viewing from a distance. The entire plan was extruded to enclose a volume, which was ultimately covered up with Indian stone. It seems that the domes were added as an afterthought and the concept of relating to them to the Buddhist Stupas stayed on. Eventually, the architects collected a range of Indian elements taken from ancient Indian architecture such as Mughal Jali patterns, Vedic columns and railings, chhattris, minarets, Elephant figures, fire motifs etc. This assortment was simply stuck on top of the stone cladding and then repeated to form patterns, such that the entire composition looked like an Indian product. But eventually what has been achieved is an eclectic reminder of the British idiosyncrasy.
This whole business of creating false impressions, which the architects have been reasonably successful at, leads one to believe that maybe his was just another way for the British colonizers to display their hegemony over India at that time. But for us Indians this was supposed to be a serious affair. After all in India, we have always been taught to be true to our inner self. “Be on the outset, what you are inside”. This is what being Indian is all about, not what our friend Mr. Lutyens decidedly characterized Indianness to be. But then, why blame him? The complexity of the Indian nation state is such that even the British found it too hot to handle!