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Monday, April 13, 2020

Losing Steam

IAnD Exclusive

Nostalgia

Concept & Narration: Vagish Naganur
Story & Visualisation: Gurjit Singh Matharoo
Photography: Courtesy Matharoo Associates
Read Time: 3 mins
"DRM Office Matharoo Architects Nostalgia Indiaartndesign"
Divisional Railway Managers Head Office Building, Ahmedabad (inset) Ar. Gurjit Singh Matharoo

Starting today, in the first of our series ‘Nostalgia’, IAnD speaks to Ar. Gurjit Singh Matharoo, who goes down memory lane and shares with us a story that is also a part of an upcoming book of stories on Matharoo projects called 'wit-ness to mat-haroo (hindi) spirit of endeavours'. G in the story is Gurjit.

It was the official opening of the grand 3000 capacity Divisional Railway Managers head office building of the newly formed Ahmedabad Division.

'I often wonder...' seated next to G, the Divisional Railway Manager seemed to be in a confessional mood today while G had gone into flashback mode. Four DRM's had changed since the building started some years back. Back then G, to break the ice and delve deeper into the workings of the railways, had curiously asked the first DRM,

'Now that there is this new division being formed, its nice; we will have more trains and tracks.'

'No, we are not adding any new tracks or trains, or stations for that matter.'

'Were the adjoining divisions too overloaded?' G was still innocent.

'No dear, everything was functioning fine. The British already set it up for us.'

'Then? Why a new division?' G continued.

'New divisions are created to have more jobs. This one will create over 20000 new jobs, so people are happy, the minister is happy. He looks progressive and pro-development.'

G was already perturbed by the Railway's strange colonial hangover. Any decision above rupees two lacs needed an approval of the west zone office at Churchgate Mumbai. To get the approval, one peon carried the request letter in person, travelling in the 3rd AC berth of an over-night train and came back, approved or not approved, with it in a couple of days, staying at the Railway's official accommodation at Churchgate, one of the costliest Real Estates in the world. 

Owner of the largest Real Estate in the country, the Railways of course didn’t value it. He had also come to understand that the railways don't acknowledge any courier service, email, postal service and even its own Railway Mail Service (RMS) for their own letters. They send their horseman instead. No wonder we never get our berths reserved.

'I often wonder that for days together.......'
Anyway, the DRM seemed to be in a confessional mood today while G was in a flashback mode.

Hailing from Ajmer, one of the oldest divisions of Railways, G had had close association with the railways. His stories are all full of train episodes and royal misses. G and his wife, K had recently done a three-day trip to Morbi and Wankaner, two small towns in Saurashtra, along with an Italian trainspotting friend of theirs. They had documented the last of the steam engine train plying between these 2 stations. Now this beautiful national heritage was being dismantled and sold as scrap. He even wanted to buy one of these steam locomotives, now antique, to keep in his courtyard. Just two things came in his way; there was no courtyard and he had no money.

'I often wonder that for days together I have not done....' the DRM was in confessional mood today while G was in a flashback mode.

"DRM Office Matharoo Architects Nostalgia Indiaartndesign"
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"DRM Office Matharoo Architects Nostalgia Indiaartndesign"
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The DRM building was a lofty structure. All circulation passages looked into a quadruple height atrium space which had turned up nice. Long back, when G had mentioned designing a building for the railways to our guru of all gurus, Architect Balkrishna Doshi, he had said just one thing.

'They still live in the colonial era, it’s your chance to do grand spaces!'

So true a design brief, G had realised soon after and added to the Guru's dictum 'They also work with the worst of contractors!' 

However, the building had received the best railway building of the year award given by the railways themselves and G wanted no complaints to come from the clients post occupation. Only one wish had remained unfulfilled. That was to beautifully document this 300 feet long 1 lac square foot building in photographs before it turned into a typical Government office. He had secretly desired it to be shot alongside an elephant so as to appropriately capture the mammoth scale of the building. Of course he would not find a white elephant so black was one he would have to settle for.

Shooting with elephants is not easy. They are expensive, take a day to arrive, you need to arrange 40-kgs of feed for it while they trample all lawns, bushes and shrubs. Nevertheless, G was hoping he could ask the DRM to engage and pay for this shoot.

'I often wonder that for days together I have not done any work whatsoever!' the DRM was in confessional mood today while G suddenly woke from his slumber.

Aghast, he thought. Why tell him? Why tell now? Now that the building was over and just a shoot remaining? What could he reply to the confessional DRM? Many thoughts ran his mind.

Should it be with compassion, 'yeah I too hardly work....'
or in praise, 'At least you realise you don’t work, most people don't even....'
or just be shrewd as planned, 'Can you get me an elephant please...?'
and then an awakening struck him,
'Can we get a steam engine to be put in front of the building?'

DRM was caught off guard. He was in a fix. He was just been given work to do. If he refused, he would be the one held responsible for his own guilt.

DRM had a busy next month. He had to locate one engine, stop it from being sold as scrap and get it to this site. The giant steam engine was beautifully parked in front of the building. He had done the work. He had moved a non-moving engine. Doshi's vision had come true. The gigantic steam engine too looked dwarfed in comparison to the large masses of the building behind.

'We won’t need elephants here', G had concluded.






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