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Shri Shibu Dutta

catering social, welfare and cultural needs of seniors of Indian cultural background

Shri Shibu Dutta

I was born at Fyzabad, the twin capital of the Nawab of Awadh.  Fyzabad is close to Ayodhya, the city of Rama.  Fyzabad was the capital till the English tempted the Nawab to shift the capital to Lucknow, where the East India Company had their residency; and promised to give him the title of the ‘King’.  The Queen Mother Bahu-Begam refused to move, and we all know what happened under Warren Hastings to Awadh (Oude pronounced by the English) and how the land was divided and wealth stolen.
Lucknow, it is claimed, was founded by Lakshman and was known as Lakshnawati.  Lucknow was a centre of pilgrimage a thousand years before the birth of Christ.  Shesh Tirtha (the ultimate pilgrimage) was the centre with the shrine of Shesh Naag. West of this, on the bank of the river was the ashram of Kaundanya Rishi, where he had his kutiya (hut).  The place is still known as Kuriya Ghat (the-river-bank-landing-by-the-hut).
Mughals made it the province of their empire, and when Islam came to Lucknow the name was changed from Lakshnawati to Lakhnauti, Lakahanpur, Lukhnau and finally to Lucknow under the British, as a sign of good luck to them? 
In 1730 the first Nawab Governor (Subedar) was appointed during the reign of Aurangzeb.  Sa’adat Khan Burhan-ul-Milk (1724-39) was a Shiite Muslim who migrated from Nishapur in Iran and gained favour from the Mughal court by his loyal service.  The Shiite foundation helped Lucknow to preserve much of the pre-Islamic culture.  It was Asaf-ud Daula (1775-97) who transferred the capital to Lucknow.  Finally it was in 1857 when Lucknow became famous in the history when the uprising of the First War of Independence started there.  Perhaps the community would have won the battle if Shiite forces of the Begum and Sunni forces of Maulana, who came from Fyzabad, had joined together.  Since then Lucknow became a legend for Indians as well as for the British.
Zul Zul, and the Muslim lady, became the first suicide bomber in history, who tried to blow off the residency walls, and caught by the British.  Perhaps given the standard British punishment of the day; to die tied to the barrel of the cannon and blown off.  Lucknow also became a legend in British History where the Union Jack was allowed to fly day and night, the only city in the Empire.  When India became independent only thing King George the VI asked for was for the flag of Lucknow to be given to him after it was pulled down for the last time at the Lucknow residency.  But that is not our story.
We were Bengalis living in United Provinces of Agra and Awadh (Uttar Pradesh now) and travelled almost every year to our native village on the Bengal-Assam boarder (now Bangladesh).  That involved travelling by broad gauge trains, eight hours paddle-steamer ride, and meter gauge train travel followed by half an hour’s ride on Ghoda-Gadi (Horse-cart). That gave us the opportunity to travel and observe the changing cultural landscape of our India. Our father was in government service and was transferred every third year.  That gave us the incentive to travel. He built his house in Pandey Ghat, at Varanasi and I finished my architectural education at Bombay, (now Mumbai).  That was still Bombay Presidency and I saw another struggle there.  Before Maharashtra and Gujarat states were formed there was the daily cry of – ‘Mumbai Amchi’ (‘Bombay is ours’ in Marathi) 
While working at the Delhi School of Planning and Architecture I was awarded the Commonwealth Scholarship for further studies at the University of Liverpool, England.  Being found of travelling even that first trip overseas was also an adventure. In those days only £3:10s were given in foreign exchange, but as a special case I had another £ 10.00.  Another advantage was that the airlines use to provide free city transfers and provide accommodation for the connecting flights.
I flew from Delhi to Mumbai by Air India in a Boeing 707, Mumbai-Cairo by Swiss Air in Conair CV-990, Cairo-Athens by TWA Douglas DC8, and finally Athens-London by BEA in De-Havilland Comet 4C, the first commercial jetliner introduced far back in 1959.
Delhi to Canberra was another long journey of ten years.  Having left India, the Desh, I decided to see the foreign countries, Videsh, as much as I can.  Result is that during my working life we have travelled from 65 degrees north to 65 degrees south, visiting Antarctica twice and seeing about one hundred countries.
First step was Delhi to England.  We lived in West Kirby, a seaside resort town in Cheshire, England, working for few New Town Corporations.  While there New Zealand Government offered me a job at their head office of the Ministry of Works at Wellington in 1970.  It was a six weeks journey on Northern Star, a new concept ship.  This was a Shaw Seville Liner sailing through Southampton, Canary Islands. Cape Town and Durban (It was a period of apartheid) and finally across the Indian Ocean to Freemantle, Adelaide, Melbourne Sydney, and ultimately arriving at Wellington, the capital of New Zealand in 1971.
While working at Wellington, I was offered a job with the National Capital Development Commission.  But before leaving New Zealand we opted for a trip to South Island before catching the flight from Christchurch for Canberra via Sydney.  That was the first time we had the opportunity of flying first class on Qantas, curtsy of NCDC.
After coming here we realised that the city was designed by an American Architect by the name of Walter Burley Griffin, almost a hundred years before this year of the centenary of Canberra.  We arrived on Canberra Day 1974.  They used to have a big procession in those days, an important event in the calendar of Canberra.   It was the year of ‘Burley Griffin’ float in the procession for NCDC. 
Walter Burley Griffin came here with great hopes but was rejected by Australian Government.  It was fortunate that the government changed in October 1913 and the new Prime Minister, Joseph Cook, overturned the previous decision and Griffin’s plan was revived.  Griffin was appointed the Director of Design and Construction of the Federal capital.  But that did not give Griffin a free hand in the development and construction.  Griffin had not only to contend with the obstructions of the department officers but also with opposition from the minister for Home Affairs, Mr. W. O. Archibald, who called Griffin a ‘Yankee bounder’ who wasted his time ‘with grand theorizing, moonshine and dreaming’.” [Allen Fitzgerald]
Griffin finally went to Lucknow and designed many buildings.  His best contribution was the U P Government Industrial and Agricultural Exhibition complex between the Chhota Imambara and Bara Imambara of Lucknow.  This was a great success.  But that was just a temporary construction.  He designed the Pioneer Press Building, which was demolished recently making way for re-development.  The Tagore Library at the Lucknow University still stands proudly within the complex.  Most of the houses that he designed are gone.  Amongst many projects he designed the unique house of five cubes at Varanasi for the then vice-chancellor, Jwala bank at Jhansi for Sir Jwala Prashad, residence for Raja Tagore at Calcutta (Kolkata now), the residence for Beerbal Sahani at Lucknow and others.  Perhaps he was most happy in his life at Lucknow.  He even wrote to Marion, his wife, at Sydney – “Without being very ‘ideal’, it [Lucknow] has charm everywhere, something totally lacking in Australia and in America, except where nature is free from man.  In the buildings of all sorts, I recognize most of the ‘motifs’ I have ever used or ever thought of in my life time of practice of architecture.” [Paul Sprague and Paul Kruty]
He died in Lucknow, on which an Australian critic commented that ‘India killed him’.  This is far from the truth.  It was Australia that killed him, not once but twice.  While at Castle Craig, in Sydney, one of his developments; there was a bush-fire and he wanted to save one of the tree that he liked.  During the incident he slipped and hurt himself.  It appears that he was not cured properly and this could have caused his untimely death in Lucknow.
Regarding the comment that ‘India killed him’ perhaps it is appropriate to mention what he wrote to Marion from Lucknow – “As to my next incarnation, I cannot think of anything better in this poor world than the job I am now on, though I fear the fixed star of my entelechy did not indicate that.[1]  Does this in any way indicate that he was more satisfied, if not most, with his engagement in India than in Australia?  Is there any indication it was India that killed him?  
In Lucknow, he writes, as quoted by Paul Sprague – “The western world, having concentrated on making nature the servant of man, is tending in “modernistic” architecture towards constituting . . . frank utilitarianism [as] the sole test of beauty.  For a civilization that has allowed totally un-architectural offices, factories, warehouses, docks and railways to loom most large and dwarf other edifices, this ideal is perhaps praiseworthy reaction [against]…[the] absence of all principles save size and ostentation.  But for . . .[India] where religion is not forgotten and where also industrialism has not yet grown large and engrossed other interests, materialistic modernism would be unnatural and occasional intrusion of it even into the architecture of the industrial centres here are hardly happy.[2]     
He passed away on 11th February 1937 at Lucknow, where he lies buried in the environment he understood and loved. I have taken our American, Australian and German architectural and planning friend to visit his tomb at Lucknow, to understand him as he would have liked, not as it was presented recently.
His Canberra has changed.  Within our last thirty-nine years in Canberra we have seen so many changes.  His Parliament building has been removed and Camp Hill leveled.  The site of his climactic building, the building for the community, ‘the Capitol’, has been replaced by the Parliament House.  Anti-terrorist barrier placed around and his plan has been compromised, not fully appreciated and understood. His city within the threshold of nature (Purush and Prakriti relation in Indian sense) has gone into a concrete jungle of high rise concrete development. One wonders what Griffin would have said now about his city if he lived this long, his city – Canberra, changing within the last hundred years.


[1] Ibid; p 9

[2]Paul Kruty and Paul Sprague; Two American Architects in India, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, p 83


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