The definitive biography of Laurie Baker Laurie Baker has worked in India for over forty years
Here it is at last! The Shobha De and Starry Nights of Indian architecture in the form of Gautam Bhatia
In his memories of Indian architecture, titled Punjabi Baroque, last year, he expounded with biting wit on a phrase...
The sacred rivers and banyan dotted landscape of Vishnu Sharma’s Vedic Age have been replaced by nuclear reactors...
A Moment in Architecture
The wise guy architecture critic of Punjabi Baroque and Other Memories of Architecture is in a mellower mood.
Gautam Bhatia’s ‘tabloid’ book is a harangue of articles, advertisements and misinformation.
The people in Lie: A Traditional Tale of Modern India are small, colourful and not nice to know.
The definitive biography of Laurie Baker Laurie Baker has worked in India for over forty years and is renowned for being one of the very few architects in the world to have designed and built buildings as diverse as fishermen’s huts, computer institutes, private homes, hostels, hospitals, churches, technical institutes, auditoriums, film studios and tourist centres. His distinctive brand of architecture, usually moulded around local building traditions (especially those of Kerala, his adopted home state in South India), is instantly identifiable and has, unsurprisingly, revolutionized traditional concepts of architecture in India. Baker’s architecture is responsive, uses local materials and lays stress on low-cost design. This biography of Laurie Baker, like his work, is direct, simple and comprehensive; further embellished with sketches, plans, photographs and some of Baker’s own writings, the book offers the professional architect as well as the layman a fascinating view of the life, methods and thoughts of an unorthodox genius.
Here it is at last! The Shobha De and Starry Nights of Indian architecture in the form of Gautam Bhatia and Punjabi Baroque. And like Shobha De, Bhatia has decided to bare it all, not having been able to bear the corruption, the conspiracies, the deceits and the immorality of the entire architectural profession in India. Shobha De-like, he even invades the bedrooms of his clients to describe their middle-class frolics: “Madanji would then tug violently at his wife’s nylon sari and in a fit of Cro-Magnon frenzy” would finally “remove his VIP briefs giving new meaning to the Kamasutrascriptures”.
This is part of “architectural memories”, particularly of India, as Gautam Bhatia keeps stressing throughout. He tries to titillate the reader through descriptions of “insatiable lust for rippling Bombay thighs” and some bawdy Phoolan Devi-like dialogue, and then wraps it all up in true Bollywood style with dream sequences in which, after having been born in Fatehpur Sikri, the author chats with Gaudi, advises Pablo Picasso, and becomes a professor emeritus at the MIT, amongst many other dreamy honours.
In his memories of Indian architecture, titled Punjabi Baroque, last year, he expounded with biting wit on a phrase he made famous in a newspaper article in the ’80s to describe the aimless promiscuity of modern Indian architecture. Bhatia’s new book is offered regretfully, not as a requiem but a revised manifesto. Among the architectural projects described is the creation of a national centre of the handicapped, a theatre complex in Kanpur, an educational training institute in Sikkim, a hospice in Bombay, and so on. Bhatia grabs you by the hand and takes you instead on an odyssey of absurdist encounters with the people who commissioned these buildings and who might use them one day. Bhatia uses architecture to introduce lunatic IAS officers, corrupt municipality clerks, do-gooding society ladies and self-satisfied prime ministers who rule our lives. Bhatia is basically a storyteller – he has the eye and ear of a very good reporter and the imagination of a novelist. Being an architect, however, he thought it would be a secure enough scaffolding to build his edifice on. It is not. Rather than getting lost in the byways of architectural theory and argument, he should revert to type and describe, again, to Indians why they live the way they do. It might lead to an explanation of who they are.
The sacred rivers and banyan dotted landscape of Vishnu Sharma’s Vedic Age have been replaced by nuclear reactors, sluggish streams and the psychedelic flash of fluorescent lights. The wily jackals, clever crows and naive Brahmins give way to repugnant and rapacious creatures: an oedipal mongoose, a lesbian feminist, an expatriate dog, an environment-conscious tortoise, a battery of monstrously greedy Brahmins. In each of these stories, Bhatia writes with a rapier pen and sabre eyes, lancing unforgivingly at every preposterous detail of modern life: unemployment, sexual incompatibility, environmental pollution, hypocrisy, cant and corruption. The characteristic relish for the absurd is there but the indulgent affection is absent. “I didn’t intend to paint a grim picture,” says Bhatia. Unwittingly, he has – because even the most excessive leap of his imagination is still only a disturbing approximation of reality
A Moment in Architecture
The wise guy architecture critic of Punjabi Baroque and Other Memories of Architecture is in a mellower mood. Could be age, but in his latest work there is little of the ferocious wit that gave us such gems as Bania Gothic and Early Halwai. Instead A Moment in Architecture features writing on favourite monuments and public places, peppered with intensely personal anecdotes. The function? An experiential scrapbook rather than an inquest of built form, with little socioeconomic, historical or political analysis. The form? A quirky assemblage of smudgy charcoal sketches, plans, sections and elevations, and remembered spaces; no chapters or sections or thematic progression. Just plug in and contemplate at will. Subjects of the drawings vary from a Coke-bottle shaped, mercifully unbuilt, headquarters of a soft-drink retailer body, to chiaroscuro renderings of houses and monuments. Wordier jottings take in the Lutyens’ bungalow of Bhatia’s childhood, the palace at Padmanabhapuram, the work of Louis Kahn and Laurie Baker, and memories of anonymous architecture. On these journeys, as an armchair appreciator of architecture, you are sometimes held in thrall by Bhatia’s poignant descriptions, as of the stepwell at Adalaj and the Hoover Dam. When he describes the light and material in the built form of his memories, he communicates the almost-mystic quality of architecture that transcends the physical and differentiates it from mere “building”
Gautam Bhatia’s ‘tabloid’ book is a harangue of articles, advertisements and misinformation. Called Whitewash, but architect-author Gautam Bhatia’s latest book is one of the blackest satires on Indian life that I’ve read recently. A far cry from the books he’s written in the past, largely based upon his experiences as an architect. Instead, Whitewash is in an innovative tabloid format, and Bhatia uses pen and column space to vent his spleen on anything and everything that bugs him about living in India.
The people in Lie: A Traditional Tale of Modern India are small, colourful and not nice to know. Architect and author Gautam Bhatia’s latest book is a graphic novel, a deeply disturbing book that talks about the rampant corruption in the country, female infanticide and government apathy. The book attempts to satirise the current state of the country,from the last 30-40 years to the present day. The narrative has magnified the misdeeds of a corrupt government and its leaders. It is an exaggerated view of people driven to grotesque levels of greed and indulging in heinous acts of depravity and barbarism. If their lives are a lie, so is this story, says Bhatia. The idea was to begin exaggerating the situation to an extent where one can laugh and cry, but the discomfort will linger.