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An architect extraordinary, a philosopher, a guide - Shri Balkrishna Bhai Doshi

He enjoyed tasting all kinds of food, but he would literally have just morsels

Harshavardhan Neotia | Published 25.01.23, 07:34 AM
Balkrishna Doshi (left) and Harshavardhan Neotia at Sangath, Ahmedabad, in December 2022

Balkrishna Doshi (left) and Harshavardhan Neotia at Sangath, Ahmedabad, in December 2022

I write this tribute with a very heavy heart. Architect visionary Shri Balkrishna Bhai Doshi transcended from planet earth this morning. He was to me not just like the father figure, but an architect extraordinary, a philosopher and a guide. I pay my respectful homage to my guru and guiding light.

As I look back, I fondly recollect our long association of nearly three decades. It started in the early 1990s, when I had visited him at Sangath to invite him to design our social housing project Udayan. What began as an architect-client relationship soon blossomed into a guru-shishya relationship and ultimately he transformed himself to be a guardian and father figure for our family.

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Balkrishna Bhai was much feted. There is hardly any award of consequence  that could be conferred on an architect that he had not received. He was conferred with the Pritzker Laureate Award, the first Indian to receive it, the Reba Award, the Agha Khan Award and the Padma Bhushan, among countless others.

The beauty of Balkrishna Bhai’s architecture lies in the simplicity of his approach. Central to his concern while designing Udayan was how the quality of light and ventilation in the spaces would be created. With designing he brought a beautiful synthesis between the inside and the outside. He strongly felt that the Indian  tropical climate was such that people would use terraces, verandah and open spaces as frequently as they would use the interiors.

While bringing about his  harmonious blend, he conceptualised structures that were very aesthetic. He had  also this amazing ability to look at life in a light and playful manner. His central philosophy was to be joyful, no matter what were the circumstances.

From 1995 to 2010, Balkrishna Bhai and his wife, Kamala Bhabi, would visit Kolkata every year and stay with us for a couple of days. The times we spent together were very special not just for me but also for my entire family. Over breakfast, lunch and dinner, we would remain enthralled by his conversations, laden with simple thoughts but profound meaning. His worldview, his faith in community living and his marvellous philosophy of inclusion and aesthetics, without doubt, transformed him from an architectural consultant to a Life Guru as far as I was concerned.

His simplistic approach perhaps comes from the simple life he led. Balkrishna Bhai had lived in the same home in the same manner perhaps for the last 50 years. Ever since I have been going to his home for the last 30 years, it hasn’t even changed one bit. I was told that he had designed and moved into that house 20 years before  that, which makes it 50 years of living in the same home in the same manner.

If you look at his photographs throughout his lifetime, you would notice that even  his attire — cotton shirt with trousers and typical khadi wear — hasn’t changed much. The simplicity about his thinking was thus reflected in his own life. He was  a great connoisseur of good food, but a frugal eater.

He enjoyed tasting all kinds of  food, but he would literally have just morsels. He had a great sense of music, very  keen on discovering and listening to good music. He was a simple person who had  many fine sensibilities,not just in art and architecture but also in other broader spectrums of life.

I had the great honour and privilege of meeting Balkrishna Bhai at his Sangath office in Ahmedabad on December 8, 2022. He was enthusiastically showing me his latest obsession, which was his recent foray into painting.

There too, you could  see glimpses of his mastery and artistry where he looked at the built and unbuilt with the accompanying light and shadow play.

There is no other way to sum up his life than to quote from Rabindranath Tagore:

“When I go from hence let this be my parting word, that what I have seen is unsurpassable. I have tasted of the hidden honey of this lotus that expands on the ocean of light, and thus am I blessed — let this be my parting word.”

Harshavardhan Neotia is the chairman of Ambuja Neotia

Last updated on 25.01.23, 10:37 AM
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