Dr Balkrishna Doshi, the 1st first ever Indian to win the Pritzker Prize 2018 [known as the Nobel Prize for Architecture] is a deeply grounded soul, wrapped with innate wisdom about seeing, perceiving, learning, and leading a fulfilling life. The more I know of him through his autobiography Paths Uncharted, the more I crave to know him more. I was fortunate enough to meet him and am glad to have my share of blessings as a signed copy of the book. The 21 quotes compiled from this book are just tip of the iceberg, from the vast account of Dr Doshi’s life, work, family, projects, his experience at the Atelier Le Corbusier in Paris, and his collaboration with Louis I Kahn for IIM Ahmedabad.
Most of the quotes are of Dr Doshi’s while some are of the people he was profoundly influenced with. The meanings derived below the quotes are solely personal and carefully handpicked, while and when I pondered and halted on each line. It is absolutely agreeable to have different opinions. Varied perspectives will only enrich and take it a step ahead. If you get hungry for more, as surely you will get hold a copy of the book to read his magical, mysterious, genius, yet a child-like mind.
1. “I hesitate calling myself an architect because the more I think I know what architecture is, the less I feel I know about its true calling.”
His life has been full of continuous learning and evolving. A feeling of knowing or mastering a subject is seen as a limiting factor, detrimental to one’s progress. Each new project that came up in Dr Doshi’s career, posed new challenges and compelled to gain fresh knowledge in order to thrive and deliver. “Every time I felt I have mastered it, each newly completed project has made me aware of how much more there is to architecture.” The farther he walked, the more he discovered new dimensions to reach. His Gurus were not only from the field of architecture but also from fine and performing arts, social sciences and spiritual souls.
2. “Today every major city has more than required institutions while there are none in small towns and villages. It is not just our contemporary practices but our attitude to the heritage that also needs much introspection.”
Dr Balkrishna Doshi is immensely concerned about the disparity in the distribution of resources among the urban and rural landscapes. The inequality disturbs him. We may lose balance and control, if we consider rural and urban modernization as step siblings. The study of architecture back then, when he was a student looked simultaneously at the needs of both rural and urban spaces. The initial part of his architecture course focussed on housing for the poor, and only much later during the semester, he was exposed to designing of institutions and urban landscapes.
3. “Learn to take abuses as well as you would take flattering words. This way you will be at peace.”
Most of the life’s beautiful teachings come to us in the most unusual and unexpected ways, more to the curious and the observant minds. Dr Doshi deeply admired the composure and ‘always in peace’ attitude of Dr P.R. Pisharoty, then, the Director of Ahmedabad’s Physical Research Laboratory. Once they met at the airport. Seated next to him, he asked out of curiosity how he manages to be so relaxed and never in a state of hurry. Dr Pisharoty then told him a story. As a kid, on one of his birthdays, his mother’s guru, an old Brahmin, abused the birthday boy, when everyone else was blessing and saying nice words. When the party was over, he asked his mother about such behaviour. His mother said, “Son, you will always be happy when someone praises you, but remember in life there will be occasions when you will be abused. Learn to take abuses as well as you would take flattering words. This way you will be at peace.”
4. “Visit the site often, give a patient ear to its murmurs.”
What one can learn or impart to the people working on site by visiting the site, is immeasurable. He says, to achieve quality and to train craftsmen to adopt new technologies, it was essential to be at site more frequently. Dr Doshi made 30 visits over three years while creating Yashada, the Maharashtra State Government’s Institute for Senior Officers to train the site staff and contractors in the use and execution of new materials with new technologies, almost the same as for Amdavad Ni Gufa.
5. “If you want freedom, break away from the normal conventions. Break away from all the rules – Forget history books.”
Be curious, child-like. Break-free. Ask a lot of questions. Know, that reality is also an illusion.
These were Dr Doshi’s initial thoughts when he saw Khushno’s [his grand-daughter] drawing of a face, on 27th May, 1989. Early in his career, he must have realised the importance of breaking away from conventions and ‘constantly learning’ which reflects all over in his book. It’s evident, that he has never been afraid and/or shy of asking questions, irrespective of however ignorant he may look. He would rather like to know something correctly and look unfamiliar [if that be the case], than falsely pretending of knowing something. “If that meant I had to work harder and longer to learn more, so be it.”
6. “Our tools cannot become our masters and should not rule our lives.”
Any vocation should not rely on tools and rules so much so, that it develops rigidity with time. Elasticity is so critical for survival. Paradigms and rules must not rule. He says, clock was invented to serve us an organised way of seeing the time and not being solely driven by it. Flexibility in thoughts while crafting architecture helps the structures withstand the atrocities of time.
7. “They say that under the ocean there is another world which is full of silence and sounds. I believe it.”
I believe it too and quite intrigued by the marvel of his wisdom. Try hard to see beyond the lines. Peel the upper crust of, what is apparently visible. There’s certainly more than you think, in the 2nd, 3rd and 4th layers. Experience silence of nature speaking to you in the wee hours – it will surprise and addict you, helping you to relieve the baggage, which is only a deterrent.
8. “One day Corbusier drew a star. Then pointing at the star he said, ‘This is your dream’. Then he drew a cloud under the star. And said, ‘the dreams often get clouded’.”
The path to glory will need you to stretch beyond your extremes, take a portion of you in the process but that is the only way which inches you closer to your deeper aspirations. Dr Doshi learnt a lot from Le Corbusier who would often scribble while interacting. During one such instance, he drew a star and said, ‘This is your dream’. Then he drew a dagger below the cloud and said, ‘Remember, no dreams are realized without overcoming the obstacles’. During the 1950s, Dr Doshi was quite disturbed at the way people looked at modern architecture. He even felt like leaving Ahmedabad but then he remembered the ‘star’ behind the dagger and the cloud that Corbusier had cautioned about, and continued to work harder. I pondered on this life lesson for a long time. So simple, yet so powerful. A sublime feeling indeed to acquire a dollop of wisdom from the great master Le Corbusier through Dr Doshi’s writing!
9. “I said I do not want to make a building that looks like a building.”
I feel Dr Doshi’s architectural upbringing and style is a fusion of contrasting design philosophies of Corbusier and Kahn, amalgamated with his strong eastern influences, and the great lessons he learnt from Motabhai, Dada, temple architecture, and more. He often wonders how he has negotiated between two rather divergent attitudes in his building sculptures. ‘You are not done until the building emotes and speaks back’. Such is his depth, intensity and respect for work and architecture.
10. “There is no greater teacher than intuition.”
Dr Doshi is deeply spiritual and thoroughly believes in the power of intent, instinct, and intuition. He mentions how his dreams really opened up while working with M.F. Husain on Amdavad Ni Gufa and gave it a different meaning, direction, and shape altogether. Most of the decisions in his life were based on his intuition and the child-like curiosity to know more. He says, “You ask a great musician, artist, architect, even a business person, ‘what is your best work and how did it come about?’ He will tell you, ‘I don’t know how it happened.’ One has to become consciously subconscious to share one’s skin and allow the manifestations to happen.”
11. “Limitation of resources leads us to unusual inventiveness.”
Again some excellent food for thought! We probably lack resourcefulness and not resources. It is evident from Dr Doshi’s creations and autobiography that he has always liked working or had to work with the minimal resources, as he considered it to be a challenge, which tested his abilities, performance, grit, and required inventiveness to ensure excellence.
12. “I live in paradoxes.”
He mentions about the constant struggle between the apparently opposites and contrasting situations, the need to confine and secure by creating walls, while also having the quest to see outside by making room for windows and doors. The pull towards past and present at the same time, the movement between east and west, rural and urban projects, science and spirituality, leading to profusely diametrically opposite ways. As life weaves divergent circumstances before us, it takes wisdom to decipher meanings, to combine the virtues of often contradictory approaches.
13. “A marriage between personal creative urge and fulfilling unspoken dreams of clients is called Architecture.”
Here, Dr Balkrishna Doshi defines architecture beautifully. Architecture is certainly more than a passionate profession. He surely is obsessed with it. For him, it is no less a commitment to him than marriage, or the nuances involving one. Dr Doshi to me is one of those blessed few, whose passion became his profession. He has a child-like mind that never ceases to learn and remains in constant awe of the world around him.
14. “The most important things are experience, the rasa, which is the subtle experience of the space that makes the space memorable.”
Architecture has the potential of extending the associations and enriching imagination. The designing of Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore was one such experience for him where rasa was attained by inter-mixing of spaces of interactive dialogues rather than well-defined territories such that outdoor learning could take place all over the campus, while drawing inspiration from the Royal Complex at Fathehpur Sikri. Creating the rasa is a consistently consciously thoughtful decision, which evolves when you have some elements of spirituality in your personality.
15. “House is a grain, like a small sapling in the bio-diverse wild forest.”
Dr Doshi mentions about how to work on both small and large projects simultaneously. One should learn to focus on the smallest to the largest, large to small at times, while also see them in isolation. It is equally important to understand the co-relation and interconnectedness between different elements. To be able to relate at any point and yet seeing something holistically, broadens our approach.
16. “I am conscious of the other self, which constantly creates difficulties, frustrations and then bestows it with opportunity of the unknown and its compulsion to make me do things.”
Seemingly, he is mentioning about his awareness about the unconscious mind, which is always at work and sometimes creates a barrier, only to make us stronger to break it and grow. And then a stronger barrier, which needs us to exert, stretch and perform more and better than the previous. It creates situations that have to be mandatorily attended to, even if you initially find it messy and wish to avoid. He emphasises on constant introspection of the self with a question – was there a better way?
17. “When love dominates, emotions take wings, immediate surroundings become the field. But to reach the skies, one must hear the call from the stars.”
Human beings love to be within their comfort zones. However, that makes people contented and reluctant about facing new challenges. He feels one must continually strive to come out of ‘sheltered comfort zone’ to grow. Dr Doshi was always ready to take risks and confront new challenges of place, work, language or food. After returning to India, the work happening in Pune that time did not interest him much. He then left for Chandigarh where many beautiful stories unfolded.
18. “Remember, without dark night, there can never be sunrise, don’t even think of only sunrise and smile or think of only the darkest night and imagine death.”
The dark and the light cannot exist without each other. Here he talks about accepting nature and to understand the interconnectedness between different events and happenings in life. Our journey would always have both the flavours - the good and the bad, the beautiful and the ugly, smooth and a bumpy ride. However, the darkness doesn’t prevail for eternity. Change is the only constant.
19. “One can not just be an architect, I thought to myself. The idea is to become a sthapati.”
When you are an architect, you just erect buildings. When you transform into a sthapati, you enter into its soul right from the beginning, which Dr Doshi always dreamt and tried doing. He was deeply inspired by Stella Kramrische, the widely known and immensely respected scholar on Indian Arts, who once told him – a sthapati has to be a yogi to feel the vibrations of every element in the cosmos including the materials and users of that space.
20. “I recall my mother’s face only from the photographs I saw of her. Did she really set me up for this journey or was it a natural course of life?”
Dr Doshi’s mother left him for her heavenly abode, shortly after his birth. He earnestly believes that she is with him as the unseen, yet the strongest force, charting his path without his knowing. The impossible chain of events in his life from the places he has been to, to the people he has met and the stupendous work which he did could not be thought of without his mother guiding him. He started scribbling at a very young age, out of the desire to recover the intimacy and feed his emotional appetite and vacuum. Dr Doshi’s constant feeling of having his mother around and believing in her presence had a profound impact on him. He recalls one instance when he was bed ridden for months and how he felt her hands caressing his wounds. There is much more to the incident which you can grasp only by reading about it, in his words.
21. “The more you miniaturize, the more expansive you become.”
With this thought, he addressed the significance of the way we view things. When the scale of an object is much bigger than us, we cannot discover it fully. Only through perceiving it in miniature form, we can look at it in totality. If we can see connections along with perspectives and different scales of proportions, the static begins to become dynamic. He says, “You see the expanse because the scales have melted.”