Prof. Shaheer: And do it goes.
- November 28, 2015
“And do it goes, as Kurt Vonnegut might say”
To which I asked , “ Ever liked Puckoon? Spike Milligan? 1960s; I think you will”
And to which he said “ Yes”
That was a few days back.
I am staring at about 35 mails from him in the last three months.
Its the most he has talked to me- ever.
And now he wont.
After an indifferent five years in an architecture college I joined the programme in Delhi in the late 1980s. It was a musical chairs, with Heads coming and going. Insanity and instability was what it was. I decided to put my head down and really work and blanked the world out for the two years there. The only time the fog lifted was when he lumbered in the studios. He mumbled mostly, under his breath- and yet the sun shone through. He was sharp, witty, wicked, and brilliant.
He rebuked his co faculty with alarming regularity because they just did not know enough; stared at drawings and students so that they felt holes burning in them, and when he spoke which was always little, it changed the world. He knew exactly how to use words sparingly , precisely and pack more wisdom in them than tomes on the topic on hand.
I graduated , and returned home and started working, and whenever work took me to Delhi I told him. And we would have lunch at the India International Centre and he would invariably buy a book for me; and hand it over almost shyly and make some noise about how I would understand this sort of stuff- and that he just had looked at it as such but not read it. That was never true. He knew the book and its background in detail and could debate on any page at length. Quickly I think he had realized that his brilliance was largely unmatched. There just was no one as well read as he; as thinking as he- and he knew that and knew in the times we lived it would always be considered as arrogance. So he often prefaced his conversations with those who did not know him well , disclaiming any real knowledge about a place, or a book, or a person, or a project. Fact is that he knew more about it than any person alive.And the fact is that he could not suffer fools.
Then he came often to Ahmedabad for design juries and in those trips when time permitted, he would want to see work that I had done. And I would drive him, knowing that talking about work with him would make him uncomfortable, so was careful never to ask what he thought about a project.. He would walk in those projects and occasionally mutter a word or two. But I would know that he liked something when he would pull out his small camera, ask me formally if he could take pictures and take a few. He was like that. Unfailingly formal, old world almost and correct. He did not take liberties with any one and was highly critical of any one who did of him.
Then for many years I lost touch with him, and since late July reconnected suddenly. I asked him if he would come for a Landscape Architects Retreat in December. He declined , saying that he was cutting down on travel, but suggested that he stay in the loop on all mails on the topic and asked in his first mail
“The other thing which is a constant refrain at the back of one’s mind nowadays:
Is anyone listening?
And then of course in counterpoint, is an audience necessary?
The universe doesn’t need one.
Neither did van Gogh.
All the best, and greetings to Professor B.,”
And suddenly 30 years of knowing him flooded back. He just cared so much about the discipline, so much about propriety, that often I think it tormented him at levels that cannot be fathomed and he held it behind a stoic face that had a twinkle in the eye and a grimace on the face.
And that marked a floodgate of mails.
Almost one every four days.
In another when I asked him about considering sending me some work for the Landscape Exhibition his laconic and characteristic reply was
“Thanks, I’ll think about it … whether anything I’ve done meets your kind of standard… and let you know.
I’m sure it will be a great show.”
And then in the next mail sent me the 4 projects that he thought were closest to his heart.
That was on 10th August. I lost my father a few days later. And he wrote me more often as if to fill a void.
In one he said while talking about him
“Well that’s a whole era, and now its almost half a century of landscape… I think everything’s changed and all is new.”
I refused to be drawn in a conversation about my father. The loss was mine and I did not want to share it. He tried to draw me out I think. And now he wont.
Who is now going to draw us out of our loss now that he has gone ? Its just so unfair.
(Prof. Md. Shaheer passed away on 28th November 2015)
Developing Ideas for Landscape Design
October 14, 2015
Rather so often when designing, the context allows the remaking of a setting, and then enacting the process of design in it. When confronted with a rather beautiful orchard within which we are building a large house and also designing the landscapes, Richa a young landscape architect was confronted
Time to Retreat; Mumbai;17th-18th December 2015
December 01, 2015
The Retreat began with the simple premise; to enable conversations amongst designers which could be frank, honest and without the pressure of an audience. It also has at its kernel, the desire to move on; to imagine a better future- to change things, and to keep it real, and to