Prof. Shaheer: And do it goes.

  • November 28, 2015
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Ghalib's Mazar 2_resizeMazar of Mirza Ghalib ; Delhi.

“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.

Bagh e Babur 1_resize

Bagh e Babur 2_resizeBagh-E-Babur, Kabul, Afghanistan.

BSG 4_resizeBharat Soka Gakkai Gardens; Haryana.
(Of the four he suggested , three have pictures here; the fourth was the Rajiv Gandhi Memorial at Sriperumbudur)

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)

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Recent Comments

  • Couple of weeks back..while catching with a dear friend in Delhi.. I mentioned in conversation that Prof. Shaheer has recommended some landscape projects that he feels are worthy of mention.. and that their office works was also there in his list… Upon hearing this..his eyes glowed like a child..and he promptly asked…are you serious? Did he really say that?
    After my re affirmation he said.. that means a lot as he is an institution by himself…
    Years back when I was waiting for my landscape Jury.. a six feet tall man entered the studio.. met him the first time then..and remember his stature.. firm…straightforward..
    May his soul be at peace…

  • Beautifully written, Aniket. I had my longest conversation ever with him last week about the Retreat stuff. I’ve just got back from his funeral and I still can’t believe he’s gone.

  • Hi Aniket Sir… Sonali Rasal here
    you bring him to life in your article…while reading I went back into the SPA Landscape corridor and studios…where only one tiger roared…and it shook the other professors as much as the students. My most adorable memory is a question i asked while he was just strolling out of the studio…i got a few mumbled words as the answer…but the next day before his lecture…he asked me to repeat the question..and said he had spent last evening thinking about the answer and if i was still interested…yeah i got my answer and an insight into the human being hidden inside the tiger … How can we miss him…he is so much there in our designs..Batch 1999

  • So, beautifully said Sir. It just feels as if he is sitting in front of us and silently musing over the entire conversation. It is indeed difficult to digest that we would not be able to hear anymore of those witty sarcastic and knowledgeable talks that we always used to look up to.

  • Thanks for voicing the turmoil that each one of us is suffering through. There was so much learning and at so many levels with each interaction, whether it be an sms even. The reality of this huge loss is gradually engulfing the being. The pedestal for my Guru and Guide will forever lie vacant.

  • Beautifully put Sir. You have pointed out so many things about Prof. Shaheer that I and everybody else will totally agree with. Generally different people can have different opinions about one person. But the fact that we concur with your opinion about professor, shows that as a person he was as transparent as crystal. I respect him for that. Its really unfair that I was expecting to meet him at the Isola Bangalore conference, the only conference I have attended till date….1998 Batch

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