Memories of a Receding Past: 30


After the stint in Union Public Service Commission I hopped on to another deputation that came my way. It was to the Post Graduate Institute of Medical Education & Research (PGI for short) located at Chandigarh to function as Deputy Director of Administration. It was basically a job that dealt with the Institute’s establishment and personnel, including the technical staff and the faculty. My post was of the level of a Dy. Secretary of the Government of India and I had to work directly with the Director whose rank was equivalent to that of a Secretary in the Central Government.

The Institute was created on the pattern of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences of Delhi – the only difference being unlike the All India Institute the Chandigarh Institute did not run under-graduate courses. The Institute had a top class faculty and was headed by a rare intellect as its Director who, professionally, was a Gastroenterologist. Dr. PN Chuttani who was the Director during my time was indeed a rare intellect who had a sharp mind and had the ability to grasp problems in no time. While professionally he was considered outstanding his administrative acumen was no less. He was highly regarded in the entire northern region and the chief ministers of the four northern states were his personal friends. I happened to meet at least two of them in his room.

The Institute was replete with modern architecture. Located in Sector 12 of the “Garden City” it was a huge complex with a 700-bedded hospital, an administrative block, a college of nursing, hostels for students and nurses and a smattering of residential houses of various types one of the higher types of which was allotted to me. This apart there was a forest in the land that had remained unutilized. On many a night I could hear jackals howling in the distance. The Institute also had a few larger houses in Sector 24 which was at a little distance near The Punjab University.

My job was very largely routine personnel work, pretty uninteresting. I was not quite convinced about the need of a post of this seniority for the work that I was supposed to do. In the Delhi Institute my counterpart had far greater range of functions. Here in Chandigarh it was far too circumscribed, To take care of the hospital there was a medical superintendent, for civil and electrical engineering aspects there was a superintending engineer and for items of academic work there was a dean supported by a registrar. I was there merely for the personnel, supported by an administrative officer and an assistant administrative officer. I thought there were too many men and I was doing precious little. The contrast from the UPSC was stark. While there I was dealing with ministries here I was talking to heads of various departments of the Institute.

I had been to Chandigarh earlier. In 1961 we were taken on an instructional tour to Bhakra- Nangal dams and the planned city of Chandigarh from the National Academy of Administration. The two dams were still works in progress but the two, together, were called new temples of India by Jawaharlal Nehru. He dedicated them to the nation two years later in 1963. Chandigarh was planned by Le Corbusier, a French architect of repute and his associates. The Punjab Legislative Assembly, the High Court and the Secretariat were designed by him and, to this day, have remained as markers for the city. The complex has since been designated by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. Then, a very enlightened ICS officer, MS Randhawa, intervened and had flowering trees planted all over the town in a way that one or the other sector of the city would always be in bloom right through the year. The neighbouring sector of PGI, Sector 11 had jacarandas and every March we would see purple all over when the trees would be in bloom – a spectacular sight. 

It was a garden city indeed. In Sector 16 there was a Rose Garden named after the former President Dr. Zakir Hussain, a rose garden that is considered the biggest in Asia. It was one of the very large gardens I have ever seen with hundreds of varieties of roses. The townsfolk had cultivated a gardening culture and every house regardless of its type had some land where the residents would be nurturing flowering and fruiting plants.  I too had quite a bit of land in the front and the back of the bungalow where my help would try and grow vegetables. There was a huge chikoo (sapota) tree on which we could see a large number of chikoos hanging. The Institute’s horticulturist, Shyam Lal, was dedicated to his job and he would visit every house often to ensure that the gardens, including the lawns, were properly maintained.

It was because of the efforts of Shyam Lal that the Institute would regularly win prizes in the rose shows of Delhi. He would start preparing his plants soon after the monsoon and select the best ones for exhibitions at Delhi. A very amiable man, he was always eager to share his knowledge of gardening in general. For a man without a degree his knowledge was remarkable.      

He one day brought along one of his friends, Nek Chand, a supervisor of Punjab PWD. Nek Chand, it seems, was stationed at a place where he had lot of land lying unused. Sitting in this barren land he conceived of a garden of his own imagination and started building it with broken crockery pieces which eventually came to be known as Rock Garden. It was for these broken crockery pieces from our cafeteria that he had come to me. He did get into some rough time when the Punjab PWD would entertain none of his arguments and started taking departmental action against him. Dr. Karan Singh who used to be the Health Minister in 1995 visited his garden during his brief visit to Chandigarh. Under tremendous pressure, the PWD allowed the case against Nek Chand to die.

 He kept working on his garden, enlarging it to around a 25-acres affair and adding variety to it so much so that today it is a “must see” tourist spot in Chandigarh. Footfalls in the Rock Garden are reported to be only second after Taj Mahal. Nek Chand, on the other hand literally went places, getting invites from countries in Europe and setting up such gardens in France and Germany. That he would be accorded state recognition by the award of Padma Shri was a foregone conclusion. That diminutive, rather submissive looking man indeed had imagination mixed with aesthetics and left behind a solid legacy for the city. I was sorry to see the news of his passing in the newspapers a few years back.

Another creation of Le Corbusier is the Sukhna Lake on the outskirts of the city. In the 1970s it was a very quiet place with an occasional picnicking family around. Corbusier had forbidden motorized boats to ply on this reservoir of 3 sq. kms. at the foot of the Shivalik Hills. Motorised vehicles were also banned on top of the dam leaving it as a promenade for walks. Later Punjab High Court banned food carts anywhere near it to prevent contamination of the waters even though till today its waters are not used for human consumption. This is in stark contrast to our own Upper Lake of Bhopal where not only motorized boats ply freely, scores of push carts assemble near the boat club on the bank of the Lake to do business without let or hindrance even though its waters are supplied to 40% of the city’s population to satisfy their basic needs. This is a matter of attitude. While in Punjab authorities are more concerned about people’s well being, the same would not seem to be the case in Bhopal.

Chandigarh has since emerged as one of the most livable cities in our country. It is beloved by people who live here who often call it “City Beautiful”. Nehru had a vision of making it something that represented India’s future – an educational and cultural hub in the midst of the bounties of nature. Whether his dreams were fulfilled would better be answered by its own citizens. I for one had a very nice time in the city, picking up a few very sincere friends. I also acquired a life partner while I was in Chandigarh. However, despite all the creature comforts I decided revert to my department even before my term came to an end. My people posted me to Nagpur – a station that was unpopular with my colleagues. For me Nagpur was a turn-around and I never looked back. But that is another story.


More by :  Proloy Bagchi

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