Reading history’s message

Source: The Hitavada      Date: 07 Dec 2017 09:20:30


Vijay Phanshikar,

The broad, palace-style, curving flight of stairs attracted us kids often to the Divisional Commissionerate building in Civil Lines. Its wonderful black-and-beige stone structure always looked very attractive. Its balconies, its huge windows on the inside walls on the first-floor, its graceful and big rooms that are bigger than the biggest drawing rooms in any homes -- everything had a regal touch all right. But what attracted our group of friends and cousins was the great flight of stairs.

Those steps looked absolutely regal, absolutely belonging to a fabled world of the kings and queens into which we got transported even at a small hint of imagination. Those were the days, you know, of imagining oneself as prince and fighting villains and ghosts and delivering smart speeches from the balconies of palaces to a huge assembly of loyal citizens in the palace front yard. The Divisional Commissionerate fitted all that very well. So, often we were off to that haloed place mostly on Saturday noons when schools were over in the mornings.

Subsequently, too, as I became a journalist and often went to the building on reporting assignments, my mind darted back to those childhood days when I played a prince in my own mind’s sanctuary of imagination and commanded a small army of loyals who were ready to die for my word and my honour. So, whenever there was an assignment, a press conference or an interview or an official meeting, I would often reach the place at least half hour earlier and spent time on the flight of stairs that went up right outside the front door of the Divisional Commissioner’s personal office right inside the small but very regal porch.

One afternoon when a minister’s press conference was at least one hour away, I perched myself on one of the steps and slipped into a dream-world of my very own. Seeing me engrossed in thought, an old chaprasi in the office tapped me on the shoulder and asked, “Kyun sahab, kya soch rahe ho?” (What are you thinking about, sahab?). I smiled sheepishly and said nothing. But the old man knew. He also sat next to me and said, “These steps are really very assuring, aren’t they!”.

That simple sentence summed up the persona of the Divisional Commissionerate building. Despite its heavy stone structure, despite its officious architecture, despite the officialese that dominated interactions inside it, despite the smartly turned out officers moving about with stiff upper lips and a funeral graveness writ large on their handsome faces, the building had an assuring personality inside out.

A lot of culture-change has taken place in the intervening years. But despite that, the building now also emits a sense of assurance that people’s interests would be looked after once they went in seeking redressal of their issues. Personally, I was never required to go into the building for any of my issues. Yet, as a reporter, I saw many people getting their issues sorted out once they went to the place. True, there could be many others who came back croppers from the building. Yet, at least I never saw anybody totally despaired after visiting the place.

Many occupants of the Divisional Commissioner’s office have been my personal acquaintances, including the present one. All of them were good officers with good tastes and culture. Not only were they highly educated but also highly cultured and committed to public good. There might have been some exceptions, but I hardly noticed them. The building is a huge place and houses many other offices as well. Collectively, however, the feel of the place is positive.

I believe, the architecture of a building has a lot to do with the culture of the people who work or live there. I believe firmly that architecture often dictates benevolently -- or malevolently -- the cultural expression emerging from the place. For, just outside the Divisional Commissionerate building is the building of Nagpur Zilla Parishad. There, one does not get similar vibrations. Much to the contrary, that building gives out an impression of crassness and casualness. Many other buildings in the very large compound spread over scores of acres give away an impression of casualness and bureaucratic sluggishness, but not this one.

Of course, that very large compound is nothing but an embodiment of history spanning a century and more. Each corner has a story to tell and a story to hear. Each building has had its own share in shaping of the region’s history in a big way. Yet, the Divisional Commissionerate building is unique in many ways.

As a journalist, I have seen many momentous decisions being made there, many big dreams being converted into plans and programmes, and many reputations soaring into skies through good performance. There were some very bad moments as well. But then, such is life’s trajectory, often travelling along twists and turns and hairpin bends. Yet, whenever I visit the Divisional Commisionerate building, I cannot miss history’s message to a chronicler like me: Yes dear, I am history, and I am housed in this place. Can you read me?