Tribute to Nari Gandhi
“I have heard him being called an eccentric genius, talent gone wild, even crazy- but he was not crazy, it’s the world around him that was! Here was humanity personified, art and expression exemplified, in a normal, humble, down to earth Parsi gentleman, who wore simple old clothes and possessed a wealth of mind and intellect, that would humble the most enterprising and exactiong philosopher” – Amrutlal Thakker; a close friend of Nari Gandhi.
These words sum up Nari Gandhi’s personality. Every person who was in any sort of contact with Nari Gandhi always had one thing to say that he was first and foremost a complete human being and thereafter a brilliant architect. Nariman (Nari) Dossa Gandhi was born on 2 nd January 1934 Surat, India into a Zorastrian Parsi family from Bombay. He was one of the six children with three brothers & two sisters.
Nari completed his schooling at St.Xavier’s School (V.T) and thereafter joined Sir.J.J. School of Architecture in Mid Fifties. He was brilliant in college. He was an enigma to his professors, who didn’t know what to make of it. Few were equipped to understand his work at that time. Nari completed 5 years at Sir. J.J. School of Architecture.
Nari Gandhi cut a rather surprising figure. Tall, heavy built with a gentle white moustache matching his white khadi kurta and pyjama, a liking for leather kolhapuri chappals, he always carried a cloth bag (jhola) with him. He appeared to be more a restful old Parsi Gentleman rather than the immensely gifted architect. He led a very Spartan life-Spartan life-style, had no vices-no smoking, drinking, or women in his life. He did not even have tea or coffee. He was a pure vegetarian since the age of eight and this is quite surprising considering that he was a Parsi. “Every Saturday was fasting day for Nari Gandhi. He ate only on Sunday at lunchtime after this prayer. He had a certain sparkle in his eyes and radiance in his face”.
“He was so utterly simple until you happened to glance at his face; he had the most radiant face you ever saw; it glowed with happiness, knowledge, realization, it was an absolute face.” Nari Gandhi was a very pious man and he prayed at the Fire Temple regularly.
Nari Gandhi loved his mother intensely and they shared a unique relationship. His close friend Amritlal Thakker says, “He had a beautiful relationship with his mother having heard his phone conversations and seen them together- they were vibrant, youthful and full of life”.
Nari Gandhi had this natural ability of affecting other people’s lives. This he did purely by his simplicity.
A person from Parsi Colony, Dadar, Mumbai ( Bombay) says, “How could one understand a man who had so many dimensions, so much genius, who was so sensitive and magnanimous? When one met him- even in Kurta pyjama he looked majestic-one was at a total loss because all ones stereotypes regarding work, relationship, life, religion, beauty- which one had carefully nurtured over the years- failed completely. The generosity, clarity and intensity of his thoughts shocked one into silence. One felt one had finally met an individual- as indivisible, unfragmented, complete, whole- who was refreshingly new, fearless and very divorced from the ugly, mean and petty side of life. In a world of mediocrity, half-truth and lies, he was the complete truth, a genius, a noble man. He gave us a glimpse of the other side of life which dances which sings, which cares and is pure.”
Nari Gandhi had never thought ill of anyone. “He was so emotional and young at heart, he sat in my office and joked and laughed about little things and wept for the world and the country- I have never witnessed such concern for humanity.”
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Architect Nari Gandhi: Monograph :
arZan Wadia :
As a fellow architect, I have followed Nari Gandhi’s work since i was a first year architecture student in Bombay in 1992. He is probably India’s most un-sung of architects. Not in the mould of Charles Correa, B V Doshi or even Hafeez Contractor.
He trained with Frank Lloyd Wright in the late 1950’s till FLW died in 1969 (I could be wrong about the exact period). It is said that FLW….then the greatest architect of the modern era wrote a letter to Nari’s mother in which he says….that if someone asked FLW to design in stone, he would point them to Nari. That, coming from FLW is the highest compliment an architect can get.
Nari returned to India and was an architect’s architect. A recluse, he was an “artist” in all the senses of the word. He treated architecture as an artist treats his canvas. Most clients never knew how their finished product (houses usually) would look like till they were built. I can go on with more stories like that.
The parsi angle is also very interesting.
He used to wear a khadi white kurta pyjama. And always had our “bhanvani” topee on his head. He used to pray regularly at the Vatcha Gandhi Agiary. I know this because I once mentioned his name to my dear friend Marespand Dadachanji whose father Aspandiar is the panthaki at Vatcha Gandhi. He would make Aspandiar do a jashan at every project he completed before the client was allowed to move in or do their own puja etc.
Late Nari Gandhi was also a regular devotee of the Paak RustomFramna Agiary(Dadar) .As a practice he would come in the night, do his Kushti , pay his respects to the Padshah Saheb and Paigumber Sahebs Photo frame and then sit on the silently verandah. He would rarely talk to anybody. He would always be dressed in a wornout Pyjama,Kurta and slippers. He always carried a Jholla(a cotton shoulder bag) with him. Many in the Agiary were suprised to see India’s Topmost architect looking like a astetic.