No - not Nehru Science Centre… this is only ‘Nehru centre’, no science!
The Nehru centre building is something that had always intrigued me - it looks very fancy indeed. It is a pure white cylinder with scalloping all over it - sort of like some fancy origami design expanded to monstrous proportions.
It looks like the only brief given to the architect was ‘Make something different - anything you like! Money is no object! It doesn’t have to be practical at all!’
A practical design for a building is always a right-angled shape - so that you can use all of the area. When you make a circular building, a good 22% of the space is unusable!
‘Don’t worry about all that…’ I could just hear the architect saying. ‘Don’t be so prosaic! Make art! Leave a mark! It’s all government money, anyway!’
And he succeeded too! This is a very cool building - as unworldly and impractical as possible, and it really stands out amongst the blocky concrete building blocks of Mumbai. It was designed by a dude called IM Kadri. (Sounds like the answer to a philosophical question, doesnt it? ‘Who are you?’ ‘IM Kadri!’
‘The white churning tower stands apart from the regular rectangular blocks that aim for the sky. But when you are in front of the tower, it exudes a compelling sense of wonder. The ascending slope of green meets the building at 42 feet. Three terraced levels at the base of the structure form a podium for the tower that’s nearly 260 ft high. “The challenge was in allowing the design to reflect the essence of man,” says architect IM Kadri, who designed it in 1981.’
So, What is this giant edifice anyway?
It is a memorial to Prime Minister Jawharlal Nehru - ideated by his friend and freedom struggle comrade, a lawyer called Rajni Patel. Patel had been active in the freedom struggle and had supported Gandhi by picketing liquor shops! (wonder if he considered the point that the liquor was made in India, and therefore was technically ‘swadeshi’?)
Rajni Patel qualified to be a Barrister in London in 1939 and then went to the US to drum up support for the Indian Independence movement - something that got him jailed by the British when he returned to India. After Independence, he became a rich lawyer - and joined the Indian National Congress in the 60s. After Nehru died, he hitched his star to Indira Gandhi and became a part of her coterie - and was made the president of the Bombay chapter of the Congress . It was said that he would been made the Chief Minister of Maharashtra, if only he knew how to speak Marathi. (!!!)
But the most interesting story of his life was when he was part of the bunch of lawyers that defended Naval Commander Kawas Manekshaw Nanavati in the Prem Ahuja Murder case.
This was a fantastic case where a cuckolded Parsi Naval officer shot dead the Sindhi dude who had been bonking his wife - and his lawyers managed to spin the story that since he was an upright bawaji and a defence officer, it was OK for him to shoot a seducing sindhi snake in cold blood!
And the Jury bought it - and pronounced him ‘not guilty’! And this pissed off the presiding judge so much that he said ‘Hell, no!’ and took a historic decision of overturning the jury's decision! He referred the case to the Bombay High Court for a retrial.
All the bawajis in the city went into a tizzy! There was a fairly yellow magazine called ‘The Blitz’ - which was owned by another bawaji called Rusi Karanjia, and he was so incensed that an upright Parsi officer should be so maligned just for killing a sindhi sodomite, that he unleashed a media armageddon! He publicised the story, published exclusive cover stories and openly supported Nanavati. They portrayed him as a wronged husband and upright officer, betrayed by a close friend.
Influential Parsis held regular rallies in Bombay, with the largest being an event held at Cowasji Jehangir Hall, to support the Governor's decree that suspended Nanavati's life sentence and put him under naval custody, until his appeal was heard by the Supreme Court. At that rally, 3,500 people filled the hall and around 5,000 stood outside. (Now I wonder whether one can find that many bawajis in the whole of Mumbai?) Nanavati also received backing from the Indian Navy and the Parsi Panchayat.
Even in the lawyer teams, it was Parsi Vs Sindhi - Ram Jethmalani led the prosecution, while Karl Khandalavala represented Nanavati. And of course, the gujju Patel was siding with the Gujarati speaking Parsis.
Actually, it was not just the gujju part - they shared a political affiliation too. Nanavati had been close to the Nehrus - He had previously worked as Defence Attaché to V. K. Krishna Menon, while the latter was high commissioner to the United Kingdom, and had grown close to the Nehrus during that time. So when bawaji landed in a spot of bother, the Nehrus must have asked Patel to lend a hand.
Nanavati’s was finally adjudged to be ‘Guilty’ by the High court and the Supreme court - but he was only behind bars for 3 years! He received a free pardon after that - partly because of the sustained Parsi support from the Blitz! (and possibly the fact that Nehru’s sister - Vijayalakshmi Pandit - was the Governor of Maharashtra at the time) And then bawaji emigrated to Canada - with that same wife - and stayed there till his death in 2003.
This case went on to have huge repercussions in the Judicial system of India - with Jury trials being thrown into the dustbin - because they judged Nanavati to be ‘Not guilty’, and hence were not to be trusted. Juries could be too easily swayed - either by media propaganda or by caste or community biases.
Now only the Judge can rule on the case, with no need of intervention from pesky commoners. He is literally - Judge, Jury and Executioner. That, unfortunately, gave untrammelled powers to the judges, which is part of the cause of the pathetic situation of the judicial system in India today.
The Nanavati trial fascinated the country and a number of films and TV shows have been made on it - and continue to be made - From ‘Achanak’ in 1973, to ‘Rustom’ in 2016, and even a web series on some OTT.
Rajni Patel’s granddaughter also became a major film star! Ameesha Patel! (Kaho Na...Pyaar hai, and others)
Anyway - back to Nehru Centre.
Rajni Patel must have been thinking about how he could show the world how much he loved Jawaharlal Nehru - preferably by spending the government’s money!
And so he had the idea of the Nehru centre - ‘to promote the teachings and ideals of Nehru through educational and cultural programmes’.
‘It will be in an up-and-coming suburb - Worli - and it will have a bunch of offices which we will rent out, and a fancy auditorium which we will rent out for functions and programs and marriages and stuff!’
‘But ...what about all that stuff about promoting teaching and ideals and stuff?’
‘Oh yes...er...let’s have a floor or two for a nice exhibition on Nehru in the building.’
He managed the funds and land from the government, and gave architect IM Kadri a free hand to make whatever he wanted!
“The challenge was in allowing the design to reflect the essence of man,” says architect IM Kadri, who designed it in 1981.“When Nehru came to power, there were no industries, we only had agriculture. At the time, there were so many linguistic, regional and political tensions in the country but he grouped them together and took the country to great heights. That’s why you see the three bands in front of the tower, they are symbolic of that tension. And when you think of Nehru, his values and aspirations were worthy of a pedestal, and I’ve given the tower to signify the growth of a modern nation.”
Kadri came up with a building with offices, an auditorium, a library, art galleries and exhibition rooms. The detailing can be seen in the exterior jaali surface - apparently inspired by the rose that Nehru wore often!
It is truly a most impressive pile!
I decided to take the brat over to Nehru centre - it would be a nice outing, and I also wanted to explore the place.
It was quite nice - it has a very 80s, a very Soviet feel to it. It’s huge and meant to be intimidating and overpowering, with its design like a fort on a grassy hill, and the high foyer and fancy art structures at the entrance.
For all its noble aims of teaching and ideals and stuff - it is primarily an office building. Only the foyer and the first floor is open to the public - and that hosts the grand ‘Discovery of India’ exhibit.
The ‘Discovery of India’ exhibit is very cool! It is based on Pandit Nehru’s amazing book ‘The Discovery of India’, where he takes us on a whirlwind exploration of India over 5000 years. The man’s erudition was simply amazing - and when we consider that this book was written before the times of internet and google search, it becomes more amazing.
It becomes jaw-droppingly amazing when one realises that this erudite tome was written entirely when Nehru was in prison! He had no access to any kind of reference works and wrote it entirely from memory! He was a true ‘Pandit’ - ‘Learned man’!
Everybody should read this book - and his other book ‘Letters from a father to his daughter’. And if you are not into reading, then see the charming TV series ‘Bharat, ek khoj.’
This exhibit in Nehru centre is very nicely designed - it is divided into sections, starting with the prehistoric, and then going on to the Harappan civilisation, the Golden Age of the first millennium, right up to Indian independence. They have created mini-worlds in there! They took gigantic blow-ups of panoramic photographs and installed them in circular exhibits - so it feels like you are actually in the place! It is amazing!
Someone with intelligence, creativity and a great deal of knowledge has put it together - well done, that man! (or woman)
But - a big but - the place doesn’t seem to have been touched since the day it was finished in the 80s. All the photos and exhibits are showing their age and yellowing, and no one seems to be trying to update and refresh them, or use the latest technology, or anything like that.
Just as I felt about the Nehru Science Centre - this is a very nice place, and it will benefit greatly from some enlightened volunteerism. We really should encourage people to pitch in with their ideas, efforts and money to keep this place buzzing.
I blog about my travels - and the thoughts they set off! Sometimes the simplest destinations can be the most thought-provoking!