First published: Spring 2015
On December 15, 2014, the Chandigarh Administration celebrated Nek Chand’s 90th birthday in the sprawling, open-air theatre of his 25-acre Rock Garden. The artist’s family members, as well as friends, fans, art connoisseurs, media representatives and government officials, came to congratulate the legendary creator and wish him a long and healthy life.
Even at his advanced age, Chand hopes to add more beauteous sights to his fantasy garden, which has won great acclaim as a marvel in the world of art and architecture. Over the years, Chand has received numerous awards for this great work, including, for example, the Médaille Grand Vermeil de la Ville de Paris in 1980, and the Padam Shri, one of India’s highest civilian honours, which was bestowed upon the artist in 1984. For his project for the Capital Children’s Museum in Washington, DC, in 1986, Chand won a special award from the Washington Building Congress, and the Freedom of the City of Baltimore, Maryland.
Today, while Chand’s mortal frame may lack the youthful energy it once enjoyed, his psyche and willpower are still strong. Uprooted from Berian, his native village in what is now Pakistan, as a result of the partition of India in 1947, the young Nek Chand joined the caravan of his tribe of displaced people who left their homeland, uncertain about where they would go and what their future held. Chand’s family settled temporarily on the outskirts of Gurdaspur, a city in the far north of Punjab. Later, the refugees’ shelters were ordered to be removed because a cantonment (temporary quarters for troops) was to be built for Indian Army units near the India–Pakistan border. Consequently, Chand’s family had to move again.
As a result of these early migrations, the young and sensitive Nek Chand’s psyche was badly bruised. He developed a pensive state of mind and became introverted. He dreamed of building a version of his lost home in a secluded place beyond the reach of the authorities who manage the mortal world according to their whims and fancies.