Somehow I had managed to reach the final year of my architecture degree, I don’t know how, but here I was about to select my thesis topic. And like always I had managed to formulate a plan to pass every semester with borderline mediocrity, I guess that was my speciality. If I knew I had done enough in the exam to pass that was enough for me, even if there was time and I would know the answer to the questions I still wouldn’t do it, even if you gave me a million dollars, I mean that’s just the way I was.
I have always found a way to be happy in my confinement of not doing anything more or anything less. More would create expectations and less would give the urge to be better, I rather preferred to be in the middle and maintain that, trust me it’s not an easy thing, you would rather fail than be this. You need highly cultivated self loathing and the lowest of self esteem.
However, before you build strong conceptions about me, I should tell you that I had not always been like this. I had done my share of following the wind and yearning, but I guess somewhere I had been bitten and since then I had impeccably moulded myself in this clockwork of mediocrity and made friends with stagnation. It’s just that I left that part of me, somewhere miles away in the past, yet the faded afterimage of the old me still lingers inside of me. I just don’t know how far it is.
Come to think of it now, I think, in pure simple terms, I just lacked conviction. I always dreamt of being a bird but never had the courage to grow out wings, yes that was me.
So the story starts here. Like I said, it was the time of our topic selection for thesis and around this time something strange happened. An emotion I had previously been privy too had found its place inside of me. It was fear, red and sometimes pale yellow, sometimes echoing my thoughts and sometimes blinding me, no idea where it came from but it sure did shatter my fragile confinement. An empty space had been dug out inside me, no it wasn’t insecurity I am sure it was pure and simple fear. Now, when I am in a position to look at it objectively I know that fear works in the same way for everyone. It follows the same blue print: we all try and fill the vacancy, we keep filling it but it never fills up, If we hide from it or live in denial of it, it just becomes even bigger.
Somewhere between the filling and the consequence of not filling is fear. Fear is always a thought of the aftermath. It is an endless circle unless confronted.
What fear brings along with it is confusion. Sheepishly it enters into your thoughts and scrambles them and before you know they have entangled you into the deepest of labyrinths.
Anyway, enough about my obsession with understanding fear.
So I knew it was confusion because I hardly have thoughts in my head. The farthest I would think would just be a maximum of 12 hours apart, say at breakfast I would go as far as to think about my dinner, that’s it, that’s how much you are allowed to think inside your mediocrity. However, I became profusely confused while selecting a thesis topic because in usual days I would have picked something which would require the least amount of work or I would have taken something that someone else would have suggested, that was my general practice. Rather that day I got so confused in thinking what topic to pick that I ended up being the only student without one.
One of my professors whom I am sure had been just like me in his college days, suggested me to take up something like a university or a community centre or a school; in fact he had already found proposed construction sites for me and was willing to go as far as to give me some working drawings which I could copy-paste whenever and however I wanted. I knew at that point that if I go along with him, the whole thesis would be a cakewalk for me but for some strange reason I couldn’t agree with him. Rather I couldn’t agree with myself on anything, confusion had hazed my thought process.
Something inside me had been terribly shaken. You know that moment when it gets all cloudy and breezy and it feels like it’s just about to rain yet it never rains, imagine how empty the clouds must feel. I was feeling like them.
However, the professor had been kind enough, it was Friday and he gave me time till Monday to decide. By Monday I had to either find the reason for this vacancy or I had to return to my stagnant yet happy confinement.
The day went on as usual, I could hardly concentrate, and everything around me seemed muted out, all I could hear was the sound of my confusion. And by evening I reach my hostel.
Normally Fridays would be more about the prospect of Saturday and Sunday, prospect of sleeping and indulgence, rather this Friday sleep didn’t even cross my mind. I just didn’t feel a part of the immediate environment; my existence seemed running oblique to the reality. And the worst bit was that I didn’t even know why it was happening.
Evening paved way for the night, as if it was always there, I feel no transition. Friday was soon to turn Saturday. I drown myself inside a random thought and pray for sleep to come. In that lucid state of mind I try and search for my shallow confinement, it is nowhere to be found. Distant thoughts rush inside my head to confuse me even more; the dots seemed to connect in a different form than usual. I keep waking up at odd hours in the night, 1:43, 3:23, and 5:05 and so on.
It was not until 6 that my thoughts finally dry out and I sleep with an indefinite notion.
— — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — —
It is almost 4 by the time I wake up, my head still swarming inside the clutter. I was still feeling uneasy like yesterday. My head had random reverberating thoughts but none useful or productive. So with the slowest of pace I start off with the morning rituals. I try and put my complete attention to brushing my teeth yet from somewhere the anxiousness would seep-in.
Then I finally reach the point where I was contemplating the most difficult decision “Whether to take a bath or not?”
I guess it was at this point that the thought struck me. For some strange reason, I wanted to clean my room, well to be honest I remember exactly how I felt then, I didn’t just want to clean, I wanted to cleanse my whole room, in fact I would go as far as to say that I wanted to detoxify it. Purify it to the core, give it a new life. Yes the urge was so strong.
So I enter my room and everything seems out of place, everything propelled into random chaos, it seemed like the perfect metaphor for my predicament. And honestly speaking, my room had always been like that, as long as my bed and table were clear, cleaning and arranging stuff had never crossed my mind. But at that moment, even the tiniest bit of paper stuck inside the window frame was somehow itching something inside me. Something had to be done.
I start off by taking out all the unnecessary material from my room, which mostly contained stationeries from first and second year, left over from the models and other random unproductive stuff, in fact the impulse was so strong that I got rid of anything that seemed extra, anything that didn’t serve its purpose anymore. In my head, I had made two columns, one that was listing the useful and the other the opposite.
After an hour or so of clearing up, the room seemed a little lighter. Now it was time to ‘cleanse’ it.
Over the years, dirt and dust had created textures on the floor. The walls bore the memory of tragic cliché statements and drawings made on them. They never bothered me before but today they just seemed like the constant nagging of a mosquito or the high pitched cries of a baby, that’s how they were troubling me. So before starting with the cleaning process, I start with covering the wall with my old design sheets.
Once satisfied, I move on to the next step.
I start with the floor, and then went to the windows, then cupboard and lastly, the door. I give ample time to every element, in one hand I have a cloth and on the other a mixture of soap water. I don’t move from one part to the other till I feel a certain level of satisfaction. My hands move in every direction, I splatter soap water to my heart’s content and then rub the cloth over it, move it in every direction possible, forward, backward, circular and then zigzag. Till the surface wouldn’t show at least a partial reflection, I just wouldn’t budge.
I comprehend that cleaning the window required much more intricacy and patience; much guided hand work is required, while cleaning the floor is easy but it provides satisfaction much later.
By the time, I had reached the last part, the door, the endorphins had kicked in, I wasn’t sure about the time, but I had a notion that a considerable amount of time had passed, yet instead of feeling tired I was feeling even more energized. It was almost eleven, for roughly six hours I had cleaned my room. The reality of the situation amused me a little.
I sit on the neatly spread out bed sheet and look over the room as a piece of art and it suddenly strikes me that all these years I have never felt a belonging to my room, always been oblivious to what meaning the room held for me and now suddenly the room seemed so intimate to me, like a part of me. While cleaning and organizing it, I had left a little bit of me in there. All the elements that made my room were reeking of me, reeking of my existence.
The space was finally mine now, I belonged here.
The anxiousness had also subsided, though I wasn’t completely sure. You can never put a finger on these things, I guess, when they come, when they go. It’s always better to just accept them and move on.
I take a long shower and gorge on the food delivered to me by neighbour. The water while taking the shower and the taste of the food, both seemed a little different, they both seemed a little more vibrant than usual, a little more alive than usual.
I lie down on the bed and take a deep breath, close my eyes and let the residue of the day hover in my thoughts. And like it happens, slowly I fall into a downward spiral of my own thoughts and drown into an abyss of a dreamless sleep. Contrary to what I had expected I have the best sleep in the longest time.
And so, I wake up to a sunny Sunday with amazing clarity.
Exactly at 8:01 I wake up. The sun fills the room with its warm vibrancy; the room embraces the morning in its own way, as if now it was an entity in itself. I admire myself a little.
“So, what plans for the day?” I ask myself.
First, I decide to freshen up and then see what happens. So I start with the morning rituals. All my joints seem relaxed and free. The whole cleanliness mania had seeped into me and it wasn’t just for my room, suddenly I had become particular for myself too. I realize this while I start brushing my teeth. I keep brushing in every direction possible, giving time and extra effort to both the front, middle and the back. Nearly fifty one times I brush over the hard to reach back molars. Just like yesterday, I was waiting for that innate satisfaction to come.
The same procedure continued while I was taking a bath.
And it was at this point I had one more unexplainable and random impulse, I wanted to go to the public library.
Yes, yes I know, the entropy is too high and it all seems rather flimsy. But like I said earlier, there will be a phase in your life too when nothing will be in your control, for better or for worse, I don’t know, it just won’t be in your control.
So I wanted to go to the public library.
To be honest, it wasn’t completely random though, the library has been an important part of my life or rather was an important part of my life. At one point, I couldn’t do without it.
The thought paralyses me for a second. The afterimages of the library create a sad desperation, I feel almost as if I lost a friend. The image floats through me of the library, the library among the swaying sheesham trees.
But still why I say it was random is because I hadn’t been there since the first half of my sophomore year. Going there since then had not even crossed my mind. Something that was once an indispensable part of my life was now trapped beneath the layers of ignorance. Somehow fear had shaken my system and this forgotten memory had found its afterglow.
Probably here I should tell you about my relationship with the library.
When I joined college, I had a rather tough time opening up to people. It wasn’t because I was an introvert but because I always felt as if I deserved more than this, deserved a better city, better people and better everything else. I was in constant denial of my present situation and before I could fathom, I had developed a rather cold shell around me. So more because of me than for anything else, I could never belong there, in the city, in the college or among people. Now with passage of time I can see my past predicament clearly, I know that the worst part of non-acceptance is not that you go far from other people but you go much farther from yourself.
After a month had passed in that swamp, I felt lonely and I needed something to feed it.
And that is when I stumbled upon the library. On a rainy Saturday I entered the library to save myself from the rain and since then the collective essence of my life has become rather different.
From the first time I entered the library it seemed as if it held a certain warmth and familiarity for me. No, I am not referring to people I met in the library, no, the space, the design, and the intimacy, the whole culmination of these elements made me feel like I belonged there. It made me a part of itself the moment I stepped inside it.
I am not much of a reader myself but it was this familiarity and warmth of the space that kept me coming back to the library. However, if you ask me to pin point why I felt such a deep connection there, I wouldn’t be able to tell you, it was just there. I always thought that it was a place where you never needed anybody else’s company, you always felt as if you’re been taken care of or as if the building is accompanying you, loneliness was out of the question here.
In my first year I used to go there rather every weekend. All my batch mates had seen most of the city and I would always just find a way to be at the library. I remember spending hours altogether just sitting on the second floor balcony and looking out onto the abstract sculptures on the garden, getting lost in the corridors, swishing from one part to the other, as if entering into different stories altogether.
The building was quite simple but this simplicity was rather achieved after tremendous complexity, which was quite visible in the design if one looked hard enough. The structure was basically just a rectangular plan with a ground and a mezzanine first and second floor, that’s it. The exterior had a very basic exposed concrete finish, well polished and smooth. The outlines of the doors and windows were highlighted with a thin white strip of paint. At first, it didn’t give a very welcoming look, but once you were inside, the magic happened.
Shadows played a symmetry game with the continuity of the trusses, forming beautiful patterns on the wall. Exact and crisp rays of sunlight came out of alternate intervals between the book racks. The vastness of the ceiling height gave depth and openness to the interior and if you stood in the courtyard it felt as if the wind was hovering around you, yes the wind wasn’t just blowing; it felt as if it was hovering, there’s a difference.
Exactly at the middle of the courtyard the librarian sat, and above her was the skylight, although it did seem a little dramatic but it was a well composed frame nonetheless. There were paintings on the walls which almost seemed like they were teasing you to be found. Physically as well as emotionally, stagnation would be the last word you would imagine in this place. The building always showed me how dimensions could be used like musical notes and how every note had an individual meaning.
In most libraries I have felt a rather trapped silence but not here, here it seemed rhythmic and free flowing. Filling gaps for each other, like bass and drums. Silence and light were intricately intertwined here, these two factors made this library so special.
Another interesting factor was the freedom it provided to the user; it was rather quite addictive, the space was open to improvisation. All the functions were within reach as and when required. The space blended well with whatever it is that you were feeling. Trust me; I don’t know how the space had achieved this level of neutrality. I don’t.
But above all it was the intimacy that the structure had with the user, something which I had felt with no other, as if the walls were alive, as if they wanted to say something, as if they were singing a subtle tune through the doors, walls and windows.
At first I thought it was just me who felt this ways but soon I started seeing similar faces daily and upon enquiry I realized that I wasn’t the only one, many people had the same understanding with the library as me, for them the day just wasn’t complete without a visit to the library. Almost like a ritual, I would notice that people would come, pick a book, find a comfortable place to sit and enjoy their own company.
However, come to think of it, the library had filled a vacancy in my life, probably it was the loneliness I had created or probably something else, I don’t know, but here I was, making friends with a building. At least, I was not alone anymore.
Exactly at 7, the black gates of the library were closed.
In front of it was a row of sheeshum trees which swayed in the direction of the wind, casting their sharp shadows on the front facade.
This was my library, the library among the swaying sheesham trees.
It was nearly 6 months, one full semester that I had visited the library on every weekend. In all the designs that I did in college were some way or the other inspired by the library. It had become an integral part of my architectural understanding. Whatever we were given to design, I would refer the various spaces of the library in my head. If I wasn’t satisfied with the design I would re-do it to make it at least somewhere near the spaces of the library.
However, my fixation with the library caused me a lot of trouble. In the first year, I would be the last person giving my submissions and whatever I gave used to be incomplete, or filled with theories, texts and sketches and less of the stipulated, plan, section and elevation. It wasn’t because I was lazy but because I could never put my head around designing something without a context or without a meaning but majorly because I was always trying to achieve the same intimacy that the library had. Even if I gave my 100% it would take me weeks at a time to finish up a single space. Somehow I would manage the rest of the subjects, in fact I was pretty good at a few, but architectural design was something that I could never fathom. It wasn’t the topics that were given that I didn’t like rather it was the way it was given to us, the way we were told to do.
The library had opened doors of my architectural understanding; it had shown me that dimensions, the measurements, meant more than just numbers, they had far much more relevance than what was taught or what they represented physically. I had gotten into a frame of mind where it was difficult for me to accept everything that was thrown at me in college. And it was all because of the library and the understanding it had inculcated in me.
Thus, the first semester and the first half of the second semester were filled with arguments, clashes and unfinished submissions. I had become an outcast in my own class, few respected me, some hated me and then of course there were those who couldn’t care less, professors always looked at me with squinted eyes and before I knew, by the end of the first semester, my social space which was already almost negligible was now non-existent.
And so it was the final jury of second semester when the transition happened, when I found my confinement.
We were given a community centre as our main design problem and rather fortunately I had managed to complete the work on time and also to my heart’s content. I had constantly referred to the library and designed the community centre and was personally quite satisfied with the whole work.
The night before the final jury, just before sleeping I go over my designs and again make calculations. Everything seems fine.
However, the jury turned out to be an eye opener. The juror went through my work, stepped back, looked at me from head to toe and asked “What is this piece of shit?” I couldn’t speak, my ears had become warm and I felt a sudden jolt in my chest. He kept looking at me, waiting for an answer, I guess after almost 30 seconds when I didn’t say anything, he started further scrutinising my designs.
He asked “Why would you design like this? (No answer) “Do you even want to become an architect?” and other all sorts of generic architectural jury demoralizing questions. Although one thing that I noticed was that, when he was asking me all those questions I had an answer ready with me, “Sir, I designed it that way because I wanted to bring that intimacy from the spaces, that I had found in the library” and in that heated moment, in that moment of pressure, I thought how stupid and baseless it was sounding. He went on to bash me along with my design professor who had joined after hearing the rants. After nearly 20mins, I was allowed to leave, with torn sheets and a broken model. Also later I was told that I had failed in architectural design.
It wasn’t what he said that scared me or hit me; I am quite a thick skinned person when it comes to these things. Rather it was my crumbling conviction that scared me the most. If the thought had a solid foundation in me then it wouldn’t have crumbled, however it did. At that moment, I didn’t know if it was because of the pressure or it was just me who never had the conviction.
However, I do know now, it was my conviction that was weak.
Anyway, the aftermath of the jury was that I had stopped going to the library altogether. All the fire and curiosity had somehow vanished. My designs became the same as everybody else, I thought the same way as everybody did; in fact I made a few friends too. And this is how I had found my happy and mediocre little confinement. I was welcomed to the clockwork of perpetual dogma.
The jury was on a Saturday and for Sunday I had planned to meet the architect of the library, only a few days before that I had been able to know about her. I had even jotted down things I would discuss with her when I would meet her. However, after the jury, the whole excitement had vanished. The library and the architect were suddenly a thing of the past. All that gates that the library had opened, I closed them. All my designs since then had been mechanical, fitted into the box of stagnation. I guess this where the vacancy had started forming.
Since that day of the jury, the library never crossed my mind.
So while taking a shower, it suddenly struck me that I wanted to go to the library and just like the impulse I had yesterday, this too was strong. I couldn’t stay still with the thought buzzing in my head. I quickly finish the shower, dress up and leave.
The library is roughly 20mins away if I get a bus on time. However, unlike the usual days, things seem to have fallen into place; I get a bus as soon as I reach the gate of my university. The little joys of life that make you feel blessed; getting a bus on time was one of them.
It’s a bright and hot July Sunday.
And just like before, the library stands there in front of me, it stands among the swaying cheeshum trees. It has not lost its elegance; the grey still stands out in the whole city landscape. As I enter, I feel as if I am transported back when I was in first year, everything came back to me, rather everything came back so clear that for a moment it made me feel uneasy.
We talk to each other just like old friends meet after a long time and bond over the shared memories. As I walk through the different spaces, I feel as if I am picking up the pieces of yesterday and joining them to make sense of the present The courtyard still sounding the peaceful and rhythmic silence, the shadows casted by the trusses are still precise and beautiful and yes, the air wasn’t blowing, it was hovering around me.
The abstract sculptures in the garden had summer grass growing all around them. I greet all the old faces at every corner throughout the library, however, as a general rule, nobody really talked here or even outside, everyone would pass each other a smile and that was it. After all it was a library.
As I look around, I have a realization that this phase of my life, whatever this phase was, it just never reached a closure or maybe you can say that it never ended within me. It was just always drifting within me.
So as I time travel inside the library, I suddenly recall the last day of my jury. I remember I did not go and meet the architect. It took me a great deal of time and effort to find out about the architect of the library, her name was easy to find out however her whereabouts were difficult as she had stopped her practice nearly 10 years ago. Anyway after innumerable trips to the development authority office I could finally find out. She lived nearby, roughly just a 10minute walk from the library.
I hadn’t heard much about her. The only information that floated around about her was that she suddenly left her practice and nobody knew why. Anyway, it was time to finish what I had started; it was time to meet her.
As I start walking towards the exit, my eyes wander slowly on every part of the library. We were friends again.
Her house was easy to find, wasn’t really far either. It was hidden beneath dense wall creepers. I don’t know if it was yellow from the beginning or over time it turned. The gates were laden with intricately moulded iron, although the coat over them seemed to wear off. It was one of those gates which would produce a long squeaky sound if you would move them. The windows had circular leafy designs inside the frame; you hardly get to see them these days. The slating roof was rather unusual too. Although old, one cannot deny that it was pretty well taken care off.
Beside the front gate, was a name plate and it read BENTO; written in capital cursive. Yes, I was at the right place. Her name was Angela Bento.
As I am about to enter, I see a woman coming towards me through the driveway. At once I know, she is the architect, I know for sure, I don’t need any confirmation. However, following her closely were 8 dogs, two Pomeranians, one Alsatian, three Basset hounds and the rest I didn’t know. She was wearing a cream coloured long skirt and light brown top. She was tall, her hair partially white and her sandals were smothered with mud.
She looks at me enquiringly.
“Actually I am an architecture student and I have been to the library.” I stop, my mouth goes dry, I wait for my consciousness to return.
Somehow I manage to take a deep breath and start again. Her expressions remain the same.
“Actually I am a student; I just want to know more about the library you built” I hastily take out my college id and produce it before her.
She gives me a little smile and waves her right hand towards me, signalling me to come inside.
“Do you like dogs?” She asks
I fumble again but somehow I manage “umm…. Yes….. I love….. dogs”
“Okay great, so I will just keep them open”
We enter her house. And the first thing that my mind registers is the smell, I wouldn’t say that it was a repulsively obnoxious smell but it was rather strange, it was, as far as I could make it was a mixture of dog smells and meat and occasionally you would get a strong whiff of green tea.
Her house was rather quite simple; it was big but had almost negligible ornamentation and hardly any furniture. And this absence of things was making her house look empty, not the scary sort of empty but an insatiable sort of empty. However, the walls were filled with photo frames, different colours and sizes, and as I looked closer at them, I could see pictures of her husband and her son. The moment I sat down on the old teakwood sofa, I started counting the photo frames, only in her drawing room; there were a total of 20 of them.
I sat there, silent, conscious and also in awe. After all I was meeting the architect who’s building was my best friend.
She sits on the settee opposite to me; her face is partially lit by the window across the room.
“Your name is Neil, right?”
I respond almost hurriedly.
“Yes, Neil……Ah…..Neil Mazumdar”
“You are in which year?”
“Hmm, so thesis time right?” she asks with a lopsided smile
At this point, I couldn’t find anything to say, I forgot all the questions that I had to ask her. A sudden silence takes over our already miniscule conversation. I just look all over the place and occasionally give out a smile.
I’m sure she has sensed my uneasiness by now.
“So Neil, umm….you wanted to ask me something about the library”
I just wanted to open up to her, she had that calming expression on her face too, and I knew she was one of those people who could listen to someone, patiently and wholeheartedly. However I just hated myself for not being able to open myself to her.
I respond in the best way I can
“Umm…yes the library, I just wanted to know about it”
She responds almost immediately. I am hardly able to read her emotions.
“Okay, so the library was a government project; the then chief minister was putting a lot of emphasis and efforts towards education in the state. So this library was just one of his many projects that he undertook to cultivate his agenda. It was the first library in India to have a dedicated space for computers and also the first library to keep books in 6 different languages.”
I take out a notebook and pretend to make notes. I pretend because obviously I knew all that she was saying; I needed to know something much more visceral.
She continues “You know my primary focus while designing was finding that continuity in the structure, I wanted it to be free flowing, I wanted the silence inside the library to never turn stagnant but rather always feel new and afresh. I have always been fascinated by courtyards and I think that it is quite evident in the design of the library. I personally think that sometimes, modernists or minimalists make the structure too mechanical of how shall I put it, cold, you know? They sometimes make it too cold and that is exactly what I didn’t want to happen to library and to counter that I tried giving ample open spaces, proper natural lighting and ventilation, tried to include plants and trees wherever possible, I mean, I’m sure you get the point. And you must have noticed the terracotta sculptures in the lawn, they were specially made by craftsmen of Ajamgarh in Uttar Pradesh and those paintings were made by S.H. Raza……………………………………………………………………………………………………
And just then the Alsatian pup jumps on the settee and sits besides her, cuddling to her thighs.
……………….The construction started in 94 and ended in July 95, it was inaugurated by the chief minister himself. Umm….Neil if you need dimensions, plans and stuff I can get you them, they must be in the attic somewhere”
“Umm…..ah…..Yes…..maybe, if it’s comfortable for you”
“No problem at all, I hardly have anything to do the whole day”
She smiles after saying that, a smile warm enough to topple me out of my constricted self.
I say “Mrs. Bento…..ah…..I…..”
She looks at me and leans forward and says “Speak up Neil, since the time you have come I am constantly sensing that you are holding back something, is there something you want to ask me or tell me”
“Well I don’t know, Mrs Bento”
“Just say whatever you have in your mind and take your time Neil, there’s nothing to worry about”
At this point, I don’t know what got into me; I blurted every word that was encapsulating the emotions inside me. I blurted out till my heartfelt light. I told her about my relationship with the library and how it has changed my thinking and how I was searching for the same emotions in my design, I told her about the jury and how I had turned into a failure within myself . I told her that I had lost the will to see through things, to see the magic, the providence in things. I told her all about my predicament.
She listened to every word that I said, she hardly blinked, and her expressions remained constant. Talking to her was like writing on a blank page. I don’t remember the last time I talked to somebody like this. It felt rather strangely satisfying.
She suddenly gets up and asks me “Would you like to have some tea?”
Slightly startled I just nod back to her in agreement. I spend the next ten minutes staring at the photo frames and asking myself if I said something wrong.
She comes back with a tray of biscuits and two cups of green tea, as was expected. Sits down on the settee, the Alsatian hasn’t moved even one bit, takes a sip from her cup and stares at the window.
“So Neil, what is space?”
“What do you think is space Neil?”
I knew what I was going to say wasn’t going to be enough but this all that I could conjure.
“Spaces is just length, breadth and height”
“Well that’s right but do you think that’s it? That’s all that there is to a space?”
“Umm…Well there is lighting, furniture and etcetera that would define the personality of a space. ……Ah….all of these, an accumulation of all these things define a space for me”
She takes a long sip and continues
“Umm okay, but do you think there’s more to it?”
“Ah……..ah…I don’t understand”
“Do you think that an architect adds a new dimension to it? Do you think that an architect leaves something in the spaces, something so intrinsic that the user hardly ever notices? Do you think an architect leaves a little bit of him in the space that he is designing?”
“I have never thought about it” I tell her.
Honestly, I couldn’t make complete sense of it either.
“You know, the spaces, they need to open up, they need to embrace the person who’s residing within them, and this intangible realm of spaces is something I have always considered to be of utmost importance. This is the realm which you cannot quantify, which you cannot put into numbers, it is the understanding that comes from deep within, it comes from the core of the kind of person you are. You see, an architect can be the mediator between the intimacy of a space and its user and at the same time he can be the biggest hindrance. So the question is whether an architect has a big enough heart to design something forgetting about himself? Do we have a big enough heart…
She takes the last sip from her cup and keeps it back on the tray.
“Do you know that this library was my last project?”
“No, I didn’t know that”
“Around thirty years ago, my husband and I started an architecture firm called “Studio 8”. We were really ambitious and were working day and night; we hardly ever had time for our son or in fact even each other, we were just finishing off projects one after the other, and yet were thirsty for more. In fact sometimes we would finish the projects way before the deadline. I don’t know if money was the primary inspiration here but yes it was one of them…………… Our firm was thriving, we were constantly in demand yet everything just seemed rather empty to me. And I realized it much later that it was because all these structure didn’t mean anything to me; they were just products of my ambition, they were a product of my greed of my selfishness. And I realized this only after I had lost something from my life, only after I designed the library…….
She glances at her dogs and speaks some moment later.
“Anyway, so 12 years ago, I lost my husband and my son in a car accident. I was there in the car but for some unknown reason, nothing happened to me, I did not even get a single scratch. After that I felt as if nothing around me made any sense, my thoughts would just reflexively seep into the trauma. This house, this emptiness, everything, I could feel it; I could feel the emptiness screaming at me, breaking me down every second, the silence in the house started haunting me. It felt like I was going mad and I needed to divert myself. And just then the library came along. Although I was broken and completely flabbergasted, I took the project because I need something to look forward to. The whole process of designing it was excruciatingly painful; every line that I sketched reminded me of my husband, in every space that I created I was just searching for them. The library is my yearning, it is my poignancy. Are you following me Neil?”
I could barely speak.
“There are spaces within us, Neil, some vacant, some filled, if you can understand them then your designing would be much more honest and embracing”
The look on her eyes told me that she knew that I was still perplexed.
“Look at all these dogs, I have eight of them. I bring in a new dog the moment one of them dies. Do you think it is strange?”
“Yes, I mean, a little”
“Do you know why I do that?”
“To fill up the spaces”
We talked for a little while after this. She told me that i could visit her anytime I wanted to. She was more than happy to help. I really don’t know what I understood that day, but I just understood something.
Selecting a topic for my thesis didn’t matter anymore; I could just take anything that felt right. The anxiousness, the confusion everything had now being ironed out. My perspective had returned my conviction had all the more deepened.