THE year was 1951. Month was July. One sunny afternoon, it was raining. There was a hut made out of mud, but it was so beautifully crafted that not a single drop of rain could penetrate inside where the students were studying. No, there was no RCC roof. but as I recall the roof was covered with long coconut tree branches. Probably, ‘ Mangalore tiles’ were hidden inside those overlapping branches. I do not recall looking up the roof and remember if there was any false ceiling.
I distinctly remember paintings and drawings on the walls inside and outside. On brown background, white lines were looking elegant. Primary school students use to run to ‘Chitra Kutir.’ It was the most loved class room in the school.
Each one of the students would carry a paint box and brush in their school bags. The paint box probably had five or seven water colours cavities. In first one or two classes we learnt that ‘ Lal’ ( Red) , ‘Pilo’ ( yellow) and Vadali, ( Blue) are primary colors and rest can be made by mixing them.
Students used to mess the drawing book as per their own choice and enjoyed their time. At times they mess up hands and faces even. There was a circular water tank in the school compound with taps all around the tank. Students used to run their after the class was over to clean up the colours from their body.
Children would enjoy the ‘Chitra Kam’ or drawing classes. Our drawing teacher was Mr. Vasudevbhai Smart. He would pay special attention on each one of the students present in the class. He used to call each student by his first name. Vasudevbhai spent all his time in Chitra Kutir. Perhaps, he had built the Kutir himself with minimum funding from school authorities.
It was after a long time, I knew about the huge amount of study and research done by Vasudevbhai. His study of ancient Indian design and the book he published are the real treasure trove. His study of wall paintings of Derasar ( Jain Temples) is unique reference for those who have interest in historic events in spreading of Jainism.
Among several of his paintings, my favourite is ‘ Pushpavatika’. The painting depicts the full repertory of traditional Indian flora and fauna drawn from classical and descriptive sources. 350 trees, 240 flower beds, and multitude miscellany of arboreal objects and subjects create a poetic setting for tenderness inducement of young love.
After the class was over it was time to pack and head for ‘ Lily’ and ‘ Lalli’. The school had two buses–one red and another green in colour. Students would ask drivers of school buses to start quickly and race one another as a they got out of school compound. Race was possible those days in absence of three wheelers and two wheelers on the road. Cyclist played safe and kept out of the way.
Two buses were symbols of mobility that brought students (future citizens) from various parts of the city together to learn. Drivers ( those in control) were in charge ( like our elected leaders and administration of SMC).
It was wrong of students to egg on drivers to race the buses on city roads. Much like our race for development.In the present context, such mindset has led us to race for development, thereby ignoring our environment.
Surat has excelled in development and citizens are justifiably proud, just like those students in the bus who were ahead in the race.
Yesterday’s students, today’s citizens are justifiably proud that Surat is winning the race of development and on the path of becoming the No.1 ‘Smart City’.remaining number one Smart city.
Surat is number one but what did we do to protect ourselves from reducing rainfall in the city? What did we do to protect ourselves from deteriorating air quality? What did we do to avoid hotspots in the city.?
When these two buses would race on the roads, the city became ‘Race-track for development’ Has Surat city become the race-track for development? What the citizens of Surat did to make it No.1 Smart city?
When did much the loved ‘ Chitra Kutir ‘ vanish ?
When did the schools become concrete blocks in Surat?
When did common water drinking tank got replaced by mineral water bottles in each school bags ?
Probably, the vanishing of Chitra Kutir and what value it represented started way back . It was year 1971. Accompanied by a class mate, a trip was planned to Prayagraj and Banaras. We came to know that Mr Vasudevbhai Smart was a faculty member at prestigious Banaras University. We decided to meet him. And to our surprise and awe, Mr Smart recognized us and identified with our first names.
Little did we realised what a ‘ Gem’ Surat had lost , though Banaras University had gained. In his later years, Mr Smart came back to Surat, but Surat was not the same, which he had left.
No more students were pinning for race of Kali-Pilli, nor was ‘ Chitra Kutir ‘ in anyone’s memory. Surat had lost something that children and young students enjoyed the most, and that was the art work.
This loss hit me when, I read in TBT that the Southern Gujarat Chamber Commerce and Industry (SGCCI) had organized an art exhibition for benefit and upliftment of artists in Surat. They are the same artists, whose contributions have largely benefited the society and the commerce.
Let us bring back the spirit of ‘ Chitra Kutir’. Let Surat not only be first among the smart cities but the leader in climate smart Indian city.
Let us understand value of ‘ Pushpavatika’ and make Surat as one of the greenest cities in India.
Surat owes a debt to late Mr Vasudevbhai Smart . Let us have him in everlasting memory by by naming a public garden in his honour and respect.
By NAINISH PAREKH
(Writer is the social and environment activist. Views expressed in the column are his own)