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Tracing Narratives

Indian Landscape
design (2017)

Tracing Narratives

Gardens may be considered to be an apparatus by which to view the self, navigate the world; laboratories in which to test the relationship between man and nature.

Even so, there is a dire shortage of literature mapping gardens, or speaking of their implications in India. This, coupled with the fact that, for a long time, landscape design and garden design are seen as completely independent of one another, has had a telling impact on the perception and significance of the garden.

This understanding led to two years of travelling to all parts of the country to see the various forms of gardens. Tracing Narratives – Indian Landscape Design defined its role as such – to make the idea of the garden an important component of discussion within the Landscape Design profession.

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“There is something to be said about oral narratives. With scrolls, or paintings, or objects to represent something else, a tradition is passed on. In each telling, embellished a bit, enriched a bit – but made alive so you could feel it with all your senses.”


Soon after the first garden was planted just a bit later there must have been someone stocking and selling plants. Books are repositories of recorded knowledge, and botanical gardens and herbariums the hallowed vaults. Nurseries on the other hand allow a sensorial understanding of the world of plants; often stocking the same species to be seen as a young sapling and also a slightly mature one; or often acting as windows to the way plants are sought after and used at a particular time and age. In a way they are the fashion houses of the profession. But even more valuable is the knowledge that the Nurserymen have accumulated over the years; always conveyed orally, never written, it consists of anecdotes, and tales of the world of flora that is always fascinating. Much like the narrator of a play, a Nurseryman carries the script of the story of every plant that he has around him, for he has witnessed its life cycle all along. They are skilled and have inherited knowledge from mentors or through the family lineage.

So fierce is the gaze of those with passion in their heart, that the worldly avert their eyes lest they betray self.


The world of the amateur gardener belongs to a different galaxy. It may seem that the amateur gardener works with the same tools and elements- soil, water, seasons, and plants; and hence there is a lot in common with the professional. Nothing is further from the truth.
The amateur gardener is a person with a passion and love for plants that is hard to match, and at times even comprehend. In their world, plants wake in the morning and stretch themselves, look sad when the sun is harsh, and talk to them throughout their lives. This is not an imagined world. It is as unreal as real is real.
And from their passion, are born many lessons of life, but also the world of landscape. About an order that is difficult to see, about a balance that can’t be measured, about completeness and incompleteness, about rebirth, and about a rare love that must suffuse us all.
More than history books and the works of professionals, sometimes these are the gardens that we must see to remind us, rejuvenate ourselves and hold us firmly, so that we don’t forget why we are.

“And finally with all the ingredients in hand, what use are they if someone does not teach you what to do with them?”


Slowly we are losing without doubt the real knowledge of working the soil, and growing plants. A fact amplified whenever one chooses to see; trees on roads that are not planted well; soil that has not been suitably modified to receive certain kind of plants; practical knowledge of repotting plants or techniques of air layering missing from the repertoire of the practitioners. The list is vast. And yet we have a large legacy of books that painstakingly described and recorded each technique in ways that could be easily understood. So exhaustive are they, that an interested reader may well find answers to any garden puzzle.

The exhibition assessed the idea of the garden through various lenses – Reading, Perceiving, Nurturing, Recording, Anchoring, Writing, Revisiting, and Practicing - establishing the multiple roles the form plays; that it has been assigned.

“The exhibition is not seen as a finished text, but has brought together the many ideas and relationships that has built the notions of landscape architecture. This exhibition is an exhaustive and all-encompassing in its attempt to bring the various different concerns and realities that define the field of landscape design. The many narratives here are seen as material texts brought together under one umbrella defining the girth and depth of the field across time and across scale.

It was touching to see the stories of individual gardeners develop the nursery that have supported the Indian gardens on one end, while bringing to light the gardens built by kings that have captured the Indian imagination for generations. The celestial gardens of Vrindavan and Vraj are beautifully rendered in the exhibition and have also brought to light the tale of everyday plant bougainvillea with painstaking research. Thus the exhibition not only brings to light the ordinary and every day but captures the splendours and imaginations which define the spirit of India.”

Snehal Nagarsheth

Associate Professor

Faculty of Design, CEPT University, Ahmedabad

It is indeed remarkable that a practice that is exceedingly busy producing new work finds the time to reflect research and document some of the treasures of Indian architecture.

The pleasure gardens of Srinagar, the various palaces, lakes and pavilions of Mandu are often referred to in our discourse on Indian architecture but rarely put together as comprehensive drawings encompassing their entire context and setting or zooming in to the individual parts within that context. This exhibition does that most evocatively. The romance of the place is conveyed by these beautiful drawings. For that alone the exhibition is worth seeing.

Of course the exhibition extends well beyond the drawings. It succinctly binds the rich past with an emerging present through the discipline of landscape design but I believe the view is through a multifaceted prism and therein lies its strength.

Building, the space within it and most importantly the space that structures create between them, with the horizon, with the setting within which they are located extending to the space in history and culture are all necessary to be brought into the conversation, transcending disciplines. This is what I believe the exhibition intends.

I suspect this exhibition started in a fit of passion, it was sustained by that all consuming passion but has been tempered by a very sharp, precise and cool mind.

Rajeev Khatpalia

Partner,

VastuShilpa Consultants, Ahmedabad

The monograph on landscape narratives is a fantastic compilation of the history of Landscape in India.

India is a vast country with diverse agro climatic zones, diverse cultures and a very rich historical lineage. But in terms of Landscape history of India, we don't have a comprehensive documentation. What we have are the references of natural elements and Landscape settings in our scriptures and epics that date back to a few thousand years B.C. We also have many references and examples in the form of gardens, parks, step Wells, spaces associated with historical monuments, paintings etc. There is too much of scattered information and there has been a pressing need felt in the landscape fraternity to document them. This book is an attempt to weave all the threads together.

The monograph is aptly titled as landscape narratives. As conveyed in the document, it has laid the foundation and has a potential for further additions in the years to come. The eight sections of the book are well structured in a format that allows information to be added later. When one reads the complete monograph, one gets an overall picture of Landscape history of India. As an Indian, and a Landscape Architect, it makes us feel proud to know our lineage.

It is indeed a great document with commendable efforts of Aniket and his team.

Deepa Maheshwari

Head, Department of Landscape Architecture, CEPT University, Ahmedabad

Learning to Oscillate : Dennis Dutton in his ted talk " A Darwinian Theory of Beauty" describes the " beautiful " as that which is done well. Tracing Narratives, an exhibition on landscape design in India; is beautiful. Not because it offers to display its contents in clever installations which are art in themsleves (as most exhibition strive to do today) but because it does not; and then does much more. The simplicity and the directness with which it communicates, leads the interested to read on and engage as it unfolds the many marvels of a garden's zeitgeist, that in our daily humdrum of life so easily escapes us.

How often do we stop to look at a tree and feel the sheer joy of wonderment in its mottled bark , or the choreography of the dappled light below , when the wind rushes through its many leaves ? How often do we find connections between the blues of the skies to that of the seas? How often do we find our way to a garden , and stay inside it? What is really a garden ? The exhibition could have looked at almost everything and anything under the larger purview of landscape design and created a tome that could not be discerned in ones entire lifetime. It abstains from such an exhaustive banal account and instead chooses to delve in the world of a garden, which is described as a "room outside" .

The exhibition explores this "room"s many facets , from its early genesis , its various historicities to its various 'avatars' in the chain of its evolution till date; not in any chronological order but as narratives traced from back in time; some found from the lost, some unearthed from the buried , and some resurrected from the dead.

But more importantly, the exhibition is not just this . All these stories ;of the 1000 different roses, flower markets and the the marigold trade, the nursery owners and their tales of the past, stay as memories indelibly etched in the mind. These are stories of the common folk, their caring and commitment, their sense of passion and selflessness in their drive to fulfill a promise to themselves , and thereafter a whole life's work dedicated to it, without a desire to be famed . These are the narratives that had to be traced; eked out from in between the lines, a whorled world of the ordinary, that needed celebration so that they may never be forgotten. One can go through tracing narratives, like a child in a permanent state of bewilderment. Once there; then simply oscillate, as time passes by.

Samira Rathod

Principal, Samira Rathod Design Associates, Mumbai



Over the span of a year, the exhibition travelled to 12 locations across the country – becoming a tool for discourse. Each space it occupied became a collaborative effort to understand the multiplicity of the form of the garden, and reinforce its significance.