Kazi Nazrul Islam, the rebel poet, as he is often called, has a special place in the hearts and minds of Bengalis. His poems and songs have always been extremely popular.
To honour his legacy, a new cultural centre has been planned in Rajarhat on the outskirts of Kolkata. The centre would be called Nazrul Tirtha (or ‘Pilgrimage of Nazrul’, signifying the sacred place that Nazrul has in the hearts of Bengalis). It would be a large complex, 55,000 sq ft to 1,00,000 sq ft in area, and would be located on Major Arterial Road, in front of the DLF building.
Sprawling cultural complex
The cultural complex would consist of a museum, an academy called Nazrul Academy, a library, a 400-seater auditorium, a cafeteria and a guest house, arranged in circular pattern. There will be an open area in the middle. It would look like there are different blocks, but actually it would be all one building, with the parts joined through ramps, gangways and staircases. According to architect Abin Chaudhuri, the twisted formation reflects the tension in the writings of the rebel poet.
A contest was organised by the government of West Bengal last year to decide on the design of the complex. Award-winning architect Abin Chaudhuri of Abin Design Studio won the contest, which was judged by stalwarts like advertising guru Ram Ray, artist Suvaprasanna and architect Prabir Mitra.
Uniqueness in design
The design he came up with is unique in a sense, as this has never been done in Kolkata before. The uniqueness stems from the fact that all the buildings would have exposed concrete on the outside. Concrete is normally plastered and painted over. But Nazrul Tirtha would have the concrete neither plastered nor painted. The form, texture and colour of the bare concrete would give the building its architectural attraction.
It is worthwhile to note that such a concept of keeping concrete exposed was the hallmark of the internationally reputed Swiss-born French architect, Le Corbusier. The best example of his work in India is the city of Chandigarh, which he designed to a large extent.
According to Chaudhuri, using concrete in such a way being a new concept in the city, builders in Kolkata had no idea how to go about it. Shapoorji Pallonji had to bring its team from Mumbai to build the complex. The Rs 60-crore project, a special initiative of Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, is expected to be completed next year.
As with many modern buildings, this is also being made environment-friendly. In order to do that, the building’s use of energy has been kept at a minimum. The concrete façade of the building would be punctuated by a network of jagged lines, which would be broken in places to let in optimal sunlight (too much will increase the heat and push up the air-conditioning costs).
Besides the aspect of design, the concrete would also help in heat management, as its thermal mass would keep the interior cooler. Lots of plants would be there in and around the building. To the right of the open-air stage, a pool will harvest 2,500 litres of rain water.
Keeping the legacy alive
Being named after Kazi Nazrul Islam, the building’s architecture would accommodate him in a major way. At the entrance, pillars in the porch would support a black prismatic block of concrete, 8.5 metres high, placed on its side. The two faces which can be seen by a visitor entering, would have the words Unnata Momo Shir (meaning ‘my head is held high’), taken from the poem, ‘Bidrohi’, all over, in stylised Bengali fonts. The words are also a tribute to the rebellious mindset of the poet. Another prominent presence of Nazrul in the architecture would be in the open-air theatre, whose backdrop would have his profile in aluminium sheets among a row of green plants.
The area around Major Arterial Road in Rajarhat is rapidly becoming an environmental, cultural and recreational hub. Already it has in its vicinities the ecotourism park, Prakriti Tirtha and the cultural institute, Rabindra Tirtha. Now, with this cultural institute, Nazrul Tirtha, the area would add another feather in its cap.