Success is a journey, not a destination. Working on an activity is more important than just waiting for the outcome. After all, the pleasure of winning through the tough times is what keeps a person going. The ones who do what they love the most, usually leave their name behind even after bidding goodbye to the world.
The gorge near Sukhna Lake in Chandigarh has had an unbelievable makeover in a past few years, becoming one of the most famous places for scenic beauty and splendor. All credits goes to just one person, Nek Chand Saini, a man who secretly and single-handedly built a wonder galore, the Rock Garden. His creation is visited by more than 5,000 people each day, making it one of the most-visited spots in India.
Born in Shakargarh region of Punjab, which is now a part of Pakistan, as a child Nek loved the stories his mother would tell him about kings and queens in beautiful kingdoms. He would often play in the nearby forest, making forts and sculptures from mud and broken bangles that he would bring from the market. But during the partition in 1947, Nek, along with his family, had to flee the village and trek for 24 days on foot to finally settle in Chandigarh.
Making dreams a reality
Back in 1947, the city of Chandigarh was under construction and Nek got a job as a road inspector in the city. But he could not forgo his childhood passion. Everyday, on his long bicycle rides to work, he would look at the variety of rocks lying all around the construction site and get fascinated by them.
It was around 1957 that Nek started collecting stones that seemed anthropomorphic to him. He saw beauty and art in what people considered junk. Soon, he had gathered thousands of rocks, ranging from pea-sized pebbles to large boulders. After some time, Nek made the transition from merely collecting rocks to creating artistic things from them in a gorge near Sukhna Lake.
However, the city’s official orders prohibited construction of statues anywhere in Chandigarh. If discovered, it would result in the dismissal and destruction of the project. But Nek’s passion outweighed his fears and he continued on his venture.
Working under the shadows
Nek started working secretly in a small hut by the light of burning tyres near the gorge. He led two lives, a government official by day, and a collector-artist by night. The Public Works Department warehouse that stored construction materials under his supervision was nearby, and it was put to use as his passion grew. In addition, the nearby city dump was filled with debris from the neighbouring villages that were razed to build a city.
The broken clay tiles, old bathroom and sink units, bike parts, discarded fabrics, and utensils were put to good use, as he fashioned courtyards, chambers of kings and queens, and sculptures depicting royal beings along with musicians, holy men, snake charmers, and water carriers.
Slowly but steadily, Nek built a massive 12-acre land full of sculptures and artefacts. Soon enough, the city inspectors found out about the garden. The word about the garden spread like wildfire and many flocked in bulk to view the artwork. The government was on two boats regarding the fate of the garden. They couldn’t tolerate their own ignorance of letting it come up in the first place but at the same time, they were amazed by its beauty.
Winning over the government
With the help of public support and sustenance, the garden was finally inaugurated as a public space in 1976 as the Rock Garden. Nek was offered a government salary and a few employees to work for him to run and maintain the garden. This helped him further to expand his work, as he built large horses and camels and even recreated a small-scale version of his ancestral village of Barian Kalan, which he had fled as a boy after partition.
Nek received several accolades, one of them being the Padma Shri in 1984. His statues have found a place in Capitol Children’s Museum in Washington DC and the American Folk Art Museum in New York City. Also, his creations have been showcased in cities like Paris, London, New York, Washington DC, and Berlin.
Nek Chand created a sublime masterpiece with sheer motivation, innovation and creativity. He never thought of the outcome and did not do it for anyone but himself. He enjoyed giving shape to his ideas through his sculptures. His story is an evident proof that our works may not always be a transaction. It’s high time we stop running behind success and rather achieve excellence, for success will surely come trailing behind.