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This is the second part of the interview based on a conversation between Ms. Bela Raja, Editor of Sparsh, a newsletter from the Resource Centre, The Valley School, Bangalore and Mr. Hafeez Contractor, one of India’s leading architects. Mr. Hafeez tells Ms. Bela how he became an architect.
Ms. Bela Raja (BR)– editor of Sparsh, a newsletter from the Resource Centre, The Valley School, Bangalore
Mr. Hafeez Contractor (HC)– one of India’s leading architects
HC’s Entry into Architecture
BR asks HC how he got into the field of architecture. HC says nobody who had got below 80-85 per cent was allowed to enter the college for architecture and he had only 50 per cent. He wanted to join the Army. He got his admission letter but his aunt tore it up. Then he decided he wanted to join the police force.
His mother told him to just do his graduation. So, he went to Jai Hind College in Bombay. There, he was to either take French or German. Though he had studied French for seven years, he did not know anything. So, he took German.
Then his German teacher died. The college told him that he could change the college or take French. He had got admission to Jai Hind by influence and could not get into another college. So, he took French and learnt it from his cousin.
She was an architect’s wife. He was going to the architect’s office to learn French. BR asks if that was when he decided he wanted to do architecture. HC says it all happened by chance. In the architect’s office, he saw somebody drawing window details, a very advanced drawing.
HC told him that his drawing was wrong because the window would not open. They made a bet and later found that the drawing really was wrong. HC’s cousin’s husband was surprised. He asked HC to draw a few specific things, which he immediately did.
He asked him to design a house and he designed a house. After that, he told HC to join architecture. They went to meet the Principal of the college who told him to do well in the entrance examination if he wanted to join. HC got an ‘A+’ in the entrance exam. He understood things like sections and plans. He always stood first in class after that.
HC’s Understanding of Architecture and Maths
HC believes that all his understanding came from his school days. He had a friend called Behram Divecha with whom he would design forts, guns and ammunition. Early in his school years, a teacher, Mrs Gupta told him that his sketches were good and asked him to become an architect when he grew up. Later, after he became an architect, he went back to meet her and tell her.
BR asks him why he thought he was bad at studies and whether he could not deal with the curriculum. HC says he was very bad at languages and maths although he could do science and geography. He just was not interested.
BR asks him if he found what they taught in school boring or that once he understood the concept, he lost interest. HC says that living in a boarding school is difficult. BR says it is thought that giftedness and learning disabilities go hand in hand and asks if HC thinks that applies to him.
HC says the toppers from his class have very ordinary jobs now. BR says a lot of people tell her that their class toppers are doing very ordinarily today. HC says school gave him street smarts. He learnt more on his own than from academics.
BR says that is because the personality and skills were there. She says HC was able to find expression in a manner he was comfortable with, and he defied every rule so that nobody would stop him from doing what he needed to do.
HC says he was more interested in other things. If it started raining during class, he would think of the flowing water and how to build a dam to block it. He would be thinking about the flow of water within the dam and how much water the dam would be able to hold.
When students lost a button while playing or fighting, they would come running to HC and he would cut a button for them from chalk, using a blade. Discipline in the school was very important and no student could have a button missing.
BR asks him how he presently decides what kind of structure to give to a client. HC says he looks at the client’s face, clothes, way of talking and eating, and knows what his taste would be like. He can relate to people in a way that would be comfortable. He sketches very spontaneously on a paper on the spot. He gives that paper to his people in the office.
BR asks if he does it instinctively. HC says it is both instinct and arithmetic. It comes to him like mathematics. Putting design, construction, psychology and sociology together and making a sketch from all that is ‘mathematics’.
The interview comes to a full circle as Mr. Contractor has derived his own interpretation of Mathematics, taking it from a subject he hated to a subject he now loves dealing with. We understand how he finally found his own calling in architecture. His story shows us that academic performance in school is not the benchmark for one’s talents or success. Just like HC, we all need to find our true skills and fully utilise them.