B.V.Doshi passed away on January 24, 2023

The Man and Idea, Tribute to B.V. Doshi, by Christopher Benninger

Architect Christopher Benninger, Principal at CCBA, Pune, shares his tribute for B.V.Doshi.
B.V.Doshi passed away on January 24, 2023

There is only one form of good luck in life and that is to have good teachers! Good teachers inspire us! All of us who knew Doshi share the smile of good luck. Doshi made us aware of the GOOD IN OURSELVES, and we always felt very good about that realization! He catalyzed some deep understanding of our essential possibility about who we could be! That is what is known as inspiring.

– Christopher Benninger

This morning, Balkrishna Doshi left his body and continued on his journey, leaving us both memories of a man and an IDEA.

I believe very special people are implanted in our memories at birth. So even before the first time we meet them it is a kind of recollection from our memories! This is true only with a few unique people on this earth, and it was so when I first met Doshi in Ahmedabad in 1968.

When one met Doshi, even over a small matter, there was a glint in his eye, that hinted of something inevitable. It seemed through mere glances and passing smiles that larger concerns were demanded from us, which transcended over the petty concerns of the moment. Rather than two people talking, Doshi was dealing with the collective concerns of humanity and thinking how this little problem is but a sliver, or a sign, of the greater human condition. There was always a sense of vision, of the future and an excitement that we are not dealing with something small or mundane, but that we are unraveling the essence of the universe. The more one came to know Doshi, the more apparent contradictions seem to fall into an order and a unity. It is within these seeming contradictions, that the essence of Doshi lies. What are these contradictions?

  • Doshi was both simple and sophisticated? Doshi told his stories, and he was a great story teller, in such simple words that his innocence obscured a great sophistication. Each building he described, and each question he answered, was usually analysed through the analogy to a folk narrative, a riddle of life, or was explained through a passage from the epics. His range and grasp of tales belied an underlying encyclopaedic knowledge;
  • Doshi was both a traditional Indian and a global man? He lived very simply within the great Indian tradition. Seeing his home one felt that he could be in a relaxed village house lost in some rural place. Yet it was his great understanding of things which made matters appear simple. He brought the reality of things down to their basics making them fundamental yet truly universal and global.
  • Doshi was a wise sage yet he thought like a child? Even at age ninety-five there was a child within Doshi’s face; in the way he talked, and in the way he sketched. But behind that child-likeness, that playfulness, was the ageless wisdom of an ancient sage. His truth always presented itself in the simplicity of a child.
  • Doshi seemed as free as a bird, yet had the self-discipline to achieve? Doshi always appeared relaxed, free and unfettered, and was not bound to any ideology, or to any “ism”! He seemed almost bindas, or like a free bird, or like a traveler without any destination; knowing only the joy of moving and exploring. Yet, the contradiction: he has labored to start institutions which live on discipline; created buildings that only hard work can bear; and created human relations, which mature over decades of devotion. Doshi was free in his mind, yet a slave to his devotions!
  • Lastly, Doshi was a MASTER OF THE SMALL, yet ponderer of the infinite! If he drew a small bird, it would be in flight; it would be all birds flying in one image; we too were watching it; we felt in flight; and we experienced the transcendental beauty of flight, and the unimaginable! Doshi delt with the tiny seeds of things, yet in them lay the essence of all things!

There is only one form of good luck in life and that is to have good teachers! Good teachers inspire us! All of us who knew Doshi share the smile of good luck. Doshi made us aware of the GOOD IN OURSELVES, and we always felt very good about that realization! He catalyzed some deep understanding of our essential possibility about who we could be! That is what is known as inspiring.

It is that good, our feeling GOOD, and our knowledge of ourselves that makes us want to celebrate Doshi’s life.

The life of any person is a dubious experiment. Life can be fleeting, meaningless and insignificant. It seems so amazing that anything can exist or develop! Yet Doshi’s life was an epic journey:

  • His boyhood in Pune in the old city;
  • His student days at J.J. College of Architecture in Mumbai;
  • A brief period in London with the good fortune to meet his guru, Le Corbusier;
  • His years in Paris with Le Corbusier;
  • His early days in Ahmedabad moving about in the heat on a bicycle to supervise Le Corbusier’s buildings’
  • His marriage to Kamlaben;
  • Founding his studio Vastu Shilpa;
  • Starting the School of Architecture at Ahmedabad;
  • Work with Luis Kahn on the Indian Institute of Management;
  • Wonderful friendships;
  • Growing a single School of Architecture into the Centre for Environmental Planning Technology, and then into a university;
  • Making great buildings; prizes and awards;
  • Surrounded by a loving family;
  • International recognition!

Doshi’s life was a psychic process that has only partly been revealed and will continue unfolding.

Doshi was two beings inhabiting the same body. One being was the simple man, the friend, the husband, the father, and the architect. Yet there was another Doshi beyond the memories of encounters. There was the Doshi who was the AVATAR of imagination; there was the Doshi who was the manifestation of our dreams; it was like two beings always walking together; inhabiting the same space; knowing us as a friend, but playing on our spirits like a phantom! On one level Doshi was an object, like a tree, a stone or a mountain or a human being; on another level he remains, even after death, like a morning sunrise bursting over snow clad mountains awaking our inner spirit and making us question who we are. When we were standing next to Doshi we felt there were two beings next to us: One was concerned with the day-to-day matters of life; the other drifting off transcending material being. It was this second personality, this “other persona,” which formed a classic myth that carries within it the eternal spirit, which lights up one’s imagination; one’s inspiration; one’s desire to be!

Thus, on this day of Doshi’s leaving us, we must consider Doshi’s personal myth, which will live forever; it will be a source of continuous celebration and inspiration. We must celebrate it without trying to understand it. We can only tell stories and recall incidents. Whether the stories are true has no bearing, and is of no significance! The only importance is whether we can grasp Doshi’s story, and Doshi’s TRUTH. The test of a man is in the message of his myth; only his inner vision, which projects out across the vast universe, and is etched into history, can have any meaning!

Every life is the story of the self-realisation of the unconscious. Here Doshi’s life was unique. Everything in the unconscious seeks outward manifestation, and Doshi’s personality also desired to evolve out of its unconscious condition and to experience itself as a whole. Let us not employ the language of science, or the words of measure to trace Doshi’s growth, his contribution and his GIFT. Let us celebrate the myth, which we all own; that is part of our being; which now passes as folklore and sets boundaries to all of our imaginations and possibilities.

It is the story of Doshi that allows us to set our own parameters; which has forced us to dream, which asks us to search and to seek again and again, that we can never forget.

I came to India fifty-five years ago in search of a guru; in search of truth, and in search of a believable myth. I was so fortunate to find all of these in one living being, who’s spirit still lives amongst us all here today: my guru, our guru, Balkrishna Doshi.

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