Mud Houses and Brick Walls
rebuilding lives in Quetta and Nilokheri
with Sanjiv Nanda
Fifty years have gone by since these words were written. Twenty-five years after Independence, the generation that came of age under the influence of Gandhi still retained a youthful, perhaps naive hope of building a society and a Nation that could live up to Gandhi’s lofty ideals. The beautifully handwritten manuscript was prized by the family and occasionally brought out and shown to visitors, appreciated but hardly ever read. It’s a special gift to bring to you in 2023, these words that cover three-quarters of a century (1903-1978) in the life of our Nation.
Bishambar Das Nanda (1903-1982) was born in a small village in Punjab, a hundred miles north of Lahore, grandson to the village landlord. Through his life, he retained his love and respect for the life, people and culture of rural India. The joint family, he believed, was a model for co-dependence and social security.
His first twenty-five years took him from the village of Kakrali to schools in larger villages and towns in district Gujrat Daulatnagar, Gujrat, Gujranwala, then college in Lahore. In 1928 he returned with a Civil Engineering degree from King’s College, London and found employment with the Maharaja of Kashmir, overseeing roads, public works, and palaces. He moved to Quetta, Baluchistan following the devastating earthquake in 1935. In Quetta, he rapidly established himself as a prosperous businessman and benefactor.
Like millions of others, this fortune was lost in Partition. He found his second calling of service to the newly independent Nation. Millions of displaced refugees had streamed into Punjab and Bengal. His training as a civil engineer and his recognition of the dignity of labour would come into play. Working for the Ministry of Community Projects and Cooperation, he built new townships at Nilokheri, near Kurukshetra, and Fulia in West Bengal, simultaneously training and developing construction and vocational skills among the refugees themselves.
The Nation was embarking on Five Year Plans, and he joined the Planning Commission. Nehru’s socialist vision of capital-intensive, public sector heavy industries was contrary to Gandhi’s socialism of sarvodaya and swaraj -grassroots community development, self-sufficiency of the village, full employment and dignity of labour. He continued his life of service to the Nation as leader of Bharat Sevak Samaj.
About the Author
Bishambar Das Nanda was a civil engineer who built earthquake resistant housing in Quetta following the devastating earthquake in 1935, and built new townships in Nilokheri, near Kurukshetra, and Fulia in West Bengal, to rehabilitate refugees following Partition. When he built his home Vishav Bhavan in Sector 16, Chandigarh, in 1953, it was the first private home in the newly planned city, a new capital for the Indian state of Punjab. He was a member of India’s Planning Commission and General Secretary of the Bharat Sevak Samaj.
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