Shri Rajan Sood, an Architect by profession, was chosen by Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba in 1999 and guided him to design the Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Medical Sciences. In an interview, he shares his experiences from the time.
Q: Can you please share how you came to Swami?
Rajan Sood: I am an architect, basically born, brought up, and educated in Delhi. I saw Swami for the first time in 1972 when he came to Delhi. He spoke to me for the first time in ‘73. In the 70s, there used to be Summer Course for college students pan India and all over the world.
In ’73, I enrolled in the Seva Dal. I had some very beautiful experiences then. In ’74, I applied and was allowed to attend the Summer Course in Brindavan for a month. That’s where things really started between Swami and me. And, thereafter, for every Summer Course held in Brindavan, Swami allowed me to attend all of them, till almost the mid 90s. That is where the serious interaction started and continued.
So before the hospital project came by, I had physically been with Swami for 25 years.
Q: Did you do any projects for Bhagawan before the Hospital project come by?
RS: The first project happened way back in ’77-78 a girls’ school was to be built in Delhi. They asked me to design that. I designed it and the school drawings Swami had approved himself before construction. In ’81 or ’82 Swami laid the foundation stone for that.
Thereafter, the Delhi-UP Trust wanted to build a boys’ school in Rishikesh. I was approached to do that project and of course, I had started. While I was doing the Rishikesh project, on one occasion that I was going to go to Puttaparthi, I thought I would carry all the drawings with me and show them to Swami. Swami called me in and I think this was in 1999, and he was looking at the drawings and he started talking about the Bangalore hospital.
“Bangalore mein hospital banaata hai”. I thought it was just a bit of information he was giving me. “Dekho idhar Puttaparthi mein banaaya … Puttaparthi village hai.” Most of my conversations with Swami were either in Hindi or in English or a mix of the two. So then he said, “Abhi Bangalore mein banaata hai. City hai. So, grand hospital banaata hai.” I said, “Yes, Swami.” Then he put the drawings of Rishikesh project aside and started to talk about what all would happen in that hospital like cardiac surgeries and so on and so forth. He spoke about quite a bit and at that time, only my wife and I were sitting at his feet. There was nobody else was in the room.
Then he suddenly patted me on the cheek and said, “Design karo.”
Now, I don’t belong to this sphere because architecture is kind of very divided, everybody has a kind of a specialisation and mine was far from hospitals or very large buildings. We were concentrating on high-end homes. This was nowhere close to my understanding of the field. It must have shown on my expression and he just nudged me with his foot and he said, “Kar sakta hai. Karo.”
He started explaining further, “Dekho, Bangalore kitna bada city hai. Bahut bada hospital banata hai. Usko look do Buckingham Palace jaisa.” These were his words.
I was pretty foxed but obviously came back to Delhi, started preparing designs, and they were quite elaborate. In my next visit to Swami, which was under a month from this interaction, I carried those drawings with me.
Q: Did he give any other specific instructions during that interview?
RS: The only instruction was ‘Buckingham Palace’! At the time Swami used to live in the Poornachandra Auditorium. When I prepared a new set of drawings and took them to Swami, he called me to his room. I showed him all the drawings and after he had seen them all, he said they are nice and he said, “Come.”
He took me behind his room. I think this was the backstage of the auditorium and that place was full of models of the Bangalore hospital. I don’t even know how many there were! The very look stunned me. They were made by some of the finest internationally known architects. They were all lying there, designs made by them in three-dimensions.
I felt very funny that I had come with these little drawings and here internationally, people have worked on such a large scale, so much of work has been done
Swami’s purpose of taking me in was to show me what people had done. Not probably the quality of work but the number of people who would have given anything to do that project. And then he said something very beautiful to me. And that was, “Dekho, Kitna architect design banaake bheja. But I chose you.” He had his own way of overwhelming you with his words, his love, his affection.
Q: And how did the designs begin to take shape?
RS: Since I was based in Delhi, it was not possible for me to be in Bangalore all through. So, the basic plan, designed by an architect in Bangalore, in consultation with the doctors, medical planners etc. was sent to me in two-dimension.
Keeping Swami’s brief in mind, I came back with the hospital design as it is made today. I took those drawings to Swami; Swami called me to Poornachandra to look at those drawings. At that time, the central dome, wasn’t as tall as it is now. So he said, “Dekho, 75th birthday pe inaugurate karta hai. So 75 feet high dome.” I said, “All right.” At then, of course, there were little patterns on the parapet on the wall. And then he made a comment, “Dekho, parapet ke upar isko repeat karo” (repeat this on the parapet).”
Soon after I came out, I took a taxi, came to Bangalore and went to one of these little shops where they print drawings, I sat with them and modified the drawing as Swami had said and took them back to Swami. He looked at them and said, “Ye barabar hai. Shuru karo”
So I came back to Delhi and we started working, the whole office was at it. Barely 15 days later, I got a call from a gentleman from the Trust, and he said, “Rajan, are you ready?” I said, “No, it’s going to take me quite some time.” And the gentleman says, “I have a very strong feeling that Swami is going to ask for you in a day or two.” I said, “I am definite. I can’t be ready by that time.”
The elevations, they are so elaborate, and making a drawing of everything was taking a lot of time. First, to design and then, to detail everything. I think the very next day the gentleman called and said, “Swami is asking for you. Please come with the designs.” And much to my surprise, within that day, it transpired – we didn’t work overtime, we did nothing – all the drawings were ready! And I packed and the very next day I left for Bangalore.
Swami was in Brindavan at that time. When I went there, the L&T team was already there. And Swami came out and came to where I was sitting and he says, “Kabhi aaya?” I said, “Swami, I just came the last evening.” ‘Drawing laaya?” I said, “Haan, Swami.” Then he told the Chairman of L & T, “Take your team and sit with Rajan in the guest block at the back of Brindavan”. And to me, “Aap udhar jaake saara discuss karo. Mein baad be dekhta hai.”
So we had a long discussion. All the drawings were there. The Chairman and his team looked through all of that. Then we got a call after about an hour that Swami is calling us. We went into Trayee and Swami sat down in his chair in the small living room and he looked at each drawing. There was a huge number of drawings and he looked through all of them.
Q: Were they basically the elevations or the interiors also?
R: The interiors came a little later. Of course, the interior columns around the mandir I had done. He saw all of them. And he said, “Barabar hai. Shuru karo.” And then, if you see the outside windows, they have a kind of a crest on the top. He looked at that design and as a part of the design which I nobody would have known except me because we were the ones who made it, there were birds in that. There were kind of three-dimensional birds in that. Swami looked at that and he said, “No parrots.” They were actually parrots which nobody could have made out. I had seen an image of parrots which I found very beautiful but you see these swans and all in Prashanti Nilayam, I thought ok, let’s make a departure, let’s do a parrot instead. And which nobody else would have understood at all because it didn’t look like a parrot. It was just the outline of a bird. And he says, “No parrots.”
Well, then the work started and went on full swing. I would spend 15 days in Whitefield, and 15 days in Delhi getting things ready and for every visit monitor the progress and review. I would click the pictures of the hospital and of course, all further drawings that were made, I would take them to Swami. That year, I must have met at least 12 or 15 times because every month I was there and the moment he would see me, he would call me in and start looking at all drawings and every photograph, ask questions of how this is going, how that is going.
He monitored everything very, very minutely. Every thing. Every aspect of it. And towards the end, I think, last one or two days to the opening, and somebody walked up to me and there is the gold kalash that has to go on top of the dome, tell us how to do it. I said I haven’t the faintest idea and I think it is too late in the day to do it. And on the day of the opening, when I was approaching the hospital, I saw the kalash was already up. So he had, he has his way of making things work. He doesn’t need us.
My understanding is that we were used just to make us feel part of his team to receive his love. Everyone has been given something that Swami could use in his missions, not because that person is special but may be that becomes the way of Swami’s conveying love to you. There is no other reason.
I know I wasn’t capable of doing it. But the very moment when he patted my cheek and said, “You can do it, I guess that is where it came from, that energy probably transmitted. I don’t know how but we did finally manage to do it and he was very happy, very happy,
Every time he would wait and ask, “What have you brought? What is the new thing they are going to do? What are the additions we are doing? What is the development that we made?” This is including the photograph in the mandir. Up, at a higher level, there is a photograph. For this photograph, I didn’t know what to choose. Somebody directed me to a devotee who was into printing on flex. I went to his factory, and we chose some photographs. I had four or five of them done up the same size and next morning I took them to Swami. And, “Kya hai?” I said,“Swami, mandir ke liye photographs hain.” “Dikhao.” The road in front of Trayee…we opened up the photographs there and he chose, “This one. This is the one I want there.” To that little extent, he was involved. It was him initially, and him taking care of everything till the end.
If I were to do a project like this, I think 5 to 6 years is the minimum time, for a project like this to come up with this kind of intricacies. Plain simple buildings are very easy to do. But when you are wanting to match the level of Buckingham palace, it is a very tall order. Very, very tall order.
Q: How come the colours of the hospital are different from Swami’s other buildings?
R: The original presentation that I had made to Swami was in these colours. During the course of the painting work, we did try out a lot of options, permutations and combinations of blues, pinks, yellows, off-whites. It wasn’t working out right. Then one fine day the other architect said why don’t we go back to the original? We did and it looked very beautiful. That is when it was decided that we would stick to the original colours.
S: And did you actually see the Buckingham Palace in person?
R: (laughs) Later. These days we don’t have to see, you just log on to the web and you got the world there. I don’t think Swami meant that we should replicate the Buckingham Palace. What he was trying to convey was something as grand as the Palace. Because if you see the two buildings, they have nothing in common. They have absolutely nothing in common. Our hospital in terms of its detailing, the concept – it’s very, very Indian. It’s more like a very grand Indian palace. It could not be anywhere else. When you look at the details – the columns, the brackets, the domes, the gopurams on the parapet, all of that is very, very Indian. There is nothing of Britain in that. So as I understood it what he meant was that it had to be grand like the Buckingham Palace. Other than that there is nothing, there is nothing at all that looks like the Buckingham Palace. I think our hospital is more intricate than Buckingham Palace is.
Incidentally, the stained glass was purely my idea. The flowers and the decorations had nothing to do with any kind of medical properties or medicinal things. We just wanted to make it look grand. That was just the intention to add some interesting elements to the dome.
Q: Was there a plan to have a waterfall in the dome area?
R: There was a waterfall planned, originally on either side of Swami’s picture. At some point of time it was felt it would be tough maintaining it and it was modified.
Q: What about the chandelier?
R: My only contribution to the chandelier was the size. I was asked what should be the ideal size to fit into a dome of this size. So I just gave the dimensions and one fine day, when the dome was finished I found a whole lot of Italians walking in with crates and crates of components for the chandelier and they started assembling. That was my first look at the chandelier. Somebody did show me some images earlier but the sheer size of it you get to understand only when you see it.
Q: Would you rate this as one of the best projects that you have done?
R: Yes, undoubtedly. For many reasons. But mainly because this was created with Swami.