The Social Significance of Mr Nazeer Khan’s Architecture (Part Two)

Assoc. Prof. Dr. Spahic Omer
Kulliyyah of Architecture and Environmental Design
International Islamic University Malaysia
E-mail: spahico@yahoo.com
 

Nazeer at work

Mr Nazeer Khan at work.

 

Mr Nazeer Khan’s Architecture and Kerala’s Interfaith Harmony

Islam entered India almost in the lifetime of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). Generally, it is thought that it came into India by way of invasion by Muhammad b. Qasim, a young general sent by Yusuf b. Hajjaj, the governor of Iraq during the Umayyad period in the later part of the 7th century CE. But this is not true. Islam entered India initially through Kerala on the west coast through the Arab traders in a peaceful manner.[1] “The region called Malabar in Kerala is Indianised form of ma`bar which in Arabic means passage. Since the Arab traders passed through that region often it came to be known by that name. The Arabs, in fact, had been trading since pre-Islamic days and then embraced Islam after the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) began preaching. They married the local women in Kerala and their offspring spread in different parts of that region. Also, later they were accompanied by Sufi sheikhs who converted many local people, mainly from lower classes, to Islam. Thus, this was the real entry point of Islam into India.”[2]

            Kerala is a multi-religious state, somewhat more than many other Indian states. According to 2001 Census of India figures, Hindus form the largest religious community constituting 56.2%, followed my Muslims 24.7%, Christians 19%, and the remaining 0.1% follows other religions.[3] In comparison with most of India, Kerala experiences relatively little sectarianism. It in fact serves as a symbol of inter-faith harmony often given as an example for others to emulate. Siddiq Hassan ‘Abdullah, the amir of the Kerala unit of the Jama’at-i-Islami and a well-known Arabic scholar, explains some of the main causes for such a situation: “The Muslims in north India and the Muslims here in Kerala have had a vastly different historical experience… India’s first contact with Islam took place in Kerala. Even prior to Islam, Kerala had close trade links with the Arab world. Arab ships would regularly visit Kerala ports and some Arabs even settled here. After the rise of Islam, these links became stronger. Large numbers of Arab merchants settled here, and they were warmly welcomed by the local Hindu kings, because they played a vital role in the local economy. Islam thus came to Kerala through traders, and not through conquerors, unlike in much of the rest of India. This is why relations between Muslims and Hindus in Kerala have always been generally cordial, unlike in much of the north. Because of the close relations between Hindus and Muslims here, Kerala evolved a shared culture, and so Muslims are not seen as strangers. Rather, they are recognized as fellow Malayalis and are well integrated into the local society. Muslims, Christians and Hindus in Kerala share a broadly common culture and speak the same language. You don’t have ‘Hindu’ restaurants and ‘Muslim’ restaurants here, as you do in some parts of north India. Because of the long history of communal amity in Kerala, it has been much easier for Muslims to organize and work for the advancement of the community here…The situation in the north has been very different.  In the north, the trauma of the Partition still lingers on, which has had a terrible impact on inter-communal relations and has generated tremendous insecurity among the Muslims there. Here in Kerala we were spared the horrors of the Partition, because of which we have been able to focus our energies on constructive community development work, unlike in much of the north. In the north, large numbers of educated and prosperous Muslims migrated to Pakistan, leaving the poor behind. Almost no migration occurred in Kerala in the wake of the Partition.”[4]

            According to Hussain Randathani, “the egalitarian ideals of Islam, the existence of Arab colonies, the social and economic systems in the region and the positive attitude of the native rulers were the main factors which made Malabar a fertile region for Islam.”[5] However, “except the reign of the Arakkal Ali Rajas of the north and a short interlude of the Mysorean over lordship, practically there was no Muslim rule in Malabar.”[6] This, however, does not mean that the Muslims did not get total official freedom to practice and propagate their religion. They rather were accorded all the needed help and facilities to do so. In addition, they, their religion and culture were held in high regard by the region’s Hindu sovereigns. The religious, economic and social personal and institutional lives of the Muslims thus always flourished, something that could not escape the attention of impartial and fair-minded travelers, historians and writers throughout the region’s rich history.[7]

            In order to reciprocate this honest and amicable treatment, the Muslims of Kerala (historical Malabar is part of it) made the spread of Islam in the land a peaceful one, in conformity with the universal and peaceful message of Islam and without any imperialistic designs. The missionaries of Islam, be they merchants, mystics, scholars or just ordinary people, adopted a policy of sulh i kul (peace for all). They respected the ancient customs and obeyed the rulers. They were agents of harmony, unity and prosperity, and were the people of peace. Moreover, upon converting to Islam, many neo-converts, a bulk of which belonged to Hindu low castes, were reasonably tolerated to retain some folk traditions of theirs, giving them a place in the Islamic core of the Kerala society.[8] As a result, there was little in the end to distinguish between the two communities in the fashion, culinary and wedding traditions, and in many other social life customs and preferences. Several Muslim festivals significantly resembled certain Hindu festivals. Some prominent Muslim saints became saints for many Hindus as well, on account of them having set the standards and examples of interfaith peaceful coexistence, and having led by example. Their shrines or dargahs were the target of seasonal visits by both Muslims and Hindus, radiating endless barakah or blessings for all.[9]

            The Hindu Muslim cultural confluence in Kerala is also evident in the fields of art and architecture. Hussain Randathani writes that Kerala traditional mosque architecture resembles Hindu temple architecture in all respects except the interior. This was so because in the beginning friendly Hindu kings allowed that some temples be converted into mosques, which was done with the least modifications to suit modest Muslim requirements. But if new mosques were built, the fact remains that they, in the main, were done by Hindu carpenters and masons who could not but follow Hindu temple style. The practice of providing grants by Hindu rulers for erecting mosques was common; as was the practice of erecting temples and mosques side by side.[10]

            Understandably, every Muslim and Hindu in Kerala is proud of this predominant cultural ethos in the state, trying to contribute their shares for sustaining it. Mr Nazeer Khan is no exception and his architecture attests to it.

To begin with, Mr Nazeer Khan reveals his belief in the myth according to which a native king called Cheraman Perumal traveled to Makkah and embraced Islam at the feet of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh).[11] After remaining in Arabia for a few years, the ruler intended to return home, but on the way died in Yemen. On his trip, a small delegation of local Malabar noblemen accompanied the king and also like their king, accepted Islam. Mr Nazeer Khan proudly divulges that he accepts as true that a member of the king’s delegation was one of his ancestors on his mother’s side. Apart from the fact that these highly disputable claims serve to him as a source of inner pride, happiness and motivation, Mr Nazeer Khan also interprets them to the effect that he thus was given an extra obligation to play a role in promoting and preserving the unique soul and character of the Kerala society as they were fashioned and upheld by the Kerala predecessors through ages.

Nazeer family

Mr Nazeer Khan with family.

 

As a further evidence for his penchant for propagating and practicing interfaith tolerance and harmony, five of Mr Nazeer Khan’s office workers are Hindus, one is Christian, and nine are Muslims. Of his four consultants, furthermore, three are Hindus and one is Christian. Of his ten site supervisors, six are Muslims and four Hindus. Nor does he shy away from designing, apart from mosques and Muslim shrines, Hindu temples, churches and other Hindu and Christian institutional religious buildings. His clients for private houses, too, come from diverse religious backgrounds, even though the Muslims comprise the majority. When selecting contractors for building his projects, all Mr Nazeer Khan’s criteria revolve around excellence, professionalism and honesty. They are as good as religion-blind.

It was due to this interfaith understanding and harmony predilection that Mr Nazeer Khan is highly respected and wanted by his potential clients, Muslims and non-Muslims alike, and for both individual and institutional buildings. When talked to, it is thus not startling that all his non-Muslim clients in unison and completely approve of him and what and how he does. It was them who needed an architect, and they went for Mr Nazeer Khan owing to his widespread reputation and legacy. They knew that he, as his record shows, always lives up to the mark and capably fulfils given tasks. Mr Nazeer Khan never tries to impose himself on a client. Rather, he lets his buildings, as well as past and current clients, do the talking. They are his ambassadors and promoters. And he knows that such is the most effective promotion and marketing strategy. It, at the same time, is the cheapest and most abiding.

What brings closer and then bonds Mr Nazeer Khan with his non-Muslim clients is a set of universally acceptable personal and professional values which are cherished by everyone irrespective of their religious beliefs and affiliations. Mr Nazeer Khan champions those values more than anything else. Next, he makes his buildings personify and reflect those and other art and architecture related values and meanings, which is the language most people easily comprehend. It is about identifying and delving into what brings people together, not what separates them. It is about accentuating similarities, which are many, and dispensing with divisive differences, which, conversely, are few and often inflated and feigned. It is about celebrating universal affection for aesthetics, elation, passion, wellbeing, gratification, belongingness, equilibrium and good judgment. It is, finally, about helping a client — or clients — celebrate life in the most fundamental and intrinsic way. Mr Nazeer Khan’s architecture, it goes without saying, is comprehensive and global, rather than specific and local. Its functions range from micro individual and family concerns to macro issues and fads in relation to the ubiquitous life phenomenon. One of his residential buildings near Kottakal in Kerala partially resembles each of a church, mosque and a temple at the same time.[12] The building, in many ways, typifies Mr Nazeer Khan and his interreligious outlook translated artistically and architecturally into the physical world. Since architecture to Mr Nazeer Khan signifies more than just a profession, he does not charge for designing mosques, temples and churches. For other religious institutional buildings, he charges only nominal fees. For private houses alone, he charges full fees.

Because of this platform, Mr Nazeer Khan effortlessly settles those issues which are purely and instructively religious and which are to be integrated into buildings’ designs and plans. Normally, he goes about doing that in two ways. Firstly, he talks to clients as well as religious experts so as to be enlightened and guided in his work. Or he simply learns and discovers himself and then draws on his own knowledge and experiences while incorporating required religious specifications into his designs, while in the end seeking final endorsements from the clients, or their religious leaders, for his proposed design solutions. When designing Hindu and Christian houses and religious buildings, Mr Nazeer Khan usually provides the clients with general building designs and plans. He provides detailed building frameworks. Most of interior design and decorative systems, however, due to their intricacies, precisions and numerous religious implications, he delegates to others who are more profoundly identifiable with them, to perform. That involves, for example, provision of crosses, statues, religious images and inscriptions, etc.

An example here is the house that belongs to Mr Rajesh Jose, a Christian. The owner wanted his house to have an altar. He wanted the best location for it to enable it to function as a sacred way to call spiritual energies into home, and to reinforce the intentions of the house dwellers to invite more peace, serenity, and love into their spaces. Eventually, the ground floor of his house was planned in such a way that it had a sort of a central nave extending from the main entrance to the virtual end of the house where, raised above the level of the floor, an altar was positioned – an arrangement reminiscent of that found in Roman basilicas. The altar’s location was ideal, greatly impressing the owner. When asked who guided Mr Nazeer Khan concerning the matter, Mr Rajesh Jose just replied: “Nobody; he knows all that.”

Mr Nazeer Khan proudly recalls that once the committee of a school for bishops, which they wanted to build, discussed with him their needs and the institution’s overall specifications. So inspired and at ease was he then that he produced all initial sketches instantly, during the very conversation. He is thus fond of saying about that occurrence that it took him only “ten minutes” to do the job. A committee member then remarked: “You are a special divine gift. That’s why we wanted you for this assignment.” The school included a chapel and other educational and Christian religious facilities, as earlier specified by the committee.

Moreover, when designing and planning a Hindu house – like what he did for his Hindu friend V. Rajeendranath — Mr Nazeer Khan is fully aware of the importance of incorporating a shrine into its plan and design, although such is entirely up to the clients whether they want it or not. He normally discusses the matter with his clients, and if needed, with a relevant religious person, but always seems very self-assured and up to date concerning it. Parenthetically, the heart of a religious Hindu house is its shrine: “the sacred space set apart for honoring and worshiping the gods. While a particularly devout Hindu may visit a temple every day, others go there only to request a favor of the deity, to fulfill specific vows, or on festival days. The pujas (prayer rituals as a means of honoring the gods or goddesses, whose presence in the home is believed to protect the family and to engender good fortune) that take place in the household shrine are the foundation of all family actions and decisions. Temple worship requires the intervention of a priest, but in the home the contact between devotee and deity is direct. The size and decoration of a household shrine do not matter. The shrine may be large and impressive, an entire room or a beautifully designed edifice, or it may be simply a tiny niche, or even just a row of religious prints pasted on a wall.”[13]

Additionally, some Hindu clients might be keen to incorporate elements of vastu shastra or science of construction into their house designs as well. Vastu shastra denotes both an ancient and sacred Hindu body of knowledge revealing the connection between humans, the laws of nature and the dwellings humans inhabit. While not claiming to be an expert in it, Mr Nazeer Khan still acknowledges that he has a fair amount of knowledge about it, and if necessary, will be ready to explore it even further with his potential clients. So far, however, he had no Hindu client who insisted on the strict observance of vastu shastra precepts and a building’s design based on directional alignments.

When designing Muslim houses, Mr Nazeer Khan, being a Muslim himself, instinctively observes especially three things. Firstly, a place for daily prayers and other Islamic rituals (musalla) is to be designated, whose size and design are subject to the size of a house and the availability of spaces in it. Secondly, decoration must not contain statues and human being images. The focus is on Islamic spiritual calligraphy, abstract geometric patterns, floral elements and natural landscapes. Thirdly, the privacy concerns of a house’s household must be acknowledged and its protection duly facilitated. As a result, for example, a guest or visitor room with all its facilities is always placed near the main entrance so as not to affect and disturb the normal life flow inside a house. Sometimes a guest room is planned and executed in such a way that it seems as though it forms an annex or an auxiliary building situated near a main one. It may or may not have a direct access to the main body of a house from inside. If it does, the access is gradual and never abrupt, and always leads to the most “public” areas of a house. If it does not, that means that the room is accorded its own entrance from outside and the guests and visitors must use the main entrance only if they want to enter the house proper. Therefore, Mr Nazeer Khan’s Muslim houses have at least a double inner circulation and the organization of inner spaces and their functioning are multileveled and somewhat hierarchical.

When he is commissioned to design Muslim institutional buildings, Mr Nazeer Khan applies his typical community-oriented approach and wants to attain his typical community-oriented results. He wants those buildings to function as centers of, and for, societal peaceful and harmonious life, among the Muslims and between the Muslims and others, and he does his best to ensure that his design ideas and solutions make a contribution to achieving that noble goal.

An interesting example at this juncture is designing and planning a shrine or a dargah for Jalaluddin al-Sayyid Muhammad Fadl P.P.  Pokoya Thangal, a Sufi sheikh from the Qadiriyyah tariqah or fraternity. When the Sheikh passed away in 1992, a difference of opinion, especially among his followers, shortly arose as to whether to build a shrine over his grave or not. The opponents of the idea contended that it is not an Islamic custom to erect structures over graves as the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) never did so and seems to have explicitly forbidden it. However, the proponents argued that what the Prophet (pbuh) did and say is conditional, and to build shrines over extraordinary religious personalities, such as the Sheikh in question, purely in order to advance the cause of Islam and the spread of its message, is a totally different thing. It is even a praiseworthy undertaking. Eventually, the view to build a shrine prevailed and the next task was to find an architect. The search, however, did not last long. The succeeding leader of the Qadiriyyah tariqah, Sheikh al-Sayyid Mohammed Khaleel Thangal, chose Mr Nazeer Khan who at that time was a relatively young and unproven, but passionate and promising, architect. The Sheikh says that he selected Mr Nazeer Khan due to some inner and spiritual impetuses which amounted to something that could be dubbed a “supernatural inspiration”. He had full faith in his judgment and knew that Mr Nazeer Khan will be able to deliver that which he was entrusted with.

Upon the said request, and having been fully acquainted with the controversies that surrounded the decision to build a shrine, Mr Nazeer Khan knew that he was up to a serious challenge. He was not happy that the purely religious project was shrouded in a dispute, as he believed that such projects should unite and not divide the people. He thus decided to make use of the proposed edifice and the way it will be designed and utilized to bring the controversy to an end. He wanted the building to bring the Muslims together, to be an agent of peace and harmony, rather than disagreement and disunity.

When the design was ready, subsequent to lengthy discussions with the leaders of the tariqah, it was presented to Sheikh al-Sayyid Mohammed Khaleel Thangal. The latter’s comments simply were: “This is it. This is what I fundamentally wanted from the beginning, but was unable to put it into words. You (Mr Nazeer Khan) did the job as if you have read my mind and soul.”

Basically, what was special about the design and plan of the shrine was the way the grave of the deceased Sheikh was taken care of. In order to appease the advocates of building the shrine, Mr Nazeer Khan created for them a wonderful and spacious structure at the centre of which stood a chamber. The chamber is one of a few meant for conducting various religious ceremonies and with various capacities in the shrine. In the middle of the central chamber sits a somewhat commanding cenotaph which, actually, is empty. And this exactly is what was meant to appease the opponents to the idea of building the shrine. The cenotaph only indicates the location of the grave which is well below in another separate and roomy chamber to which one goes via a special and secretive route. The grave is rather simple, just like most other Muslim graves, and when visiting it, one feels that he visits directly the grave with no barriers or obstructions standing between him and the latter, just like in a graveyard. One furthermore gets a feeling and can witness with his own eyes that there was no serious tampering with the grave. Rather, the same was only well and ingeniously handled and shielded, retaining its original site and purpose. Hence, the shrine is impalpably two-tiered, a lower tier with the grave and nothing else, and an upper tier with the cenotaph and all the facilities expected in a funerary complex. The shrine has multiple circulation systems as much indicating as facilitating its two-fold purpose. Effectively, everyone visiting the place finds what he needs. Everyone is busy with his own activities and emotions, with little or no time to worry about others and what they do and feel. This way, the building significantly toned down the controversy that preceded its conception and construction.

This penchant of Mr Nazeer Khan for fostering interfaith understanding and unity through architecture is being increasingly noticed and appreciated. For instance, a half-day session of an international seminar on interfaith harmony and tolerance held in Kuala Lumpur from 3 to 8 February 2014 was dedicated to Mr Nazeer Khan’s efforts and achievements. The seminar was co-organized by the International Islamic University Malaysia, Ma’din Academy, Kerala, Department of National Unity (Prime Minister’s Department, Malaysia), and OIC Today Magazine. Parallel to the seminar, Mr Nazeer Khan also held a solo exhibition on housing in Kerala. The exhibition was organized by and held at the Kulliyyah (Faculty) of Architecture and Environmental Design, the International Islamic University Malaysia. It was visited by hundreds.

Nazeer seminar scene 1

Nazeer seminar scene 2

Nazeer seminar scene 3

Nazeer seminar scene 4

Nazeer seminar scene 5

Some scenes from an international seminar on interfaith harmony and tolerance held in Kuala Lumpur from 3 to 8 February 2014. A half-day session of the seminar was dedicated to deliberating and recognizing Mr Nazeer Khan’s efforts and achievements relating to interfaith understanding and harmony through architecture. Parallel to the seminar, Mr Nazeer Khan also held a solo exhibition on housing in Kerala.

 

Mr Nazeer Khan’s Architecture: Diversity in Unity

Mr Nazeer Khan is an architect, interior designer and landscape architect. His approach to architecture is all-in-one. There is no clearly dividing line between the three. When one talks to him, or studies his buildings, one cannot distinguish where one vocation ends and where the other one starts. If throughout ancient and medieval history most architectural designs and constructions were carried out by artisans, such as stonemasons and carpenters, rising to the role of master builder, then in a contemporary sense, Mr Nazeer Khan could be described as a master architect whose ideas, which in the minutest details cover entire architectural processes from sheer concepts to the full use of buildings, are executed by tens of trusted contractors.

Mr Nazeer Khan is a perfectionist. He is obsessed with what he does, and his obsession covers each and every aspect and phase of his projects. He meticulously supervises everyone: his assistants, contractors and supervisors, hopping from one site to another and from one town to another. His phone never stops ringing and he seems never to get tired. In view of that, smallest deviations from what has been previously conceived, planned and sketched are not tolerated. No tasks are allowed to be executed unprofessionally and imperfectly by anybody and at any stage. He is displeased with anything that does not meet extremely high standards that he had set. It is not thus rare that a worker or a contractor is recalled to re-do a job after he had “completed” it and had departed from a site.

Mr Nazeer Khan gets upset even with some clients who fail to grasp the essence and logic behind his design ideas. He spends long hours patiently talking and trying to convince them, for it is not always easy to get people’s sundry perspectives and outlooks aligned together. To him, mediocrity is a serious perfidy that as much hurts him as blights and scars a building of his. It is unclear which one of them, in reality, “suffers” more. To him, moreover, the worst architectural mediocrity is about inability to transport an impeccably conceived building spectacle from a world of ideas to a world of tangible realities. It is about rendering a supposed perfect building impaired and somewhat dysfunctional. It is a sheer failure, a betrayal. Thus, everyone involved with Mr Nazeer Khan is kept on his toes, performing to the best of his ability and always looking over his shoulder.

To Mr Nazeer Khan, architecture is synonymous with flawlessness, precision and proportion. It follows the rules and principles of the perfect universe designed and created by the Perfect Creator. It is a recognition, extension and augmentation of the faultless equilibrium that runs through the veins of total existence. By no means is it imitating, much less challenging or surpassing, the latter. Indeed, there can be no imitation or challenge between two completely different domains with different existential qualities and spheres of influence.

God is the greatest and best Creator. Everything else comes second. Everything else, furthermore, ought to humble itself and subdue its existence to the paradigms of God’s revealed Word, mercy and grace. Architecture, it follows, is an act of at once humbleness, appreciation and veneration. Hence, to Mr Nazeer Khan, practicing architecture denotes an opportunity to acknowledge and bring closer to the human grasp some of the greatest secrets of the universe. Architecture, thus, in many ways is a microcosm of the quintessence of the universe whereby architects, builders, artists, as well as the users of buildings, enjoy the prospects of engendering genuinely intimate relationships with the truth and its copious expressions and ways. It goes without saying that the thrust of the job of talented architects and artists is to feel indebted to God for the gifts and, as a way of appreciation, to remain humble, accountable and committed to enabling the ordinary people to experience and value those ontological truths as embodied by the art and architecture realms. Being an architect, therefore, is at once a privilege and responsibility, definitely the latter outweighing the former. Architects are servants rather than masters.

True architects are the servants of the dignified purpose of their profession, as well as of the needs and anticipations of people. At the same time, they are visionaries on account of their exceptional abilities and flair, inspiring and guiding those around them and making their lives more exciting, delightful and consequential. Architecture, therefore, is not just a profession. It is a life to be lived delightfully and responsibly. Due to this actuality, Mr Nazeer Khan admits to live under much stress wondering whether he is on the right track to meeting the terms of the mission he feels has been created for, or not. He divulges that at times he even cries as a result of the convergence of all those concerns which causes in him a mixture of feelings that fluctuates between despondency, humility and vulnerability, to comparative self-esteem and exhilaration.

Mr Nazeer Khan’s architectural style could be described as one exemplifying the canon of diversity in unity. It presumes that all buildings of his fully respect and adhere to those basic values and principles that are considered part of the basic shared framework of his architectural approach. At the same time, every building freely maintains its own distinct sub-ethos, refinement and taste which do not conflict with the shared core. Respect for the whole and respect for all is at the essence of this Mr Nazeer Khan’s approach. All his buildings are different, yet in essence virtually same, carrying the same spirit. The most recognizable principles and rules which constitute the core or the shared framework of his architectural style are proportion, symmetry, firmness, orderliness, crude aesthetics, veneer, ostentatious mass and scale. All Mr Nazeer Khan’s buildings are perfectly symmetrical and proportioned, strong, heavy, flashy and grandiose. As they increasingly dot the landscapes of the Kerala state, they are all the time more easily recognized as his signature architecture.

In order to translate his architectural philosophy into reality, Mr Nazeer Khan employs a hybrid architectural language. He freely uses elements from Classical, Neo-Classical, Mughal, Colonial and, to a lesser extent, vernacular Kerala architecture. The most prominent component in all his buildings, however, is the pillar which he uses excessively as a structural, functional and decorative element. Mr Nazeer Khan is in love with pillars. He never tires of explaining how they give his buildings an extra dimension insofar as accentuating their strength, longevity, splendor and flamboyance is concerned, be it on their exteriors or the interiors. The sheer quantity and sizes of his pillars render his buildings heavier, bulkier and more sophisticated than what actually they are. And to Mr Nazeer Khan, that’s exactly where the authentic beauty of his buildings lies. He wants his buildings to bear a resemblance to a big, strong, well-built, beautiful and resourceful human being. One gets an impression that in certain, especially residential, buildings he stops using pillars only when he runs out of spaces and opportunities to overuse them. As a result, Mr Nazeer Khan, in his private circles, is fondly known as “Mr Pillar Khan”.

Most of Mr Nazeer Khan’s buildings incorporate ingredients from all the mentioned architectural schools and styles, some buildings more and others less. There is no building that faithfully follows a single style or school. This could be interpreted, firstly, as reflecting the growing globalized character of India and its people, in general, and Kerala and its own people, in particular. That India and its people aim for a dominant economic role on the world scene is obvious in each and every aspect of Indian culture and civilization, with architecture leading the way. The people want their architecture to reflect and spur their globalized economic aspirations and agendas. They want it to symbolize their modified and affluent lifestyles which in terms of the latter’s impact and influence are anything but conventional, unimaginative or one-dimensional. To some, Kerala serves only as a base for their globalized economic functioning.

Secondly, Mr Nazeer Khan cleverly resorts to the mentioned architectural schools and styles because most of them are regarded as truly international and everlasting styles. They never seem, and never will be, archaic and behind the times. For that reason do Mr Nazeer Khan’s buildings appear intrinsically amazing and likable, easily evoking positive sentiments and thoughts both in users and beholders. They are buildings with a universal appeal, for all seasons and tastes. At times, they can be truly captivating.

Due to the principles of diversity in unity and simplicity in complexity which his architecture personifies, plus his unique philosophy of architecture, Mr Nazeer Khan and his architectural tendencies easily delude people into developing a number of misconceptions about them. One of those misconceptions is that Mr Nazeer Khan caters only to rich clients, which is untrue — although most of his clients are rich indeed – as explicated earlier. Mr Nazeer Khan’s clients are more diverse than what most people think.

Secondly, some people allege that Mr Nazeer Khan’s rich clients tend to completely isolate themselves from the rest of the less affluent people, having nothing or very little to do with them while enjoying all the luxuries of the world in their splendid dwellings, and the way Mr Nazeer Khan designs those dwellings only promotes and facilitates such a lifestyle. This, too, is an overstatement. Most of Mr Nazeer Khan’s clients, though rich, are hard-working, simple and very honest people. Their money, chiefly, is the result of their hard work, countless sacrifices and fair business dealings. Hence, if they are willing to invest a substantial chunk of their legitimate earnings into their houses, aiding thereby comfortable, sumptuous and exclusive lifestyles for themselves, that is their own private matter. Nobody should really blame them for that, especially if they regularly and munificently settle all the financial dues that religion (Islam) imposes upon them in their capacity as wealthy individuals (this applies in particular to Mr Nazeer Khan’s Muslim clients). The subject rests entirely between them and God, All-Provider (Razzaq), who tests them with their riches and statuses in this world. The questions of extravagance and vanity, two extremely abominable vices, could at times be misconstrued and placed in wrong contexts. Indeed, many clients are known in their respective towns and regions as helpful and generous people. Concerning many not only financial issues, people go to them first to seek help. Besides, some clients are enthusiastic about erecting and maintaining some public facilities, such as mosques. For example, Mr K.V. Muhammad, for whom and whose family  Mr Nazeer Khan designed five houses, built a community mosque in the village of Edappal near his house. Mr Bashir Padiyath likewise built a mosque as well as a motel for the public, the latter being able to accommodate about 30 persons. There are two sections in the motel, one for men and the other for women. Both institutions, located near Mr Bashir Padiyath’s house and near a highway where they are most needed, are meant for the local population and will have several local employees who will be on Mr Bashir Padiyath’s payroll. Finally, not to be outdone in philanthropy by his clients, Mr Nazeer Khan built a mosque from his own earnings for the community as well.

Thirdly, there are those who contend that Mr Nazeer Khan designs only private lofty houses where money is never an issue and where he and his untamed imagination can do anything they want. He is rather unable to exhibit his artistic and architectural aptitudes and to apply his professed architectural philosophy in other building types where budget constraints and some specific institutional requirements could become an issue posing a serious challenge to an architect and his resourcefulness and problem solving skills. This contention, in equal measure, is an exaggeration. It is unfair to excessively level this criticism against Mr Nazeer Khan because, as we have already seen, not all clients of his are exceptionally well-off and so, the creation of their houses must be within the specified budget limits. Mr Nazeer Khan lives with those constraints and still delivers. His ordinarily well-off clients are reasonably happy seeing good returns on their investments. If his medium cost houses are somewhat more expensive than others of similar type, he defends the matter by saying that his houses are outstandingly quality houses and extra money means extra investment on quality and durability which invariably pays off. He is ready to challenge anyone to reason that such is not a shrewd investment. To Mr Nazeer Khan, houses are built once in a lifetime. They must outlive their architects, builders and owners. They must perform and live up to expectations. They must always be assets, rather than liabilities, to their owners, in terms of their optimal function, usage and maintenance.

Hence, Mr Nazeer Khan verbally guaranties that his houses (all buildings in general) will not show any serious signs of decaying during the first 15-20 years of their existence. During one of the field studies for writing this essay, one of his earlier houses after 21 years was undergoing some renovation work. When contacted, the house owner, Mr Hasan, said that the house needed only repainting and some general washing, which in fact did not even merit to be called renovation.

It goes without saying that the thing which Mr Nazeer Khan dislikes most about the contemporary architecture in Kerala is that it is habitually asymmetrical, vulnerable, transient and unattractive. He regards the whole unfortunate issue as wasting people’s money, time and opportunities. Mr Nazeer Khan gleefully recalls how one of his houses whose construction cost was about 5 million rupees (about 86,000 USD) was estimated by a bank manager soon after its construction to cost about 15 million rupees (about 256,000 USD). Such were its panache and quality. At any rate, Mr Nazeer Khan is open to designing any buildings with any budgets and for any type of clients. He guarantees that his architectural principles will under no circumstances be compromised.

Moreover, Mr Nazeer Khan — also as mentioned earlier — designs many institutional buildings, big and small, where budgets are always tight and where an architect is guided primarily by copious requirements relating to the fixed roles and functions of those buildings. However, even there he duly delivers what is expected from him. It is true that such structures are devoid of most sumptuous and luxurious components that adorn most of Mr Nazeer Khan’s palatial houses, nonetheless, they are still intrinsically very pretty, stimulating and perfectly functional and efficient. They are still easily identifiable in the midst of other public and private surrounding buildings. They still carry Mr Nazeer Khan’s architectural signature. When asked and discussed with, members of the committees of some mosques, Hindu temples and churches, have nothing but lavish praise for Mr Nazeer Khan and his work. Without hesitation, they recommend him to others whenever there is a chance to do so.

Finally, because he lives his architecture, to Mr Nazeer Khan, his buildings are like living organisms. His affection for them is formed the moment he starts conceiving them in his mind. As the long architectural and then construction processes unfold, so that those abstract concepts can manifest themselves in the physical world, so does his love for his buildings intensify and grow, culminating with their completion. Mr Nazeer Khan wants from the users of buildings to foster a similar emotional relationship with them. He wants people not only to mechanically use, but also feel affection for and cherish their buildings. Only then will architecture be able to contribute to people’s happiness, and only then will people be able to exclaim that they have a good architecture which they can enjoy. The relationship between architecture and people is reciprocal, based as much on external and technical as on emotional and spiritual concerns.

Furthermore, to Mr Nazeer Khan, houses that he designs and whose construction he oversees, are like his daughters. From the beginning till the end, he tenderly pampers, beautifies and nurtures them. They thus at all times must appear flawless and impeccable. Allowing any even minimal defects in the design and construction processes means taking away from the loveliness and gorgeousness of his daughters, which, therefore, cannot be tolerated. People live for the sake and future of their children. Their happiness is their parents’ happiness. Correspondingly, when a house is near its completion, Mr Nazeer Khan sees it the same as a daughter approaching her adulthood, her perfection. Next, when a house is surrendered to its owner, such, instead of being the happiest, is the saddest moment for Mr Nazeer Khan. That means that a daughter is being married off and she forever goes from her father’s care and protection to her husband’s. For Mr Nazeer Khan, the swap is truly heartbreaking. Consequently, he never attends housewarming ceremonies which are ceremonies traditionally held within approximately one week or 10 days of moving into a new house. He cannot attend an occasion where a house (daughter) which heretofore was downright his and under his guardianship, and to whose grooming and development he devoted all his attention and energy, is officially and in his own presence transferred to somebody else’s ownership and care. He cannot attend an occasion, furthermore, where his house (daughter) is suddenly taken away from him, and where in a multitude of guests and visitors he feels as though he is just another guest. He cannot accept to play second fiddle to anybody when it comes to his own “creations”. In other words, when his houses, as well as other buildings, are concerned, Mr Nazeer Khan wants all or nothing at all. He seems irrepressible.  He knows that this is quite a weird behavioral pattern, but he can’t help it.

As a matter of fact, he early in his career did once a mistake and attended a housewarming ceremony for a house which he had earlier designed. It was then that he vowed never to do it again. He still remembers the melancholy and pain he went through on that day. He promised never to subject himself to that emotional ordeal again. Even after housewarming ceremonies, Mr Nazeer Khan feels so sad when he visits a house and when he must seek permission from its owner and inhabitants just to enter. He feels increasingly alienated from his inventions. This, too, is similar to a daughter who when she gets married lives with her husband in a separate housing unit. Visiting her is no longer all about her. It is about her and also about her husband. It is about a pattern of sharing which Mr Nazeer Khan is not, and will never be, really ready for.

 

Conclusion

Mr Nazeer Khan is a phenomenon worth studying. What he has done to the modern architectural landscape of the Kerala state – and still does – no other Indian architect has arguably ever done. His architecture is captivating — sometimes to the point of being breathtaking — astounding, intriguing, but also provocative – all at once. Perhaps, there is no architect in the whole of India who divides architectural opinion more than him. This led to the surfacing and cementing of several serious misconceptions about him and his architectural legacy, most of which have been dealt with in this essay.

By and large, Mr Nazeer Khan’s architecture is both a product and epitome of Kerala Muslims’ economic transformation, although the Kerala state’s overall socio-economic and political stability and progress plays a notable role as well. One of the most fascinating aspects of Mr Nazeer Khan’s architecture is the way it promotes and facilitates interfaith understanding and harmony for which the state of Kerala is so famous and from which all other Indian states can learn a lot. Further, his architecture faithfully applies the tenet of diversity in unity according to which all buildings fully adhere to those basic values and principles that are considered part of the basic shared framework of his architectural worldview. At the same time, every edifice freely maintains its own distinct sub-ethos, refinement and taste which do not belie the shared nucleus.

Nonetheless, in order to make his architecture appealing to even brother audiences and to increase his fan-base, Mr Nazeer Khan needs to address more seriously the growing and intensifying trends in contemporary architecture circles, such as sustainability, eco-friendly buildings, and showing more appreciation and respect towards the merit of local traditions and their aesthetic expressive and symbolic value. It is true that Mr Nazeer Khan is an admirer of Kerala’s traditional architecture, mainly because it follows the omnipotent law of proportion and is commonsensical, yet he should display more readily a fondness for modernizing and reinvigorating the perpetual significance and worth of traditional architecture, and to keep searching for creative ways and means to gradually integrate the same into his both private and institutional buildings.

Also, when all is said and done, Mr Nazeer Khan should make his architecture even more accessible to and affordable by ordinary people. This way, he will make way bigger his contributions to Kerala society, moving it a step closer to solving its mounting architectural predicaments. This, indeed, would be an immense challenge for Mr Nazeer Khan to which, on account of his unprecedented talent and willpower, he can rise and triumph over – if he so wants and has time for.

 

Examples of Mr Nazeer Khan’s work:

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[1] Islam and Muslims in India: Problems of Identity and Existence, http://andromeda.rutgers.edu/~rtavakol/engineer/muslims.htm (accessed May 13, 2014).

[2] Ibid.

[3] Kerala People and Religions, http://www.prokerala.com/kerala/religions.htm (accessed May 13, 2014).

[4] Siddiq Hassan, Jama‘at-i-Islami and the Muslim Reform Movement in Kerala, http://www.svabhinava.org/meccabenares/YoginderSikand/SiddiqHassanKeralaJamaat-frame.php (accessed May 13, 2014).

See also: Sayyid Ibrahim al-Khalil al-Bukhari, Nubdhah Tarikhiyyah ‘an al-Islam fi Kerala, (Malappuram: Dar al-Ma’din li al-Nashr wa al-Tawzi’, 2014), p. 14-46.

[5] Hussain Randathani, Mapilla Muslims, (Calicut: Other Books, 2007), p. 12.

[6] Ibid., p. 12.

[7] Ibid., p. 13-19.

[8] Ibid., p. 67.

[9] Ibid., p. 68-69.

[10] Ibid., p. 72. See also: Mehrdad Shokoohy, Muslim Architecture of South India, (London: Routledge Curzon, 2003), p. 137-210.

[11] About various myths created around Cheraman Perumal’s fate, religion and death see: Hussain Randathani, Mapilla Muslims, p. 23-30. Sayyid Ibrahim al-Khalil al-Bukhari, Nubdhah Tarikhiyyah ‘an al-Islam fi Kerala, p. 28-38.

[12] K.K.N. Kurup, Evolution of Residential Architecture in Kerala, (Kuala Lumpur: OIC Today, Business & Investment Magazine (Special Pull-Out), 2014), p. 11.

[13] Worship in Homes, http://www.asia.si.edu/pujaonline/puja/homes.html (accessed May 15, 2014).

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