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Brinda Somaya on An Emancipated Place
8 April, 2021
When I decided to organise the first conference of Women Architects, which was named Women in Architecture 2000 Plus I created it on the foundation that it be a celebration of women’s work. I did not want to focus on the negativity that we all have experienced in some way or another in our careers, but rather view each woman’s experience as an individual story that could be shared, assimilated and serve as a source of learning for others. I invited women from South Asia that included India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh. We also had architects from Singapore and Australia, who expressed interest in participating in the conference.
Lata Ramaswamy, a designer who worked with me at my Bangalore Studio many years ago, loved English Literature. Lata came to me one day and said that she would like to write a poem with a positive message about what we were going to talk about at the conference. At the same time, I think, what Lata and most of us did realise was that as woman architects we are often ‘unknown’. Lata was a severe asthmatic and when she passed away, we lost a very sensitive and kind soul, but her poem remains. The conference proceedings were brought out in a document called ‘An Emancipated Place’ with my colleague Urvashi Mehta, and the poem has a very important place in the book. It continues to reinforce the unique qualities of a woman architect and the journey we take that intertwines our professional and personal lives.
‘We have heard of a few,
But there must have been more-
Unknown votaries of that Goddess;
Mother of all the Arts;
Commanded by emperor and priest
To make peace between
Arithmetic, aesthetic and geomancy.
And raise the soaring tower, the faultless dome,
Trap skeins of moonlight in marble,
Or release the music frozen in stone.
And what of all those nameless hands
That chiselled and carved,
Hauled and lifted, placed and set
Each block of someone else’s dream,
And made it real – then walked away
Into the invisible footnotes of history;
And what, of the heads and hearts and hands
That made the courtyard and the market place,
The lower doorway, the humbler roof
To shelter dreamers of everyday dreams-
What of their names, must they remain
Quite forgotten, forever unknown?
And yet, they are not wholly forgot,
For we know what we do because of them,
Whether we happen to know this or not.
In the shrine of that Goddess, Mother of the Arts,
The light that shines upon her face
Glows with a myriad votive flames’.