Delhi’s Proust Questionnaire – Conservation Architect Ratish Nanda, Near Humayun’s Tomb
The parlour confession.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
The Proust Questionnaire represents a confessional game that owes its structure to answers given by celebrated French writer Marcel Proust in two parties that he attended at ages 13 and 20 in the late 19th century.
The Delhi Walla have brought these Parisian parlour confessions into the Indian capital to explore people’s lives, thoughts, values and experiences. The series interview folks from diverse backgrounds.
So today, say hello to conservation architect Ratish Nanda. As CEO, Aga Khan Trust for Culture, India, he works in a beautifully landscaped office just a few steps away from Humayun’s Tomb.
Your favourite virtue or the key aspect of your personality
I strive to fulfil my responsibilities
Your favourite qualities in a man
Commitment with an ability to think smart (to something—could be work, family, cause… anything)
Your favourite qualities in a woman
Since women have much higher commitment levels and greater responsibilities, it’s easier to admire women
Your chief characteristic
Passion, especially in the face of drudgery
What do you appreciate the most in your friends?
That we can pick up the threads of conversation from where they were left off, years or even decades ago
Your main fault
Don’t know when to stop flogging a dead horse… though on occasion, the horse has come alive!
Your favourite occupation
I have been at the Aga Khan Trust for Culture for 21 years! My job allows me to fix our monuments, help improve the city, work alongside a great set of people—all stuff that keeps me going
Your idea of happiness
Reading bedtime stories to my boys, cuddled up with them
Your idea of misery or what would be your greatest misfortune?
Don’t want to even think about it
If not yourself, who would you be?
Mughal Emperor Akbar who built these incredible buildings and who was universally admired for his inclusiveness
Where would you like to live?
By a river at the edge of a forest and the foot of a mountain
Your favourite colour and flower
For the colour it’s a close competition between purple and yellow; the flower is easy—the Poppy
Your favourite bird
Golden Oriole, its yellow! And magical!
Your favourite poets
Rahim for his dohas, as meaningful today as they were four centuries ago
Your favourite heroes in fiction
The ‘boy’ who told the emperor that he had no clothes. Admire those who can show “power” the mirror
Your favourite painters
Govardhan, who is hardly known but painted for Akbar, Jahangir and even Shah Jahan. His miniature paintings are today in museums across the world
Your heroes/heroines in real life
OP Jain, who established Sanskriti Museums and who headed INTACH in Delhi for many years. Learnt so much from him. Landscape architect M Shaheer with whom I had the honour of working closely for over 15 years. Sadly he passed away too soon. He also designed Sunder Nursery. Historian Narayani Gupta, who introduced me to Heritage
What characters in history do you most dislike?
Everyone has a good and not-so-good side; history tends to emphasise on either one depending on the chroniclers’ choice. I’m always curious about the hated characters of history but have not got to disliking anyone
Your heroines in world history
Jahanara. She was a Sufi, built monumental buildings, a trader – with her own ships, a poet and the author of Humayun’s biography. And of course a responsible daughter to Shah Jahan – choosing to be imprisoned with him
Your favourite food and drink
Oh, I’m a foodie—and it shows—happily eat everything. A stuffed parantha is my go to comfort food and I absolutely love Aam Panna. Zaika e Nizamuddin kebabs are a huge favourite
Your favourite names
Jihan and Inan—my boys
What do you hate the most?
The military event you admire the most
This question makes me want to give a speech promoting non-violence
The reform you admire the most
The reform that is yet to come—liberalisation of India’s cultural sector, which has the potential to create millions of jobs and billions in revenue from tourism
The natural talent you’d like to be gifted with
I wish I had a better memory
How do you wish to die?
On fulfilling my responsibilities… quietly
What is your present state of mind?
The mind is in a tizzy… so much needs to be done… so many possibilities
Faults for which you have the most tolerance
Everyone is allowed to make a mistake once; zero tolerance for the same mistake twice
Your motto in life
Patience is a minor form of despair often disguised as a virtue
Into the citizen’s heart