Books: Maison du Temple d’Or

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Conservation architect Gurmeet S Rai’s first memory of Amritsar dates back to 1995, when she was working on a heritage mapping project for the Grand Trunk Road and the Mughal Highway.

It was like home. There is a certain sense of belonging to Amritsar, especially the Golden Temple, she says of the purpose of her first coffee table book. The book, titled Amritsar – A City in Remembrance, and published by Om Books International, features photographs of her photojournalist husband Raghu Rai.

A story in progress

Gurmeet got to know the city by working on the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs program called the Hriday HRIDAY project from 2015 to 2019. “There is a deep connection between spirituality and culture in Amritsar, be it langar or craftsmanship, ”she says. She chose to get her writing debut with a tabletop book rather than a novel because she needed to display images of the city.

“Culture needs to be positioned differently and needs to be an integral part of how we engage with people while undertaking urban development projects, especially in historic cities,” says Gurmeet. “Culture and nature are two important aspects that make cities livable. We inhabit our cities and therefore urban development programs need to be responsive to the people, which adds to the quality of life. In this generation, we need to reclaim our heritage. There is amnesia when it comes to how to engage with our past and our secular heritage.

Gurmeet’s first coffee table book

Raghu has a long and deep relationship with the city, visiting Amritsar twice a month to take photos. “Going to the Golden Temple is one of the most powerful spiritual experiences. Even though I was born into a Hindu family, I believe in the peace and quiet that the Golden Temple brings. Even when the activists were right outside, this place offered a certain spirituality that took over, ”he recalls from the mid-80s, when he even went with a camera hidden in a garland he was wearing. and took photos of the damage to Sri Akal Takht. Sahib

A desire for confinement

All chapters in this containment book, for which Gurmeet visited Amritsar last March, end with some ideas for the future.

Gurmeet S Rai (left) is a conservation architect who works in the space of natural and cultural heritage and communities;  Raghu Rai (right), also Gurmeet's husband, is a renowned photojournalist
Gurmeet S Rai (left) is a conservation architect who works in the space of natural and cultural heritage and communities; Raghu Rai (right), also Gurmeet’s husband, is a renowned photojournalist

Familiar with the milestones in Amritsar’s history given his earlier work there, Gurmeet refined his research on Sri Harimandir Sahib, Rambagh Garden, and Gobindgarh Fort. “We had to show what it meant to reclaim the original layers of historic buildings and the empowering transformation that can entail,” she says. Raghu previously worked on a book on Sikhs, in addition to working with the late Khushwant Singh, but this was the first time he had worked with a writer he had grown up with together on the subject for 32 years: his wife, Gurmeet. And so, Raghu has put 50 years of work into choosing which images to use, as this is the first time he feels that photographs and text really go together.

Writing the book was like coming full circle when it comes to Gurmeet’s relationship with the city and the Golden Temple. “The architectural site and the planning of the Golden Temple have aspects linked to equality and the human aspects of an inclusive way of life that it is so relevant to imbibe today”, concludes Gurmeet.

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