Successful stories of upcycling, recycling and effective waste management are heartwarming to say the least. Because they speak of someone thinking about the future and taking the time and effort to act on a lay thought. That’s what the world (and the environment) needs – time. And, Nek Chand, who was born in Pakistan but made India his home, gave almost 60 years of his life to make trash beautiful, to give it meaning and purpose. He created a garden of sculptures and waterfalls out of trash over 40 acres and managed to hide it from everybody for 18 years. It was his secret to keep and is now Chandigarh’s pride. The nation’s, too.
In his spare time, Chand began collecting materials from demolition sites around the city. He recycled these materials into his own vision of the divine kingdom of Sukrani, choosing a gorge in a forest near Sukhna Lake for his work. The gorge had been designated as a land conservancy, a forest buffer established in 1902 and nothing could be built on it. Chand’s work was illegal, but he was able to hide it for eighteen years before it was discovered by the authorities in 1975. By this time, it had grown into a 12-acre (49,000 m2) complex of interlinked courtyards, each filled with hundreds of pottery-covered concrete sculptures of dancers, musicians, and animals.
His work was in serious danger of being demolished, but he was able to get public opinion on his side, and in 1976 the park was inaugurated as a public space. Nek Chand was given a salary, a title (“Sub-Divisional Engineer, Rock Garden”), and a workforce of 50 laborers so that he could concentrate full-time on his work. Earlier, he worked as a road inspector in the Public Works Department. The Rock Garden is still made out of recycled materials; and with the government’s help, Chand was able to set up collection centers around the city for waste, especially rags and broken ceramics.
When Chand left the country on a lecture tour in 1996, the city withdrew its funding, and vandals attacked the park. The Rock Garden Society took over the administration and upkeep of this unique visionary environment.