Aman Nath

Interviews with Thought Leaders Dated:  June 12, 2014
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Architect: Sh. Aman Nath

Way back in the early seventies, an old, dilapidated fort was converted into what was to become one of the pioneer heritage hotels in the country. A hugely popular concept, the restoration set a new trend towards converting hitherto neglected forts and palaces throughout the country into beautiful resorts beseeched by corporates as well as individuals.

We meet the man behind the movement, Mr. Aman Nath. Co-founder of the Neemrana hotels, he is not just an architectural restorer; but also an accomplished designer, author, hotelier and a savvy entrepreneur with a midas touch. He is known to bring his trademark excellence to whatever he does – take the case of creating a coffee table book on the Tata Group  which resulted in not just generous praise but also a rare handwritten note of appreciation from Ratan Tata himself.

conference meeting

In a short interview with ZingyHomes team, Aman Nath shares his thoughts on his approach, inspirations and attitude towards life, and a rundown of events that led to birth of Neemrana.

You have been doing a lot of different things. How do you manage to excel at each of those?

If you look carefully, they are all related - architecture, design, writing. It may be because of aesthetics and if you understand the beauty of aesthetics, then everything comes down your that. If I were to design a dress, then I would design a dress and I would be are happy with that. There are no barriers and shouldn’t be. Nowadays, I think it has become fashionable to specialise in something, but you can’t say that I specialise in the left sleeves of the lady’s dress because that is silly. I think that the lines that people draw between one art form, one design form or one aesthetic form are hypothetical. Look at Leonardo Da Vinci; you are talking of the renaissance person. You can re-invite the renaissance when you meet people with no boundaries. Closer home, we have had Rabindranath Tagore who was good in very many things. There are none and there shouldn’t be any barrier. We began to draw lines because people now want to mark their territory and sit on it. It’s like, “I do the left eye so if you have a problem in left eye, I might cure it well.  I specialise in it because of my total concentration on the left eye.

” Everyone says that I am an eye specialist, so when one says that I am a left eye specialist, probably people would trust him more because he concentrates 100% on one thing. It might be a marketing skill or specialization, but that is how it works. I understand and don’t understand that. I think in today’s world we should get an education which spans a holistic view and one should move freely from one “specialisation” to another, then the other and finally enrich the world. Look at Da Vinci. He was an astronomer, astrologer, artist, painter, sculptor and engineer. I am saying this to defend that you said I do so many things. One actually does not. Its all the same.

Again, when I am doing one thing, I do it fully. So when I was an Ad man, I was completely an ad man. This requires concentration. In a normal life, when you are doing one thing do it passionately. Even when asked to cook, I would consider doing that passionately. Though it is very late for me at this stage but I think of learning to cook. In India men are not trained to enter kitchen, there’s always a lady to supervise your house. My mother once asked me “How can you run a hotel when you can’t even run a house?” With this attitude, you would be able to enjoy whatever you are doing. One should not stress themselves unduly with other tasks.

Which is the hat you enjoy putting on the most?

Well it’s the current one of course, but I cannot really say that because I enjoy everything I do. It’s like asking a mother which child you like the most.

When you enjoy doing something, it should not be in the past. You have to live with a hope that you are going to do something spectacular for yourself now. You should not be doing things to impress other people. The bottom line is - You should be comfortable in whatever you are doing in your skin, in your context, in your profession and in your environment.

What about the traveller in you?

It's again the same thing everything being wonderful.
"Meri zindagi ek muzzasil safar hai,
Jo manzil pe pohonche to manzil badha de"

So I cannot sit after being to Sub Antarctic. One can’t say that this is my destination. You do whatever gets in your way. So if you have been to the North Pole, you would be going to the South Pole and various other regions. Someday you would want to go to moon. I think when you are alive you should live every moment of it. You can’t be dead and alive at the same time. To stop movement, to stop action; to stop dreaming is to kill yourself. There is a book that has just come out. I have just contributed a chapter. It’s got lot of things that I believe in and I have also met people who are very good critics of many things and have judged the books I have written and have appreciated it. For instance, there was a French lady who called me up to say that this was the best piece I have read in India. It’s got everything that I feel. Sometimes you are not able to articulate things that you feel and when you get older, you are able to concretize or synergise the ideas and say it. I think some of this has been said in it.

Who and what inspire you and you works?

No matter whatever my upbringing, my education and my exposure was, it comes from within. My inspiration is not from those people who have done underground building. I mean people ask me from where did I get the idea and the answer remains the same that it’s all an urge to create something new, something different. I felt that architects don’t do great things. They build great buildings and then they convert it with glass and the glass catches heat so they air conditioned it. So they say that the building can sustain cold climate and every time we hear the same thing. And when I did an underground building, nobody could believe. It’s quite a mad building and people ask where I got the idea?  The idea came from the stupidity of other people who don’t think. So if you go 22 feet below the ground anywhere in the world, the temperature is the same as it is up here .So it’s such an important thing. So, if you have to live in Siberia, you just dig 22 feet down and you can stay over there as the temperature down under is nearly 22 degrees. And the dig is not that big; the normal houses we live in are about 14 feet high. I think all cold weather places should have underground buildings.

Where is this building located?

It is 50 kms away from Delhi in Sohna on the way to Gurgaon. It’s still under construction.

Although you have been asked this question to death but I would like to hear it once again- how did the idea of restoring the old forts actually came to you? We know you have been a historian. It might be a natural extension. But there are a lot of historians out there who can’t think so far.

I think in my case it’s the combination of many things. My family are refugees, they were from Lahore. We have been cut off from the past culture of ours. I don’t have any village and people used to ask about my native place. I used to say motor car. It was like if you don’t have a Peepal tree or a charpoy or Hookah, and don’t have some rural bearing, some regional thing, then you are nothing. And I was born in Delhi and this is the place I belong to so after this I feel at home. I actually used to feel that I am a homeless refugee but I actually am adaptable to everywhere. So if I go to Orissa, I feel like I belong here. It takes me a minute to adjust at any place. Even if I go abroad, I don’t suffer food or climate. I can feel at home in London or Paris like I said before. And also I mingle with people easily- not a depressive sort. During college days of mine, I was very extrovert. I used to be the flamboyant fellow who used to wear yellow bell bottoms.

I was the first one to bring bell bottoms to college. It required guts during the60s.I did it because it was my desire to do and I had always done what I had wanted to do. And if there were people who were introvert, I used to pull them out from the introversion. My best friend was somebody who used to stand last in the class and I used to come first you know. Also I was always drawn to do something different and not just to queue up in what everyone else is doing. For instance everybody rushes to meet the film star; I don’t end up stalking the crowd. Instead, I wish let the film star approach me when he feels like talking to me. Similarly, when everybody is busy buying a farm because they wanted to make some terrific party, I wouldn’t do it. This is not my scene. My thing came from waste again. I would not like to talk about my history like most Punjabis, who usually never sing praises of the past. They rather believe in living in the present unlike royals who boast about their land and wealth. So this mindset of living in present taught me a lot especially about not wasting anything because when you see less while growing up you tend to preserve more. So when we actually visited this ruined building on that hill, it was a pity to see such a beautiful fort abandoned like that. When Francis and I were writing the book Shekhawat, we saw it and I thought if I will get it I will make a room here like Tughlaqabad’s. It was like if you just make a room there at fort, it would be appreciated because of its creativity and sustainability and that was how Neemrana happened.

You bought it at seven lakhs back in 1980’s.!!

That money is worth 70 crores at present. But I was an Ad man and I knew where I am investing and was sure of purchasing it though my friends criticized me at that time. I should have bought seven of DLF plots at Gurgaon at that time but chose this because of my desire of doing so. My friends tell me that if you had studied architecture you would never had done this because education sometimes teaches us the limits of something.

Most of the projects were handed over to you by the Maharajas, so do they give inputs also of doing it?? How does this works?

Neemrana was bought, so there was no question of doing that. But otherwise also they don’t interfere with the restyling and restoration we do of the palace or the fort. The Peeramal Haveli and others were so happy because Neemrana has got it and something good will happen to their Haveli.

You believe in sustainable projects. How does Neemrana as an organization work for the communities around the projects?

We just do it by heart. We employ the people from that place. Many hoteliers don’t do that but we do. We grow our own vegetables. We provide these local people with seeds to grow broccoli which they don’t eat but can be utilised by us.

What has been your most defining moment?

Post the partition, after my family migrated from what had then become Pakisan, we came to see my uncle in India who lived at the place where American Centre stands today on Kasturba Gandhi Marg. When we arrived here, we had no grandeur, no status, like our Indian relatives as we had left all our belongings back in Pakistan and lived in tents here in India. It soon became apparent that you weren’t trusted and treated well by people unless you had a similar or better standing in the society. And apparently, it was wealth that decided your worth then. Ultimately, my family took charge of themselves and their safety as we were declined any helping hands from our relatives. That, for my father, was a defining moment and somehow passed on to me as my defining moment too- to have that thrust of achieving something in my life and taking charge of it. My father was an all India champion of badminton and my uncle was a runner up in the world cup. They were stars but used to do all their work on their own and were self made. So defining moment was not one, there were many.

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