One corner of the open railway yard at Alambagh resembles a foundry. Strewn with pieces of scrap metal of different sizes and shapes, one can hear sounds of metal being hammered, sawed and cut and the intermittent crackle of the welding torch.
But peep in, and you soon realise you are in a roofless studio where sculptures are being crafted from waste metal. In one corner you see an incomplete sculpture of Lord Buddha, and next to it, quite unexpectedly, a model of a fighter jet. Close to it, you can see artists giving final touches to a metallic dragon fly that measures some 10 feet from head to tail. A couple of metres away is an unattended giant steel pinwheel, some 10 feet in diameter.
“These sculptures will soon adorn 100 odd road intersections of Lucknow,” said Mukesh Verma, who is supervising the crafting of the artworks. About 10 sculptors are currently working under him. Verma, 39, has a Master’s degree in Fine Arts from the Lucknow University and is an employee of the Lucknow Development Authority (LDA). His specialisation is creating sculptures from scrap and waste.
In order to beautify Lucknow under the Smart City Mission launched three years ago, the Lucknow district administration decided to install these sculptures made from scrap metal, the idea being the brainchild of Mukesh Meshram, Divisional Commissioner, Lucknow. Verma said Meshram learnt about his specialisation during his earlier stint in Lucknow some 10 years back. “He asked me to make sculpture from waste,” added Verma, who is the nodal officer of all works of art under the Smart City Mission. “Beautifying 100 intersections means we will be covering almost entire Lucknow. We started working two months ago and it will take at least two years to complete the project.”
“Beautification of cities is a part of the Smart City Mission,” said Meshram. “Murals are being painted on the facades of government buildings. We decided to try something new and decided on artwork from scrap at road intersections. With these sculptures, we will be adding beauty to street intersections which are generally drab in any Indian city. You either see just a traffic light or a circular garden with a fence, occasionally a fountain. But a sculpture of a peacock at the Polytechnic Intersection here will be remembered by people.”
Verma’s first challenge was to find a steady source of scrap metal. He realised that Indian Railways produced and sold a lot of scrap. “Railways uses the best quality steel, for tracks or making locomotives and cars. Anything we make from railway scrap will last for years. Parts of dismantled locomotives and coaches are easily available and in large quantities,” said Verma.
Verma and his team do not pre-plan any sculpture. What they design depends on the kind of scrap metal they get from the Railways. “We got some cylinders that were part of a locomotive braking system. We welded those together to make a model of a fighter jet.” It took Verma and his team a fortnight to complete the sculpture.
A peacock (above) was made using the handrails of railway cars. The bird’s beak was from a broken pointed end of a pickaxe. Dragon flies were made using the arms and springs of what were once pantographs, an X-shaped metallic structure bent at the middle fixed on the roof of an electric locomotive through which an electric locomotive draws electricity from the overhead power cables. The sculptors received thousands of washers as scrap which they welded together to make a hollow statue of the Buddha sitting crossed legged in meditation. “We will definitely plan something with yoga and the Ganga as themes,” Verma added.
The sculptors working on the project are either artists or students of fine arts and from different places like Azamgarh and Delhi. Most of them are working to gain experience as an artist. “Stipends have not been decided yet but they will get paid,” said Verma. Raghuvar Dayal Pal, 22, is one of the sculptors, a native of Lucknow and a final year student of Fine Arts at Lucknow University. “People of the Pal community are generally artists and I want to make a name for myself as an artist,” said Pal. Working alongside him is Vikas Singh, 26, also a native of Lucknow and a Master in Fine Arts. “I am working here to gain experience,” he said.
Verma, who is much inspired by Chandigarh’s rock garden, said 95 sculptures still need to be conceived and completed. “At present, we are using scrap steel, but in the future, we may start using domestic waste like broken pieces of crockery, washbasins, mirror or bangles to fashion our sculpture as was done in the Rock Garden.”
As Verma gets on with his sculptures, curiosity mounts among residents over what is being planned for the city’s most important intersection at Hazratganj, located at the city centre. “The Hazratgunj intersection is always busy as it connects Lucknow to cities like Kanpur, Gorakhpur and Faizabad,” said deputy commissioner Meshram. “Putting any sculpture here will mean obstructing the heavy flow of traffic. But we will see what can be done to beautify this intersection.”
The Lucknow district administration has formed a committee of artists and government officials that will decide the installation of the sculptures. “The day we have a few more sculptures ready, we will start placing them at intersections,” said Meshram. “We have to consider things like their size and shape, how much space they will occupy. We can’t place anything too big at an intersection that is small and congested,” said Meshram.
Lucknow has expanded over the years and is now clearly demarcated as old and new. “We will cover intersections in the old city like Aishbagh, Qaiserbagh, Sikanderbagh and in the new as well, at Polytechnic and Katauta.” Beautification of the city is a part of the Smart City Mission. Better infrastructure and cleanliness are other key areas under the project. The second phase of the mission, focusing on these areas, is underway at present for which Rs 1500 crore has been allocated.
The plans have been welcomed by citizens. “I have seen the Rock Garden in Chandigarh and I am pleased that Lucknow will have similar artwork in public places,” said Shobhna Dwivedi, a homemaker and resident of Lucknow for 40 years. Art students too are enthused, who visit the sculpture studio to get some hands-on experience. “I visit the place whenever I can,” said Anmol Shukla, a final year student of Fine Arts at Lucknow University. “I will be happy if I am inducted in the team as a sculptor”.