The Indian architectural fraternity owes much to the architect-turned-politician Piloo Mody, who spearheaded the passing of an important Bill in the Parliament that enabled the Architects Act of 1972. The Act provides for the registration of architects and overlooks their roles and responsibilities. Besides, it streamlines architecture education to produce excellent and responsible architects. The status of the profession of architecture in India today is all due to the foresightedness of visionary architect and politician Piloo Mody. On behalf of all architects, the author pays rich tribute to Piloo Mody on his 97th birth anniversary, which falls on 14 November 2023.
Piloo Mody (14 November 1926 – 29 January 1983) was elected to the 4th and 5th Lok Sabha and served in the Rajya Sabha from 1978 until he died in 1983. An advocate of liberalism and freedom, Piloo Mody was a founding member and Executive Vice-President of the Swatantra Party. He also served as Vice-President of the Indian Institute of Architects and Member of the Board of Governors, School of Planning and Architecture, New Delhi, and Committee of the All-India Board of Technical Education on Architecture and Regional Planning.
Born in an affluent Parsi family, Piloo Mody studied at the Doon School, Dehradun. After that, he studied architecture at Sir J.J. College of Architecture, Bombay (now Mumbai), and completed his Bachelor of Architecture. For a master’s degree in architecture, Mody attended the University of California, Berkeley, USA. After completing his studies, he married Lavina Colgan, a Swiss-born-American and his classmate at Berkeley, on 3 January 1953.
After his stint in the USA, Piloo Mody returned to India and worked on the Capital Project of Chandigarh for two years. Then Mody and his wife Lavina Colgan established their architectural practice under the name ‘Mody and Colgan’ with headquarters at Stadium House, Veer Nariman Road, Churchgate, Bombay (Mumbai). The husband-wife duo of Piloo Mody and Lavina Colgan designed several outstanding buildings and complexes in the 1950s and 1960s.
Some of their prominent projects include the headquarters of Engineering Construction Corporation at Chennai, residential apartments for senior officials of TISCO, another residential complex, Olympus, three office buildings for TELCO, Headquarters of Bharat Bijlee, Mukand Iron and Steel, Sandoz, Voltas’ Diners Club and Business Service Centres. Another significant building that Piloo Mody designed in collaboration with Durga Bajpai is the Oberoi Hotel in New Delhi. The design of this hotel, with well-integrated services and the structure of precast concrete beams, slabs, louvers, and balcony railings, was in sync with the international style of architecture. Of these, the Headquarters of Engineering Construction Corporation was conferred with the Fédération Internationale de la Précontrainte award for excellence in pre-stressed concrete.
A thorough perusal of Piloo Mody’s architectural works reveals that he was ahead of his time, very meticulous, practical, curious, and always eager to use innovative technology.
HUMOUR IN THE PARLIAMENT
Besides his professional pursuits, Piloo Mody was known for his constant use of wit and humor in his parliamentary speeches. Due to his conservative and pro-American views, Mody was often accused by the members of the ruling Congress Party of being a “Washington parrot.” To counter that, once he came to the House wearing a placard reading “I am a CIA agent.” The Chairman ordered him to remove it. He did so, remarking, “I am no longer a CIA agent.”
Once, during a debate, JC Jain, a member of the ruling party, started needling Piloo Mody. He lost his temper and shouted at Jain, “Stop Barking.” Jain was up, yelling and pleading with the Chair, “Sir, he is calling me a dog. It is unparliamentary language.” Chairman Hidayatullah agreed and ordered, “This will not go on record.” Not to be outdone, Piloo Mody corrected himself by saying, “All right then, stop braying.” Jain did not know what the word implied, and it stayed on record.
On another occasion, Piloo Mody, while listening to a speech by a minister in the Parliament, felt outraged at some point. A plump and heavy man, Mody stood up and showed his back to the minister. That was his way of insulting the minister. When the minister complained to the speaker, he asked Mody if, indeed, he had shown his back to the minister and thereby insulted the House. Mody stood up again and told the speaker to look at him before telling him, “Mr. Speaker, Sir, I have no front, no back, no flanks. I am round all over. So how could I have shown my back to the minister?” The House exploded in loud laughter, and the matter died down.
When Piloo Mody expressed dissatisfaction over the reported export of 15,000 tons of sugar, the minister Rao Birender Singh replied, “The quantity of 15,000 tons, Mr. Mody, compared to your size, is very small.” Piloo Mody humorously replied, “Several things compared to my size are very small, including you.”
Once, a minister, while replying to a hot argument, said, “I am not supposed to respond to every barking dog.” Then Piloo Mody rose to speak and said,” Speaker, Sir, on the Treasury benches, we have great people sitting, pillars of the government, pillars of democracy. And, we are dogs, and everyone knows how a dog treats a pillar.” The House busted in laughter.
When Giani Zail Singh, as Home Minister, was piloting a bill in the Rajya Sabha, Piloo Mody, a member of the House, participated in the debate. While replying to the debate, Gianiji, referring to Piloo Mody’s comments on the Bill, stated in Hindi, “Piloo Mody to bade seasonal member hain.” The whole House started laughing. Another minister, sitting next to Gianiji, whispered to him to say that the word is “seasoned.” Thereupon Gianiji again said, ”Mujhe to angrezi thodi aati hai. Inko to inki biwi ne anrezi padhai hai.” Piloo Mody thumped his desk and raised a point of order. The whole House was looking at Piloo Mody. The Deputy Chairman asked, “What is your point of order?” Piloo Mody stated, “Gianiji is grossly misinformed. My wife did not teach me English. I taught her English.” The whole House busted into laughter again. Piloo Mody’s wife was a Swiss.
Similarly, once, there was a debate in Parliament about the import of railway tracks and wagons for quick replacement. Indradeep Sinha – an opposition member, believed these should be manufactured locally instead of importing because it caused delays. Piloo Mody interrupted to say that the delay was caused not by importing it but by manufacturing it. Sinha replied to Piloo Mody, “You are not the sole importing agent. There are so many others.” The Chairman corrected Sinha, “No, he is not an importing agent. He is an exporting agent.” Piloo Mody added, “I export ideas on a barren market.”
When Shyam Lal Yadav was elected as the Deputy Chairman of Rajya Sabha, members of various political parties in the House started extending their congratulations to him. Piloo Mody congratulated and warned the newly appointed Deputy Chairman, “I beg to move a vote of congratulations to my friend, Shri Shyam Lal Yadav. I have no doubt in my mind that my good friend will continue to be as partisan as he was in the past. I want to assure my friend, neighbor, and colleague that I wish him very happy times in the Chair with the least amount of acrimony and warn him that if he does not behave when he returns to this Chair, I will sit on him.” The Deputy Chairman, when not presiding, sits next to the Leader of the Opposition.
Pillo Mody’s sense of humor was not only in his speeches but in his writings too. He was known to address Indira Gandhi as IG in his letters and sign off as PM (Piloo Mody). He often told Indira Gandhi, ”I am permanent PM; you are temporary.”
Apart from being a humorous parliamentarian and brilliant architect, Piloo Mody was a renowned author, having two books to his credit. His first book, “ZULFI, MY FRIEND” (1973), was penned on the life and times of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, his close friend and classmate, who became Prime Minister of Pakistan in the 1970s. Mody’s second book was, “Democracy Means BREAD AND FREEDOM” (1979), which he wrote during his 16 months in jail during the infamous Emergency period in 1975. The book was an attempt to trace the genesis of democracy and search for the origins of the attitudes and institutions that sustain it. Piloo Mody also served as editor of an English weekly, “March of the Nation,” published from Bombay, and wrote numerous articles for the national and international newspapers and magazines. Mody’s legacy is commemorated by the Piloo Mody College of Architecture in Cuttack, Odisha, and FIDE’s Piloo Mody Memorial Open Chess Tournament, named in his honor.
Long live the memories of Piloo Mody!
Sarbjit Bahga (b1957) is a Chandigarh-based architect, author, photo artist, and archivist. He is the Principal Architect of Bahga Design Studio LLP. Earlier, Bahga worked in the Department of Architecture, Punjab, Punjab Health Systems Corporation, and Punjab Mandi Board in various positions.
He has more than 42 years of practical experience designing various types of buildings, complexes, and large campuses. His completed works include an eclectic range of administrative, recreational, educational, medical, residential, commercial, and agricultural buildings. A monograph on his selected works titled “MODERN REGIONALISM: The Architecture of Sarbjit Bahga” has been published.
Bahga is also a keen researcher and a prolific architectural writer. He has 12 books to his credit, which include Modern Architecture in India, New Indian Homes, Le Corbusier, and Pierre Jeanneret: The Indian Architecture, Trees in Urban Habitat, Landscaping Human Habitat, New Indian Architecture -1947-2020, and Hand-Drawn Perspectives and Sketches. Bahga’s contribution to architecture has been largely recognized. He is a three-time recipient of the World Architecture Community Awards. His name has been featured in the Guinness Book of World Records for designing the “longest covered concrete corridor” in Vidya Sagar Institute of Mental Health, Amritsar.