Ram Vanji Sutar has seen his art evolve with Noida.
It’s been 26 years that the 91-year-old sculptor moved to the city, and he has seen it grow from being just empty tracts of land to its present high-tech avatar.
“To me, Noida is home,” says this resident of Sector 19. “It is like a son I have seen grow up in front of my eyes. When we shifted from Delhi, it just had a few roads and a handful of stores. I remember we used to feel scared to go out at night. And look at it today — it has bustling markets, gigantic malls and facilities on a par with the national capital.”
Ram Vanji Sutar at work in his Sector 63 studio
Sutar has been the hand behind some of the most striking sculptures in India, especially in Uttar Pradesh. His most well-known works in northern India include the 18-ft-high bronze statue of Ram Manohar Lohia in Lucknow, the 12-ft-high bronze statue of Dr Bhim Rao Ambedkar in Delhi and the Dalit Sthal sculptures in Noida.
“Delhi fostered us but Noida fuelled us,” he says. “I am thankful to the Mayawati government for inviting me to work in a city I would eventually fall in love with and call home. As I saw my sculptures take shape, I decided to stay in a city that had given me so much.”
Sutar has made at least 50 monumental sculptures in his 60-year career. In 1999, he was awarded the Padma Shri and, recently, in 2016, he received the Padma Bhushan, the third-highest civilian award in India.
Mahatma Gandhi has been one of the strongest influences on Sutar's works
At 91, he still works eight hours a day and has a new set of goals to keep him going. “I am working on two big projects — the 600-ft-high statue of Sardar Patel, to be named the Statue of Unity and set up on an island in the Narmada river, and a 630-ft sculpture of Shivaji in the middle of the Arabian Sea,” he says.
Talking about his decision to shift to Noida in 1980, he says, “The idea took hold of me when I saw an advertisement in a national newspaper inviting people to apply for residential plots in Noida. I was staying in a rented flat in Lajpat Nagar then and decided to apply. It turned out to be a very lucky lottery draw for me.”
“However,” he adds, “the actual shift took place later, as plots, roads and sectors were still being built in Noida. All one could see were large tracts of agricultural land. It was around 1987 or 1988 that we could start building a house on the plot.”
His son, Anil R Sutar (below right), also a sculptor, still remembers how deserted the roads seemed at night. “There were hardly a handful of families then. It was so secluded, our water pumps used to get stolen often,” he says. “Inter-city connectivity was non-existent and we had to go to our studio in Lakshmi Nagar every day via the Mayur Vihar barrage or Sarita Vihar. Look at how far Noida has come since then.” The father-son duo divides time between their studio in Sector 63 and a foundry in Ghaziabad.
Ram Vanji Sutar (left) with his son Anil R Sutar, also a sculptor
Inside Sutar's studio
Though Ram Sutar loves Noida, there are a few things he feels can still be improved. “It was theft of water motors then, and incidents of chain snatching, robberies and abductions now. The crime rate in Noida has just become worse. The authorities really need to pull up their socks about law and order in the city,” he says.
Anil Sutar, however, has another grouse. “Noida has no monuments of its own,” he says. “It has no cultural heritage — artistic or otherwise — that can be passed down the generations. We had asked a Noida CEO a long time back to allot us a park where we could instal sculptures and works of art for public viewing,” he says. “It would be a one-of-a-kind space in the NCR, but the idea didn’t find favour with the authorities.”
“We helped develop the Anandvan sculpture garden on Suraj Kund-Bhatkal Lake road in Faridabad in 1999. We have displayed many of our sculptures there. The park is open to the public and a cultural hotspot now,” he says.
“Noida should really give the idea a second thought,” he adds. “Despite being a world-class city, it has no cultural draw. Till when will people come here only for affordable housing? Real estate has a shelf life, art doesn’t.”
Sculptures lined up outside his studio
Some of the sculptures made by Sutar at Noida's Dalit Sthal