Remembrance: The man behind the masterpiece

Published Mar 22, 2009 12:00am

Minar-i-Pakistan, is built at the Iqbal Park Lahore where the famous Pakistan resolution was passed on March 23, 1940 demanding the creation of Pakistan. 

  The architect and engineer of this symbolic national emblem, Nasreddin Murat-Khan, was a Pakistani of Russian descent. Having obtained degrees in architecture, civil engineering and town planning from the University of Leningrad (now known as St. Petersburg) in 1930, Nasreddin held a variety of posts in his hometown, Daghestan, and in Leningrad. He was arrested during the “Engineers' Purges” undertaken by Stalin, but was re-instated in February 1940 as Chief Engineer & Chief Architect of the Pijatigorsk branch of the North Caucasian Project Trust. He later served as Chief Engineer and Director of the North Caucasian Project Trust in Woroschilowsk, Ukraine, till August 1942.

Deeply involved in a movement to free the Caucasus from the USSR, Nasreddin Murat-Khan was forced to flee Daghestan (now one of the Central Independent States; then a part of the USSR), for fear of life. Escaping with the retreating German army some time in 1943 or early 1944, he landed in Berlin in 1944 and became another number in the refugee camps run by United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA). It was here that chance brought him to his future wife — Hamida Akmut, a Turkish-national refugee who worked as a nurse having completed three years' training at the University of Vienna. Had he not died in 1970, they would have completed their 25th wedding anniversary a year later.

He and his family became a “displaced family” in Munich which was then the UNRRA base camp for Americans. Hamida herself was a multi-cultural person, who had a Pakistani father and an Austrian-Hungarian mother — yet of Turkish nationality. Her father, Dr Abdul Hafiz Malwada, completed his doctorate in chemical engineering from the University of Leipzig, Germany. He met his future wife, Anna Maria Nimmerrichter at a factory in Blumau and married in 1917. During the late 1920s, he moved to Turkey. Returning to Pakistan in 1947, he helped set up the Wah Ordinance Factory.

Nasreddin and his family came to Pakistan in 1950 and proceeded to Lahore. Initially, he worked as an MES Garrison Engineer as well as at Wah Ordinance Factory. He returned to Lahore thereafter, where he joined the Pakistan Works Department (PWD) as a Class 1 officer (Special Architect). He then became the Consulting Architect to the PWD from 1953-1958. In 1959, he decided to set up his own independent business in the annexe of his house under the name of Illeri Murat Khan & Associates. The list of works completed by him is voluminous and scattered in all the corners of Pakistan.

A man with a great sense of humour and a temper which would suddenly flair and then dissipate equally quickly, Nasreddin was committed to whatever projects he undertook with all his heart. He worked hard and was demanding of himself as well as the many employees he trained — yet he always gave time to his family at the end of the day. And while his children stood in awe and sometimes fear, they tagged along to numerous sites, climbed over construction material, and attempted to “improve or complete” his drawings in the office. Unlike times today, drawings were hand-drawn on tracing paper.

The concept of building a monument to commemorate the birth of Pakistan in Minto Park where Pakistan resolution was passed was entrusted to him by Field Marshal Ayub Khan. He took this as an honour, since he considered Pakistan as his adopted country. It took a year in which three different models were prepared of which one was finally selected, with two small modifications. The tower was not to end in a single point, but in a dome. The other modification, elimination of an exhibit hall in the basement, arose because of the paucity of funds. To help raise funds, a surcharge of 10 Paisas was imposed on cinema tickets which was donated towards building the monument.
 
During the eight years while Minar-i-Pakistan was being constructed, Nasreddin frequently visited the site to inspect building material, construction quality, and otherwise ensure that any unforeseen snag would not become an obstacle. Every detail and calculation — architectural and engineering — from the mosaic floors at the base to the stone details for each podium level, was thought out by him. It was his baby from the start to finish — and a contribution which he never charged for including the time spent by his office staff in preparing the drawings.
Lamentably, this perhaps is the last known fact to many, which became a source of pain to his family when he died of heart attack in October, 1970.

Though others have claimed that they prepared the design, none of his aides had the experience or technical knowledge he had amassed from his degrees and work experience in the former USSR, Germany and Pakistan.
It is never too late to set the record right. Just a few months before the Minar-i-Pakistan was opened to the public, Nasreddin Murat-Khan resigned from the Committee over a disagreement with the then Commissioner, although he had served on it for almost a decade. He spent almost three lacs rupees on the project (in terms of his own time during designing and construction phases as well as the time of his office assistants) from his personal fund. The Tamgha-i-Imtiaz conferred on him by President Ayub Khan in 1963 was long before the Minar-i-Pakistan was completed.

It is a source of grief that in the ensuing 28 years after his death, and despite appeals, his contribution has not been publicly acknowledged in a place where the average visitor can see — at the Minar-i-Pakistan by its base when one first steps onto the first podium. Sadly, his massive contribution has yet not been stamped there so that every visitor can read it, nor did his widow get any help from the successive governments. For this is not only Pakistan's history, but a personal history deeply entwined with it.

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