Asleep in perfect blue buildings…
– Counting Crows
It was one of those serendipitous discoveries. I was riding in an Ola to the Ganges (now that’s a sentence you won’t read very often!) in the city of Allahabad. It was a warm, sunny day and I sat in the back seat of the car watching the wide, banyan tree-lined streets pass by outside when I saw the blue dome.
I asked the driver what the building was but I mis-heard his reply and assumed that it was a mosque. The brief glimpse I had seen as we sped past was of a tall sandstone minaret beside a collonaded building surmounted by a dome of delicate cerulean blue. It reminded me of the exquisite mosques my wife and I had seen in the Iranian city of Isfahan in 1994.
I went down to the Ganges and spent several hours there then returned to the part of the city where the University of Allahabad is located. I’d discovered that the building I had seen was not, in fact, a mosque but was actually the university’s Science Faculty. I made a few enquiries and eventually found my way, via shady, tree-lined streets where vendors sold textbooks from open-air stalls, to the blue dome.
Completed in 1877, the Science Faculty building was designed by the British architect William Emerson, a pioneer of the Indo-Saracenic style of architecture which was developed in India during the 19th and early 20th centuries. (Emerson would go on to design the Victoria Memorial in Kolkata.)
With its domes, cupolas, arches and columns, the Indo-Saracenic style echoes the classic features of Mughal, Rajasthani and Maratha architecture. As I wandered the collonaded verandahs, where groups of students were gathered to talk, I caught glimpses of the dome framed by arches and recessed windows. The tiles shone in the afternoon sun and flights of birds flipped around the minaret.
Out on the playing field, a group of young men were playing cricket. There was a chai stall beneath a spreading banyan tree on the south side of the building so I bought a cup (10 Rupees and served in a delicate clay cup) and stood looking up at that perfect blue building.