Ashok Kumar's untimely demise was not just a spinal shock for me. It was in some ways a personal loss . I had lost a dear friend , my schoolmate and a great client.
Ashok kumar passed away in a tragic car accident while traveling from Bangalore to Ooty last August (2005). I couldn't attend his last rites as I was stuck in Kabul and last week when I passed by Xpress, I had a very heavy feeling in my heart.
I had a chance to know him from very close quarters when i did the interiors of his photo color lab- XPRESS.
That was the first instance when a 'client' completely respected my creative decisions and was ready to spend for it too. I remember Mariappan (our school buddy)saying "now that the two 'Ashoks' who are the best in their business are coming together... I can’t wait to see the finished product"
and the finished product turned out to be the talk of the town! In fact the interior project was even published in JIIA, the journal of the Indian Institute of Architects.
and it owes everything to Ashok's shrewd business acumen.
Ashok wanted the Best in everything. No compromises. Maybe that’s why he chose me as his architect...not becoz i was his schoolmate . In the design process, there were instances when I was hesitant whether he would accept certain expenditure for the sake of aesthetics. But he always replied " If YOU really think its worth and important go ahead...don’t worry about the money!" That was a revolutionary business attitude for Madurai .I felt like the luckiest architect in Madurai at that time.Even before the interior work started, he had finalized the opening day for the project. He had even printed invitations and invited the chief guest PTR...so I had to work day and night for 70 days..But I enjoyed every second.
The Lab was located just opposite to the famous Amma mess in Goripalayam.
We used to eat at the Amma mess at day and nearby Kumar mess at night almost everyday. I was so engrossed in this work (i sometimes used to go home at 1.00 O ‘clock mid night) that I almost got fired by my wife.
Ashok was the guy every Architect would dream to have as a client. Here are some reasons 'why?'-
· General convention in Photo color labs was to hide the working (machines) room away from the customers. But when I mooted the idea of having a transparent machine room forming the main focus of the interior, Ashok was more that happy to accept the concept.He had imported the latest machinery worth 50 lakhs and was proud and exited to display it too. I came up with a very expensive idea (something new for this part of the world) of bending a single piece of 6mm glass of size 4’ x 8’ and the result proved that every paise spent was worth it.
· My first design for the false ceiling was very conventional keeping in mind the timelines. Ashok saw it and was upset...He straight away rejected it, saying "this is not what I expected from you"....I changed it at once. With the kind of technology and labor in Madurai, the result was something we both were proud of. I got the false ceiling guys really crazy with that design.
I wanted a particular shade of red laminate that was not in stock in the market. Shops said they can arrange it in a week..but Ashok was in a big hurry to finish the work as he had already announced the opening date.He asked me if he can buy the next closest option. I was not happy but said “as u wish” and left the shop.But later I found that he did not give order and informed me that if I feel so strongly about the color shade, he will wait 7 days! What a guy I thought!
When I started using flashy orange and yellow in the interiors, everybody including his family, friends and clients discouraged it , almost comparing it to ramarajan's dress code. Anybody else in that position would have begged me to change the style but Ashok said "go ahead, I am happy that it’s already attracting opinions. Thats what I want-People talking about my place!"
Its still impossible for me to accept the fact that he is no more.Iam in some ways glad that I was not in madurai at the tragic time.
It’s not just a loss to his family and friends.Its truly a big loss to MADURAI CITY .
During my vacation in India last May, I had visited him. He said that the business was overwhelming and this kind of rush was something even he didn’t expect. He informed me that he is planning to start a chain of Xpress labs and is already looking at rental spaces in different spots in the city and neighboring districts.
That’s the last conversation I had with him.
This is not what I expected from you Ashok.
click 'Xpress Digital Lab' for more pic.s