Bob Nadkarni: 1943-2023
by Gabe Ponce de Leon
The first time I walked through its doors, back in 2005, the Maze was just a family home. Its main claim to fame, at that point, was having been featured in the Snoop Dog video “Beautiful.” But I was completely blown away by the setup: The idiosyncratic design of the house had been integrated into the tropical metropolis in an ingenious fashion that paid tribute to its finest view.
Likewise, I immediately gravitated to Bob, who was like the mad scientist behind the enterprise, an English painter who’d found a corner of the world that spoke to his soul—and built his dream house there.
Bob told me that the view never got old, it was always different. He told me that sky was not blue, the clouds were not white, and that I should never drink water. When making a caipirinha, he taught me to choose limes with smooth skin.
The Maze was the second act of his already storied life: Bob had designed sculptures for the director Stanley Kubrick on the set of “2001: A Space Odyssey,” traveled the world as a BBC and war correspondent, but he saw the writing on the wall: His days as a filmmaker were ending and, with two young children to care for, he needed to somehow commercialize his artistic creation.
When I returned to Tavares Bastos the following year two German brothers, both musicians, had moved into the Maze. The jazz night got started organically, a few friends gathering, playing music together, word of mouth. Nobody back then imagined it would turn into a cultural institution, but at the height of its run the event would draw several hundred visitors. “Life must be fun!” Bob used to say, and after the band had packed up and the crowd gone home we’d sometimes carry on. With the first glow of day the sky over the bay looked Martian. Planes would begin looping around Sugar Loaf on their descent to Santos Dumont. On still afternoons the bay appeared like a solid, glistening mass from above. Lazy Sundays the water filled up with boats, the city was an inferno those summer days, always a good excuse to muddle a caipirinha. We’d throw on a sunny tune, idle away the hours until the last of the sunlight was fading from Niteroi’s shoreline. At night the buildings across the bay would twinkle. I could read Bob’s mind with music. We would sit for spaces of time without speaking. A melancholy phrase went down easy with a drop of Scotch.
Bob was always looking to the other side. He wanted his body to be fed to the sharks after his death. He worried about the future, his family, what would happen to the Maze. Sharing a roof with him was as much an education in living maximally, unbound by formulae, as it was a reality check. The world will conspire against your dreams if you let it.
For a man so easily distracted Bob accomplished a tremendous amount in his life. He couldn’t help himself whenever a visitor, whether an old friend or new acquaintance, turned up at his door. He’d launch into a story or joke, in an impromptu manner hold forth for hours. A throwback to bygone days, he was always center stage. Every punchline was perfectly weighted. He could pick up an instrument up for the first time and coax some melody out of it. He could also carry a tune with his voice, compose lyrics or limericks in a snap, a natural wordsmith and humorist.
Looking at the totality of the man there’s no question he was a great artist.