It’s high time the entire Opposition gets together. Not just voice their disgust at these latest round of ‘silencing’ strategies adopted by the government but also halt destruction & havoc happening all around.
Daily round of dents on the democratic structure! This is the basic sum total of what’s been happening around in the political climate we are trying to survive in. Actually, this is a rather mild way of putting across the blatant mess that’s been made to spread around, with structures, human and otherwise, targeted and attacked and silenced.
Rahul Gandhi’s immense popularity amongst the masses, seems a major cause of concern for the Right-Wing lobbies. Not just the padyatra he’d undertaken to unite us Indians, but the very relevant queries he has been asking the Modi government left the nexuses at work in a hugely tight spot. They have been looking for ways and means to silence him. But Rahul, Gandhi known for his grit and outspokenness, is standing tall. Even in the midst of harsh onslaughts by his political rivals he is speaking out, loud and clear, in that absolutely remarkably courageous way.
It’s about time the entire Opposition stands together. Not just voice their disgust at these latest round of ‘silencing’ strategies adopted by the Right–Wing government but also halt the destruction and havoc happening all around.
Not to overlook the fact that in these recent years, there has been targeting of various communities. One by one. The Muslims, Christians, Dalits, Sikhs…Not to overlook the Tribal and the Backward and the other disadvantaged groups. Many more in the firing range: students and scholars and researchers, the NGOs, the liberals and artists who dare to question and take on!
Today, the levels of stress and worry and apprehensions are rising …spreading out. Writ large on the faces and in the eyes of the young and old.
Perhaps, Faiz Ahmed Faiz’s this particular verse, relays much of his agony, for his times and for our times:
“This moment is to mourn the death of time/
The river of the sky has paused/
And near the banks of horizon/
The moon-ferry of the gloomy hues has anchored/
All the ferry men, all the stars/
On the shore of the earth/
The leaves are gasping for breath/
The winds are dozing off/
The gong has issued the order of silence/
Then all voices lost in quietness…”
Satish Gujral – One remembers this great artist on his death anniversary. He passed away, at 94, on 26 March 2020.
I’m filing this column on 26 March and with that, keen to focus on this extraordinary artist.
I had been meeting Satish and his wife, Kiran, for the last so many years. The first time was in the early 80s when I had visited his home in New Delhi’s Lajpat Nagar. I hadn’t ever seen a more beautifully done-up home. That was the time I had to interview him for a magazine and was so distracted with the entire scenario — the picture-perfect home, his beautiful wife and his warmth. He carried a tremendous personality. This, when he was stone deaf. And it’s only through his wife Kiran that one could actually communicate with him. But once he would start talking, his bright sharp eyes would take over, relaying a whole array of emotions and expressions. That connection and bond would establish.
He came across as emotional, warm and forthright. If one were to read his autobiography A Brush With Life, it gets writ large that he didn’t shy away from putting in details of the struggles and the challenges he faced. And no bypassing of any of the personal upheavals and the differences that erupted between him and several important personalities such as — Indira Gandhi and MF Husain.
Even during the interviews with me, he would speak in that whole-hearted way, commenting on a whole range of aspects to his life and his passion — art and architecture…I would rather call those interviews as conversations with him, along the informal, relaxed strain.
I recall asking him that how he coped with the low depressing phases in his life, not to overlook the fact that he was grievously wounded as a child, whilst swimming in the Lidder ( river Lidder runs through Pahalgam in Kashmir) and that resulted in high fever and infections and hearing loss.
“Yes, tough phases, especially in view of the fact that in our country a physical problem or a visible handicap is sneered at and nobody spares you. Why just take my case alone—hasn’t Surdas always been referred to as a blind poet or Taimur mentioned as lame? There are also sayings like andhe ko andha kaho aur phir uska gussa saho (call a blind a blind and then see him get all angry). It’s always the weak people who sneer at weaker people. Yes, I was sneered at and that left me hurt and bruised. At times I was so hurt that I couldn’t even sleep at night. After we shifted from Jhelum to Lahore, I was called ‘Bola’ ( deaf ) by kids in the new school. For a while I didn’t even realise I was called Bola. One day I was looking at the attendance register and I saw the word Bola. I asked another boy who was this boy named Bola. He told me that since I was deaf, I was called so. This remark came as a shock. But, that was not just one incident. Wherever my father took me for admission to a school or college, there were some hurdles but my father never took ‘no ‘for an answer. Even in the arts college in Lahore and later the JJ School of Arts in Mumbai, my hearing problem came in the way at the admission time….In Lahore, my father had met the then chief minister Sir Sikander Hayat, who made sure I attended the arts classes on an informal basis. Later, in 1948, I got a job as a graphic artist in the Department of Public Relations of the Punjab Government, but I was kicked off after a while because I was told I was deaf… I realised that the only way to survive was through self-employment. I went to my father’s home in Jalandhar, where the family had settled down, and took to painting.”
Satish told me about the several instances when he didn’t even have a rupee on him. “Went through phases of stress and financially very tight times. But I feel that stress provokes creativity. Also, the fact that when I was actually going through those tough times I didn’t really feel they were difficult. At times I didn’t even have a single rupee. Once I didn’t have money to even reach home from the railway station and my brother Inder had to come and fetch me… What kept me going was the belief that never ever give up …I have always worked, no matter what happened. Maybe I changed the medium—like from painting to drawing architectural designs but never ever gave up! …I do not like the word despair. I’d say instead there could be an overwhelming doubt in my being but, then, my life has been a continuous process to eliminate the very stillness and to build confidence…this is what I have been portraying right from what I’d witnessed during the Partition.”
Yes, he didn’t ever give up. And that turning point did come in his life —his going to Mexico for studies on a scholarship. “Yes, call it a turning point, although I had zero chances…even my knowledge of English was minimum but nevertheless I did go for the interview. Someone had advised me that whilst answering questions I should look straight at the Mexican cultural attaché who was said to be part of the selection panel. But how was I to spot him among the Indians who had a similar complexion. I was told that Mexicans had Mongoloid features. So holding one canvas each, my brother Inder (Inder Gujral) and I walked to the appointed room and once the interview proceeded, I kept looking straight towards one particular gentleman who had those slanted eyes and high cheekbones. I was sure that he was the attaché. Later, I was told that that diplomat hadn’t turned up at all and the man I was gazing at was the Joint Secretary, Education, MG Saiyadain…Totally disappointed, I left for Jalandhar the same night, sure that nothing would come by for my case was hopeless. But, then came another turn of events. An architect friend Ted Bower had been in love with an Indian writer, Shantha Rama Rau, and though she lived in the US, she had come down to Delhi and knew that particular Mexican diplomat who turned out to be none other than Octavio Paz. He recommended my name for that scholarship.”
Perhaps, another of those turning points was his marriage to Kiran. I have always seen them happily together! Satish told me that the three times they were away from each other for a few days was when she was admitted in the maternity clinics to deliver their three kids! He’d added that for a marriage to survive along the happy format, the couple should have a common interest or focus in life. “Both of us have the same interests. Kiran is not just a trained artist but also my best critic. So we always have something to discuss and argue over.”
And yes, he was prudent enough to keep away from his female friends, “After my marriage with Kiran, I didn’t let any friendship develop into an affair. Yes, I was tempted but what actually prevented me from furthering any friendship is the fact that I am no fool to lose Kiran.”
Commenting on the fact that he was drawn to the Left ideology he explained– “Today I call myself a Leftist but not a communist. Why? Because in those early days when I was drawn to the communist party and later travelled on scholarship to Mexico and then to New York and intermingled with several communists, I was left disillusioned. In Mexico, I met many Russian artists who told me what had been happening in Russia and it opened my eyes. Today I call myself a Leftist and not a communist.”
And when I had nudged him to comment on the political scene in the country he sounded very disillusioned with the political parties and with the general prevailing scenario in the country. “What’s happening around shows a lack of tolerance in the society. Economic development does not mean it will translate into spiritual development… economic development could also produce greater intolerance. After all, the US is the richest country, but see what they are doing in America and Afghanistan or to their own coloured people. Economic growth does not mean tolerance… I think the only solution to combat this intolerance is not economic growth but education. It is only through education that you know about different people and there’s less ignorance about the other. It is actually ignorance about the other that creates misunderstandings.”
He spoke about the Partition and with that about his birth place in Pakistan. Whilst commenting on the Partition there wasn’t any bitterness nor anger. Only sadness and a whole range of connected emotions, “I’d stayed back with my father in Pakistan (after the Partition) for some months and what disasters I saw. Usually it would take just about three hours to reach Jhelum from Lahore but those days it would take 10 hours or even longer because of the killings going on and here let me also say that it’s the outsiders who came and killed and not the locals. Our own family in Jhelum was protected from the Afghan raiders by Raja Ghazanfar Ali.”
Satish didn’t mince words that he was emotionally connected to Pakistan. In fact, when he travelled to Lahore in 1986 — the very first time after the Partition — he was so emotionally overwhelmed that he suffered a heart attack and had to be admitted to a hospital for a week. Thereafter he travelled just once more to Lahore, with the former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. He said he has an emotional link with Lahore…he has several close friends there. Recounting a touching incident, Gujral said, “When I suffered that heart attack in a hotel in Lahore, Kiran didn’t know what to do, where to take me. She called up one of our lawyer friends Etajaz Hussain and told him about my condition. He was appearing in the court, arguing a case but in the middle of an argument he apologised to the judge and rushed to take me to the hospital. Tell me who will do that.”
He was hopeful that the strained relations with Pakistan could ease at some stage. Why that lingering hope? “What makes me hopeful is that there’s a growing feeling in Pakistan’s younger generation that there should be no baggage of the past and both countries could benefit on the economic front by joint collaboration. The fact that there’s great disillusionment in Pakistan vis-a-vis the army, it is surprising how warmly the people of the two countries meet, especially when they are meeting abroad. Because they share the same heritage, the same roots.”
Yet, it was surprising that he had not taken any of his solo shows to Pakistan! Why? To that he’d simply smiled in that boyish childlike way and then said with an abundance of emotions writ large on his face, that he would be happy, very happy doing so in the near future. Perhaps, that moment never came.