118 years of Trust This above all
THE TRIBUNEsaturday plus
Saturday, November 14, 1998

Regional Vignettes



Clinton, Monica on canvas

THERE is nothing that the world does not know about President Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky.Seeing him give evidence on the TV screen and maintain that he had no sex with Monica only proved what a good actor he is: he looked so innocent as if batter would not melt in his mouth. He repeated time and again that what he had done with the girl did not amount to sexual intercourse.It may not have been intercourse, as we understand it, but sex it most certainly was. While the world media regaled us with salacious details of the President’s involvement with Monica Lewinsky, it took an Indian artist to depict the relationship in all its salacious detail on canvas.

Mohsin Shaikh, his wife Qamar and their eight-year-old son Sufiyan came all the way fromAhmedabad to Delhi to put up an exhibition. One art gallery after another refused to honour their prior commitment to display his paintings.A very crestfallen family returned home to Ahmedabad. But the Shaikhs did not give up. A week later they drove back to Delhi, with 11 large Clinton-Lewinsky paintings. They managed to book Image India Art Gallery in a basement in Hauz Khas village. They did not have enough time to send invitation cards nor put in ads in the papers. However, word had got round and when the exhibition opened, the small hall was packed with art lovers, TV cameramen and press photographers. Next morning papers had very laudable reviews of Mohsin Shaikh’s work.

Shaikh depicts topics of contemporary unrest with rare sensitivity in vivid, loving colours. All his paintings show Clinton and Lewinsky in the nude. They are shown together with the White House as the backdrop.A jagged line like that of an electro-cardiogram to emphasise how the heart beats of the world flickered as details of Clinton’s sexploits’ came to light. Shaikh’s work is sensuous, it is erotic but never pornographic. It is simply beautiful.

Master potter

The first wedding I recall attending was at the age of five. It has stayed in my mind because the bridegroom was an incredibly handsome young sardar, elegantly dressed in a jasmine-coloured turban and sherwani and white churidar; the bride was a ravishing beauty, about 19 years old.What I could not understand then was why on this happy occasion the bride’s father,Sardar Ram Singh Kabli, kept shedding copious tears throughout the Anand Karaj ceremony. All I learnt about them at the time from my mother, who loved to gossip, was that the groom was working in the brick and tile manufacturing kiln run by his father-in-law. He had learnt the art in Japan. It was a love affair and the bride’s father could do little about it except feel sorry for himself. All said and done, the groom was a ghumiyaar — potter.

It turned out to be a very happy marriage. The ghumiyaar, as my mother called him, became the pioneer of the renaissance of ancient traditions of pottery and ceramics and made a name for himself in his profession. Imet his wife many years later in London where she had come to do a teachers’ training course. Though a mother of four children, she looked as ravishing as she had as a bride.

Gurcharan Singh was born in Srinagar in 1896. He did his schooling and college education in Kashmir and Gujranwala. After joining his father-in-law, he proceeded to Japan. It was there that his interest in pottery as an artform began. He befriended well-known potters, Japanese and Europeans. He went to Korea and China and imbibed the best they had. He returned to Delhi fired with zeal to revive the ancient art of pottery-making. After all, our ancestors made clay seals and figurines during the Indus Valley civilisation. And during the Muslim reign we had the famous Delhi-blue tiles to embellish mosques, palaces and mausoleums which still shine like new. Single-handed Gurcharan Singh recreated many such things. He was also a modernist and made articles of utility like vases, tea and dinner sets of rare beauty. From 1954, when he had the first exhibition of his work in Bombay, he had exhibitions almost every year in different cities of India.At every display, each of his creations was sold out.

Gurcharan Singh elevated the poor ghumiyaar, making gharaas(water pitchers) and diyaas (old lamps) for Divali, into artists. He passed his craft to his sons, daughter-in-law and scores of potters who came to learn from him. He made his home in Andretta (Kangra), a colony set up by Norah Richards for artists playwrights and authors.

The last time I met him was at a keertan for a relation who had died a few days earlier. I was allowed to sit in a chair because I find it painful to sit on the ground, and if I do, I have to be helped by a couple of people to stand on my feet. Gurcharan Singh came looking as debonair as ever, sporting a silver-white beard and sat down on the carpet. He stood up erect without any assistance. He was 99.A few months later back in Andretta and in the pink of health, he retired for his siesta. He passed away in his sleep on August 18, 1995.

His life and work have been enshrined in a beautifully produced book by the Delhi Blue Pottery Trust entitled Pottery and the Legacy of Sardar Gurcharan Singh. It is an expensive book (Rs 1400) but worth every paise for those interested in the subject.

Busy as a bee

It took me six months of living in Bombay to discover that Busybee was a human who worked in the same building as I. He wrote a short column for The Evening News, owned by The Times of India. The only reason why Bombaywallas bought the evening paper was to read Busybee on its last page. Suddenly the column stopped appearing. For some days Bombaywallas continued buying the paper hoping it would reappear after its author had returned from his holiday or sick leave. When they discovered that Busybee had bid a final goodbye to The Times of India, they stopped buying The Evening News. The paper had to close down.

Busybee started an evening paper of his own Afternoon Courier &Despatch. Now Bombaywallas and others who can’t smile without reading Busybee buy this tabloid.

As I said, it took me quite sometime to discover who Busybee was. He turned out to be a Bawaji (Parsi) named Behram Contractor. He was a frail, wizened little man with salt-n-pepper mop of hair, darker than most Parsis who wore thick lensed glasses. Unlike others of his community who are known to be great talkers (Kaagra Khaaoos — crow eaters), he was a man of few words. He was said to be a hard drinker — not premium brand scotch but gin or hard country liquor. He was dressed on frayed shirts, trousers and chappals and was often seen loitering around Bombay streets watching humanity go by. It was often rumoured that Busybee had cirrhosis of the liver and would not last very long. That was 30 years.

I have no idea how and when he met Farzana, his lovely Muslim wife, but I do know she brought discipline in his life, restored him to good health so that he could continue to regale his innumerable admirers with witty, scintillating prose.

Young people who aspire to become good journalists often ask me to recommend books they should read to improve their language. I can think of no better guru than Behram Contractor, alias Busybee. He writes on serious subjects in incredibly simple language, short sentences and unexpected turns of phrase which make him sheer joy to read. If you think I am exaggerating, take a look at Busybee: From Bombay to Mumbai (Oriana Books). His text is illustrated by another illustrious Bombaywalla, Mario de Miranda.

Drunken revelry

Two men in high spirits outside theka (wine shop) noticed a man standing close by listening to their conversation. The two men decided the interloper deserved thrashing. They wanted an excuse to do so. Said one, "You ask him if it is day or night. If he says day, I will beat him up. If he says night, you beat him up." The question was put to the man who had overheard what they had said. He replied naively, "Bhai Sahib, I have come from Gurdaspur. I know nothing about this place."

(Contributed by Kanwarjit Singh Nanda, Mohali)

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