YOU may not have heard his name, but there is every possibility of your having seen his famous paintings of Hindu gods and goddesses. Perhaps a reproduction is even adoring the walls of your home, and if not a reproduction then at least a poor copy of his works by some artist from Sivakasi. Be it Lord Rama's court or the Jatayu attacking Ravana, or Lord Vishnu reclining, or a young girl on a swing, Raja Ravi Varma's paintings so caught the imagination of his admirers that they have run into thousands of reprints, and the demand is still great even about a hundred years after his death.
At a time when most Indian artists were working in the miniature style of the Kangra, Mughal, or Bengal school, Raja Ravi Varma came under the influence of western art, and applied its techniques on Indian subjects. He was perhaps also the first Indian artist to use oil on canvas. Although his work was not of a very high order, the success was instant.
When he began to paint his canvases, the Bengal renaissance had gained momentum, and the entire nation was experiencing a cultural revival. Suddenly nationalism was the in thing, and there was renewed interest in things Indian In came Ravi Varma with his realistic depiction of Indian mythological figures, and unwittingly become an icon of the age. As a result of inventions like colour offset and photography, painting was finding it hard to compete.
It was to counter this threat that many art schools were set up in Calcutta, Madras, Bombay and Lahore.Artists trained in these schools were said to belong to the Academic School and they tried to work on the pattern of the Royal Academy of Art. Among the Indian painters working in the late 19 th century were J. P. Ganguly, M. F. Pithawalsa, A. X. Trinidad, Hemenedranath Majumdar who continued to paint in the descriptive school until the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century. And among these Raja Ravi Varma was the best known and most acclaimed. He virtually combined Victorian realism with Indian subjects with such flourish that his paintings rivalled the ever-growing popularity of photography. It should be remembered that the art of photography was in its infancy then, and colour photography had not yet come into its own.
Raja Ravi Varma not only made excellent paintings but was farsighted enough to have them printed in thousands at his own lithography press. Soon his works were seen the walls of households all over India. People who could not afford to buy expensive works of art, found an inexpensive way to satisfy their artistic sensibilities.
Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyaya
NIRUPAMA, a child-widow, is dying in a dilapidated hut, far away from her village. She has been thrown out of society, a society for which she has sacrificed so much in life. And now her people have excommunicated her, declared her an outcast. Her fault? She has is in love with a man, a luxury a widow cannot afford. As she gets into trouble, her lover instead of defying society abandons her. At this juncture a rebellious young writer defies society and comes to her rescue. But it was too late for the hapless young woman. The young man watches her die slowly in front of him. The sheer dejection in her eyes, the misery, and the tragedy of it all would haunt him all his life.
This was not a scene from one of his great novels, but a true incident in the life of Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyaya, one of the greatest writers India produced in the 20th century. A non-conformist to the core, he was at odds with decaying societal traditions all his life.
Like most creative people, Sarat Chandra's life was plagued with miseries. "My childhood and youth," he once recalled, "were passed in great poverty. I received almost no education for want of means." His father was a drifter who could not find a regular job; this forced his wife to take shelter in her father's home in Bhagalpur. In 1881 when Sarat was five, he was admitted to Pandit Pyari Bandopadhyaya's Pathshala in Devanandapur. He was a very mischievous child, and his teachers tolerated him only because he was too brilliant for his age. He joined hand with his equally unruly friends and formed a gang. They stole from farms and orchards, and shared the spoils with the needy.
During this phase he got attracted to an equally naughty girl named Dhiru, and this was a friendship he never quite forgot to his end. He painted a vivid picture of Dhiru in his novel Srikanta. But although he played truant too often during his school life, Sarat Chandra passed his middle class examination with merit and obtained a double promotion, and was welcomed by Durga Charan M. E. School.
One of the earliest influences on Sarat was the book Sansar Kosh, which had mantras and charms that were supposed to be a cure for all the problems of life. Somewhere down the line he started writing his first short story Kashinath which he later developed into a novel. He wrote many stories during this phase but only Korel has survived. He inherited the art of writing from his father who was as unsuccessful in writing as he was in other spheres of his life. His father wrote many stories and novels, but unfortunately completed none of them. Sarat would read them and wonder what the end climax of the story would be. Unfortunately all of his father's incomplete stories have been lost. "From my father I inherited noting," Sarat later wrote, "except, as I believe, his restless spirit and his keen interest in literature. The first made me a tramp and sent me out tramping the whole of India quite early, and the second made me a dreamer all my life."
As he grew up a severe plague broke out in Calcutta, but Sarat Chandra left in time to live with his uncle in Rangoon. Unfortunately, his uncle died of pneumonia, and Sarat became destitute one again, and was once again insecure and out in the streets. What followed was a string of unsatisfactory jobs, and a number of other experiences not condoned by society. But in spite of all the hardships, he did produce one masterpiece of literature after another, namely: Charitraheen, Devdas, Griha Dah, Ses Prasna, and so on, amounting to a mind- boggling list of more than 30 full-length novels, dozens of short stories, plays and essays. Apart from writing about the evils of society, he also wrote novels reflecting the patriotic spirit of his times.
In his last days when he
was asked to write his autobiography he said with
characteristic straightforwardness, "I cannot write
my autobiography. I am neither that truthful nor that
courageous." And on one occasion when Rabindranath
Tagore also made a similar suggestion, Sarat replied:
" Gurudev! Had I known I would become such a
great man, I would have lived a different sort of life.
DAUGHTER of Sardar Umrao Singh Majithia, a nobleman, and Antoinette, a well-known Hungarian musician and opera singer, Amrita Sher-Gill was born in Budapest Hungary on January 30, 1921. Since she showed artistic talent from the very beginning, her parents sent her to Florence, Italy to study art. She was expelled from school for having drawn women in the nude. The family then moved to Paris and Amrita began to work with Pierre Vaillant and Prof. Lucien Simon at Ecole Nationale des Beaux Arts. She studied there for three years. Her painting Young Girls was adjudged as the picture of the year, making Amrita the youngest person ever to be honoured thus. She was also made Associate of the Grand Salon, the first Indian to achieve this distinction.
Paris was obviously the right place in the world for a talented artist to be in. It was there that she came under the influence of the post-Impressionists, and she even tried to emulate them until she came to India for the first time in the 1920s. From that instant her work underwent a sea change.
"As soon as I put my foot on Indian soil," she observed later, "my painting underwent a change not only in subject and spirit, but in technical expression becoming more fundamentally Indian. I realised my artistic mission then: to interpret the life of Indians and particularly of the poor Indians pictorially, to paint the silent images of infinite submission and patience, to depict the angular brown bodies, strangely beautiful in their ugliness, to reproduce on canvas the impression their sad eyes created on me."
During her first visit, she stayed mainly in Summer Hill, Shimla, intermingling with the hill people. As she went from village to village, she was greatly impressed by their rustic beauty. It was not long before she began to depict them on canvas. Her works soon began to appear in art exhibitions in Shamble, Delhi, and Bombay.
She held a solo exhibition in Lahore in 1937, displaying 30 of her works. This was a very prolific period for her because in the following year she made some of her most famous paintings Siesta, The Story Teller, Ganesh Puja. Hillside, Hill Scene.
A woman of exceptional
beauty, Amrita married her cousin, Dr. Victor Egan, in
1938. After marriage the couple tried to settle down in
Shimla but were dogged by financial problems. They moved
to Lahore, but even there matters did not improve. She
nevertheless continued to paint and make great strides in
art circles of her time, but unfortunately before she
could accomplish more, she died in the prime of her
THE death of the late Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri in 1966 came as a shock to the entire nation. It was hard enough to find the right man to step into Nehru's shoes, and now, a successor to Shastri had to be found.
In those days there was a powerful group of leaders called the 'Syndicate', who tried to feather their own nests by hoping to fill the vacuum by a candidate of their own choice. While they were shortlisting the possible successors to Shastri, they considered the name of Indira Gandhi. Being Nehru's daughter, she had a following, and being a woman, an inexperienced one at that, they were under the impression that it would be easier to control her. But a woman of strong will that Indira Gandhi was, she soon proved to them that she could not be trifled with. Far from being a puppet in the hands of the Syndicate, she soon overwhelmed everybody with her shrewd moves, and went on to lead the nation for almost two decades.
An only child of her parents, she had the world at her feet because her parents doted on her, especially her father. As there was revolution in the air, 12-year-old 'Indu' did her bit by forming her own army of children called the 'Vaanar Sena'.
As she grew up, her parents sent her to St Cicilias, Allahabad, and in 1926 they took her to Switzerland. There Indira studied at L'Ecole Nouvelle, and back in India at Santiniketan. After Kamala Nehru died in 1936, she was sent to Badminton School, Bristol, and finally to Somerville College, Oxford.
With the coming of youth, she married Feroze Gandhi in 1942, but instead of enjoying a long honeymoon, she took active part in the Quit India Movement. For this she did eight months in Naini prison. After Independence, she helped her father out in the affairs of the country, and also accompanied him to various countries on official engagements. She entered politics with her election as President of the Congress in 1959. And it was not long before she was offered the post of Minister of Information and Broadcasting by Lal Bahadur Shastri in 1964.
But as destiny would have it, she found herself occupying the Prime Minister's chair in 1966. Soon differences between her and senior members of the Congress began to crop up and the result was the split of the Congress in 1969.
Among Indira Gandhi's great achievements in her long political innings, are the Liberation of Bangladesh in 1971, and the underground nuclear test at Pokhran 1974. By that time she had reached the zenith of her power and popularity. But soon things began to go downhill for her. When Jayprakash Narayan threatened to launch a countrywide agitation, and even appealed to the defence forces to revolt against her, she imposed the notorious Emergency on July 1, 1975, and also announced her 20 -point programme. This one move made her very unpopular with the masses and she was thrown out of office in the 1977 General Elections.
The last phase of her career was fraught with problems and controversies, not the least being the separatist movement brewing in the Punjab. The events that followed made her quite unpopular, and on October 31, 1984, she was assassinated by her own bodyguards. This was followed by severe a backlash in which hundreds of innocent Sikhs lost their lives in organised street violence.
It is easy to dismiss Indira Gandhi's contribution to her country in the light of her later miscalculations. After a couple of years in office, she had begun to surround herself with sycophants, and any one who dared to differ with her was severely punished .
But to be fair to her,
in spite of all her shortcomings, she was an outstanding
leader who was big enough to measure up to the legacy of
her father. She got things done, and unfortunately also
got things undone. If only she had overcome her greed for
power, she would have attained a much higher stature as a
great leader than she has now.
IN his secluded studio Sundaram, Shivam, Satyam in Andretta, Himachal Pradesh, an ageing old man was braving ill-health to complete a portrait of Bhagat Ravi Das. Unfortunately, the artist died before completing his painting, and thus the world was deprived of yet another masterpiece from the brush of Sobha Singh, who was to Sikh art what Raja Ravi Varma was to Hindu art.
Born on November 27, 1901, to Deva Singh, a military man, and Ichchran Devi, Sobha Singh had a very unhappy childhood, mainly because of his strained relationship with his disciplinarian father. As far as formal education was concerned, Sobha Singh studied only up to class five. He was basically a self-taught man, though he did complete a one-year diploma in Art and Crafts from Industrial School, Amritsar, in 1915. From 1919 to 1923 he was Head Draughtsman in the Indian Army stationed in Baghdad. There he was influenced by local customs and this inspired him to paint legends like Lala Rukh and Omar Khayam. He also got exposed to the work of some British artists of the Royal Academy. One Colonel G. D. Tale showed great interest in his work, and even encouraged him. In due course, The London Illustrated News printed a painting by Sobha Singh that depicted a colourful pageant.
He came back from Baghdad and started working in Lahore. After Partition, he was forced to leave Lahore, and he landed with his wife in Andretta, a picturesque valley, in Palampur district. It was in this valley that he gave us some of his finest works, especially the portraits of the Sikh Gurus.
Artist Mehar Singh, perhaps the only surviving disciple of Sobha Singh, remembers his guru nostalgically, "Ustadji once said , In the beginning I used to feel that famous lovers like Sohni Mahiwal and Heer Ranjha were worthy of reverence, so I devoted my work to them. Then I felt that bhagats deserve to be revered so I painted them, but as time passed I came to the conclusion that though lovers and bhagats need to be revered, the Guru Sahibaans deserve the highest honour and reverence. Beauty was every thing to him, and he went to the extent of rephrasing the famous Satyam, Shivam Sundaram as Sundaram, Shivam, Satyam."
The influence of the Bengal School is quite evident on his style. "If you study his work carefully," observes artist and critic Prem Singh, "you would notice that although Sobha Singh's medium was oil, yet his technique resembles the wash paintings produced by the artists of the Bengal School. And like other Bengal paintings his work gives the impression of relief work. The use of light is romantic, therefore, his paintings lack the depth, dimension, and drama that we generally observe in the works of the European masters."
What Sobha Singh painted after Independence is available in various museums and galleries, but no serious effort has been made to recover or even locate the 200- odd paintings that were left behind in Lahore after Partition.Not many people know that Sobha Singh's highly popular Sohini Mahival has many versions, and one, if it has survived the frenzy of partition, should be somewhere in Pakistan.
Singh's contribution to Indian art, the President
conferred on him the Padama Shree in 1983, the Punjabi
University awarded him a doctorate, and the Ministry of
Broadcasting and the BBC made a film on his life. The
only organisation that did not take notice of him is the
Central Lalit Kala Akademi, and sadly only four books are
available on him. Meanwhile, the unfinished portrait of
Bhagat Ravi Das reminds visitors of the great master who
once worked in this dreamy valley.
Kapil Dev Nikhanj
WORLD Cup 1983. India are in trouble as Zimbabwe have reduced them to 17 for five. When there is total despair in the Indian camp, in comes the tall well-built Kapil Dev, who begins to hammer the bowlers in spite of all the pressure he is under. With 16 boundaries and six sixes, and an unbeaten 175, he converts a certain defeat into a glorious victory. Not only that, he goes on to steer his team to the finals, and defeats the favourites West Indies.
Earlier that year against West Indies, he beat Ian Botham's record as youngest player to complete Test double of 2,000 runs and 200 wickets, he was then just 24 years and 68 days old.
Whether it was Test Cricket, or limited overs cricket, with outstanding medium-pace bowling, attacking batsmanship, and excellent fielding, Kapil Dev, the Haryana Hurricane, had mastered every department of the game to become one of the most popular players of all time. With him on the pitch, there never was a dull moment.
And yet this man who India is so proud of, might have played for Pakistan if his father had not migrated from Rawlpindi to Chandigarh after the Partition. Kapil Dev grew up studying first at the DAV School, and later at the DAV College, Sector 10, Chandigarh.
Making his debut at the age of 16 for Haryana against Punjab in the Ranji Trophy in 1975-76, he took 6 for 39 in the first innings, having switched to swing bowling after starting out as a spinner. A slow walk back to his mark was followed by a springy approach from some 20 yards culminating in a leap and a sideways-on delivery. His pace was lively, his length full, and the late out-swinger came naturally. In his first class career he made 10,800 runs including 16 centuries and took 815 wickets.
With such a brilliant track record, it was not long before he was included in the Indian squad, making his debut against Pakistan on October 16, 1978 at Faislabad in 1978-79. His seven in three tests was not an earth shattering performance, but the promise was clear. He never looked back after that.
Quite early in his career he realised that mere pace bowling would not be enough to ensure him a place in the Indian side for too long, because traditionally batsmen have always held attention of selectors and the public. Sunil Gavaskar once told him that he would never get past 50. This might have come as an eyeopener, and Kapil with the help of his coach began to improve his batting and soon became one of the finest allrounders in the world.
Kapil Dev's best bowling performance was the one against West Indies in 1983-84 when he took 9 wickets by giving away a mere 93 runs at Ahmedabad. He lost his captaincy for three years after he did not deliver the goods against West Indies, but struck back with a vengeance and led his side to a victory against England in 1986.
One of his cherished dreams was to break Sir Richard Hadlee's record of the highest number of wickets in the world. Kapil Dev finally caught up with the master and outdid him while playing against Sri Lanka at Ahmedabad in the 1993-94 series.
Kapil Dev announced his retirement on November 2, 1994, by then he had played 131 tests, scored 5, 248 runs, hit 8 centuries, taken 441 wickets, and grabbed 64 catches. He can look back at his illustrious career with great pride because he holds the Indian record of capturing the most wickets in calendar year, when he dismissed 74 batsmen in 17 tests in 1979, and completing the all-rounder's 'double' of 100 runs and 100 wickets in 25 tests., the youngest player in the world to do so. He was only 21 years old then. And besides being the highest wicket-taker in the world, he is one of the four players who has taken 300 wickets and scored 4000 runs.
Kapil Dev was bestowed with an Arjuna Award in 1979-80, the Padma Shri in 1982, and the Padma Bhushan in 1991. It will take a while for India to find another Kapil Dev.