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Posted at: Jan 20, 2018, 12:33 AM; last updated: Jan 20, 2018, 9:40 AM (IST)

Son of the soil

Artist Malkit Singh, who passed away at 75, was deeply inspired by nature and everything related to Punjab, his homeland

Sarika Sharma

Artist Malkit Singh left his village in Moga decades ago, but never quite left it, for his works often reflected the little world he left behind. Now, even in death, he will return to his roots. The painter, who lived in Chandigarh all his life, died on Friday and will be cremated in Lande on Saturday. He was 75.

His life-long friend Amarjit Chandan recalls him as a kind, loving and generous person. “He was a product of the post-1947 formal art training in East Punjab. He always saw his coming from a small-land-holding-jatt-family background as an achievement.”

Images of early childhood in and around his village, days of apprenticeship in Shimla and surrounding hilly areas, changing landscapes and the decades spent in Chandigarh; brutalisation of politics, aggression and cruelty against women, miseries of the poor people “shadowed his psyche” and “haunted” him. He said the subliminal anxiety over the plight of the working masses and the abuse and devastation of natural resources informed his choice of themes. Thus, the fields, the village life and rural folk were a recurring motif in his works. Of these, Jaago is said to be the most famous. 

Sense of admiration

Malkit’s works had a deep sense of admiration for nature and for the forms and patterns offered by the natural setting of his home. But he also felt deeply connected with what he saw around him. That is why, among his works, you would not just find the 1984 riots, but also someone with a broken leg; the latter courtesy his job at the PGI. In one of the last few works titled Waiting, he had tried to recreate the proceedings when he was on the operation table.

Diwan Manna, chairperson Punjab Lalit Kala Akademi, calls him a gentleman-artist. “In the whole cacophony of professional jealousy, he was loved by everybody. He was always willing to do anything for anybody, young or old. He was working as an artist at the PGI’s anatomy department and his house would be full of people seeking treatment at the hospital. He would offer them a place in his house and feed them too,” he recalls. While many of them had keys to his house, some say he never locked his house!

Storehouse of knowledge

His neighbour, artist and former principal of Government College, Sector 11, Balvinder, calls him a storehouse of knowledge of Punjabi literature. “He introduced me to a lot of Punjabi writers and writing,” he tells. Malkit was also an art critic for the Punjabi Tribune for a long time.

Malkit, who studied at the Simla Art College in 1961 and Government College of Art, Chandigarh, in 1962, was always pained with the absence of encouragement towards arts in Punjab. In an interview once, he put the blame on the education system and the government. “Nobody is doing anything to promote the arts,” he had grumbled and said that while there were a handful of museums in East Punjab, few visited them.

He felt people never realised that art made life beautiful and that the creative people purify society. Whatever be the future of art in Punjab, Malkit Singh certainly left it beautiful with his brushstrokes.

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