Has some snake rendered you all still?’ (Tohannu saarian nu sap sunghia hoya hai?). This was the first sentence that legendary artist Satish Gujral uttered when we, some local artists, drove him and his charming wife Kiran to the UT Guesthouse from the railway station. Dumbstruck by his remark, we gave him a questioning look.
‘I gave a Chandigarh-based Punjabi artist an international award, and none of you have bothered to thank me,’ he explained his disdain.
He was right. Gujral was one of the five members of a jury of global artists, constituted to select 10 from the VIII Indian Triennale, an international art show that the Lalit Kala Akademi, New Delhi, holds periodically. And the jury, on Gujral’s recommendation, chose a local artist as one of the awardees.
While rebuking our silence, he probably had forgotten that though Punjabis are known for social magnanimity, its artist community also nurtures, like everyone else, biases and jealousies. In 1994, the Punjab Lalit Kala Akademi had invited Gujral to bestow upon him an honour for his gigantic artistic contributions, which range from penetrating paintings and large murals to scintillating sculptures and monumental architecture.
He was also invited to put up a show of some of his recent and unexhibited works. The then chairman of the akademi, Aditya Parkash, an architect and artist, gave me the responsibility to convene the show. Thus my association with Gujral began through writing and exchanging letters relating to finalising the nitty-gritty of the show. I was elated when in a letter he wrote to me in 1997, he referred to me as one of his ‘cherished possessions’!
His stay here for a few days gave me an opportunity to learn many facets of his strong character.
The most brilliant part of his personality was that he did not display any airs and graces. He was jovial and would crack jokes every now and then. By rightly rejecting the display pattern that we had designed to exhibit his works, perhaps 14 in number, he, a thorough professional, taught me new and better ways of displaying art objects. Every minute that I spent with him during those few days was a new learning experience.
He also encouraged me by appreciating my humble art renditions, three of which he acquired, as chairman of the art purchase committee of the National Gallery of Modern Art, New Delhi, for the museum’s permanent collection.
His death in March was a personal loss. His memories would inspire me to keep my artistic torch, however small, burning. True to his unassuming character, he remarked in his biography, ‘Artists have never been men of ideas — they are men of feelings.’ Unfortunately for us, intellect has gained the upper hand, with all the talk of art having a political and social role.
Oscar Wilde sums up well: ‘Creativity ends where intellect begins.’ Gujral’s large volume of art work represented this very creative essence.
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