Saturday, 20 May 2017

As The Crow Flies

The story of Adam's creation is the greatest story ever told; Eve remains the moral of that story. For as long as we are on earth, there will always be time for one more story to be told.

Mrs Davey and Madam Shama Utarid, my lady schoolteachers whom I highlighted in previous stories, were not Polish but only poles apart from one another nature-wise. From Mr Fardy's class 'eight-B' and all that rocket-science, let us step down to class 'seven-B' to meet Mr Nasiri. He was an educator who walked upright into my school-life and whose tale cannot be told by any old boy's wife.
Some brains need more tuning
Heads or tales?

Reminiscing might make one appear nostalgic or old-fashioned but never old. If one's brain is naturally wired well, the activities of dreaming and day-dreaming will produce enough high-definition audio-video to put the best television programmes to shame. Without relying on Pakistani electricity that experience can truly be liberating and electrifying.

Our minds are reservoirs of memories that live inside billions of inter-connected neurons. As one begins to age, thoughts of childhood and old friends frequently sway like flowers in a gentle breeze. Since life comes to an end by the time one has understood it, it is best to leave behind happy memories for others to cherish; bequeathing mountains of money only tends to produce discord and unhappiness within the family.

The 'real thing'
A goal-post without goals

The warm memories associated with class seven-B bring to mind thoughts of cold beverages. We had discriminating tastes. Boys being boys had rejected the neutrality of 7-Up and chosen instead the fizzier and darker Coca Cola. The less privileged amongst us who received regular punishment (phainti, phainta) at school, drank orange-flavoured Fanta which was Adolf Hitler's favourite soft-drink. Even the Führer's Minister of Propaganda, Joseph Goebbels, did not know that the drink contained only 5-percent orange concentrate. This caused great vitamin-C deficiency within the Nazi Party which triggered gaseous phainta for the 'chosen race', and led to the temporary downfall of Germany.

Seven-B was strategically located behind a football goal-post in the large rear playground at St. Anthony’s High School situated on Lawrence Road of historic Lahore. The other goal-post stood at the canteen-end adjacent to the gymnastics room. An unpainted wall in between the goal-post and the classroom prevented the football from landing on our heads as we pretended to study.
Daily flavoured-phainta

During midday 'half-breaks' that lasted only fifteen minutes, we mercilessly thrashed the solitary football. Because the thing never was properly inflated, it did not fly to distant tropical holiday destinations. I never became part of any school sports-team that took pleasure in striking helpless balls. This meant that cricket, baseball, football and baseball were out; I chose badminton but the school did not have space for courtsLater in life, I would laugh at grown men shooting puny white balls into grassy holes at sprawling golf-courses designed to ‘enhance networking’ with shouts of ‘Sir, what a shot!’
What is better than football and golf?

Initially for the sake of being part of the brotherhood I took up football but whenever I kicked, five others committed the same folly in unison. This created two after-effects: a very loud bang that reverberated throughout the known universe, and a shock that travelled up my right foot and hurt in a most cruel manner the thinking area of the brain.

Determined to protect all innocent and pure thoughts inside my head, I ended up sacrificing football at the altar of good grades which were of sole importance to my parents as well as the teachers. They never tired of repeating: "A brain is an important thing to have in life." I heard this repeated so much that it echoed at night in the ‘half-empty upper chamber’ where I desperately needed more room for thoughts appropriate for my age.

The upper chamber
Enter Mr Nasiri

Mr Nasiri was an Anglo-Indian teacher who taught us Urdu in class seven-B. There were other actors who taught us but Mr Nasiri was a true character-actor who, if attired in a nightgown, could outdo actor Agha Talish in issuing stern fatherly threats. In hindsight, all teachers were characters rolled out by God’s entertainment factory hidden in the clouds somewhere. All the teachers imagined themselves as perfected winged beings; we thought they had serious manufacturing and quality-control defects.

Like his other colleagues, Mr Nasiri too belonged to the bicycle club whose merry members pedalled to the school. The majority of us homo sapiens walked upright to the school, some mentally crawled on all fours, and quite a few rode Eagle or Sohrab bicycles which they parked at the stand located behind the school's canteen. Deans Bakery of Temple Road managed our fine eatery and whose exterior wall displayed a dire warning: OUT OF BOUNDS FOR STUDENTS. During school hours, one was not allowed to loiter beyond this landmark.

This warning refused to go away even when the boys attained adulthood. Those who became responsible fathers reconciled with the fact that everything they considered good in life was forever out of bounds.

What does your father do?

Mr Nasiri’s complexion was like dark chocolate sans the good taste. The old boys swore that the teacher was born during one of the shadowy nights of World War One. Of medium stature, aged fifty-seven, and with crow’s feet at the corners of his beady eyes, these distinguishing features gave him the countenance of a refined Urdu-speaking scarecrow.

On the very first day in class, Mr Nasiri demanded formal introductions from each student. After a brief survey of the faces he commanded, “Larkey, idhar ao” (Boy, come over here).

No sooner did the interviewee stand next to Mr Nasiri he was politely signalled to come closer. When the boy dutifully did so, he heard a question that firmly sealed his fate for the remainder of the academic year, “What does your father do?”

Did you say 'poor grades'?
A few of us gladly answered that question but after witnessing a few sad cases the rest became afraid of being truthful to the teacher.

At age thirteen while making frequent demands of monetary aid, we remained happily oblivious of our fathers’ professions. Earlier we imagined that fathers brought home pocketfuls of money from their offices but upon comparing notes we realised most of them had one common trait: they 'really gave it' to us upon hearing about poor grades at school.

Mothers were different, apart from acting like cooking and talking machines they were designed by the Almighty to protect us from fatherly hellish slaps that tended to fall more abundantly than the monsoon rains. Luckily we had the blissful Lawrence Gardens nearby to which we sometimes escaped to dodge school, the missionary Brothers and our zealous fathers.

Slapstick tragedy

Each class at St. Anthony's had two sections: A and B; only the senior classes had three. Every section was over-populated with about fifty boys. Although the concept of family planning had been introduced in Pakistan, married couples were never arrested for exercising the right to procreation and then blaming God for the 'gift'. Most weddings took place in December; hence, almost every other child was born in September under the critical zodiac sign of Virgo.

On day one, Mr Nasiri interviewed over fifty boys within forty-five minutes. His inquisitiveness about our fathers seemed obsessive and he seemed in no mood to impart Urdu lessons.
Diagnosis and 'special' treatment

One of us revealed: “Sir, my father is a Commissioner”.

Mr Nasiri’s eyes glowed like 60-watts incandescent bulbs, a condescending smile graced his face, and he politely asked the interviewee to ‘be seated’.

“Very good; a Commissioner, eh?” he smilingly echoed the designation and then proceed to summon the next student whose father was a simple shop-owner. Mr Nasiri showered lesser affection and sternly commanded without a smile, “Now go back to your seat!”

The lowest of the lows amongst us was the son of a poor clerk. We timed his interview like one would for the 0-100 kmph acceleration of a Formula One racing car; it was over in
three seconds when Mr Nasiri abruptly slapped him on both the cheeks and yelled, “Jao, dafo ho jao” (Go, get lost).

Rubbing his rosy cheeks the way female film-stars did when using LUX beauty soap in television commercials, the boy returned to his desk wondering why mentioning his father’s profession won him no affection. On that solemn occasion we all covered our wide grins with the palms lest Mr Nasiri noticed our teeth.

To sum it up: in Mr Nasiri’s book, not knowing one's father's occupation was not a major crime but revealing a less than ideal one certainly was.

A 'Spring Court' big-wig judge

Real fathers, fake credentials

What was nice about the era was that a great variety of students studied together without ever feeling like homogenised and pasteurised spoiled rich sons at an elitist school. St. Anthony’s was one of the top English-medium missionary schools yet the rich and the poor, Christians, Muslims, Parsees, even a few Chinese studied together without showing themselves off.

Having scions of connected families in class definitely meant more to Mr Nasiri. He provided free slapstick tragedy when it came to boys from less privileged homes. It was impossible not to laugh at others when they were punished and very impractical to laugh at ourselves while being on the receiving end. Within minutes we discovered that the only trick that would work on Mr Nasiri was to falsify details about our fathers' occupations.

Hence, a shop-owner’s son turned his father into an owner of a shopping complex, a small businessman’s son made his papa a managing director of a group of industries, and I transformed my five foot seven inch lawyer daddy into a judge towering over six feet.

Mr Nasiri’s curiosity was boundless, he asked, “Does he practise at the High Court or the——?”

“Sir, spring court”, guessing what he wanted to know I completed the sentence.

First love: Diana-F

Mr Nasiri asked me again and I gave the same answer and which made him chuckle affectionately. Up until that time, I had always heard my mother laughingly call Supreme Court ‘spring court’. My father felt it was perfectly legal to cringe upon hearing that distorted label.

Meet the nobility

I did reasonably well in class and won a certificate for English essay writing. In the same year I began toying with toy cameras to photograph odd objects and odder friends. Quite a few photographic films got ruined as a result of impatiently opening up my Diana’s plastic back in partial darkness to see if the images had developed. How could they without having been inside a photo studio’s darkroom for black-and-white processing?

Mr Nasiri had a few one-trick ponies in this educational circus; I was not one of them. The chief of the ponies was a fair and studious boy called Yawar Shah. His interview was a truly jaw-dropping event. When Yawar revealed his father was a very high-ranking bureaucrat, Mr Nasiri almost fell off his desk, lit up like a Christmas tree, nearly kissed the boy, and paid a most memorable compliment: “Yawar Shah is a noble boy!”

He stretched the 'o' in the word noble and taught us the meaning of crowing which means: to express pleasure verbally, an instance of boastful talk, dwell on with satisfaction.

A model of English nobility

During that year, our favourite phrase with which to taunt this class-fellow was: “Yawar Shah is a nooooooble boy!” He did not mind that at all, in fact he adored being recognised as noble. Although the boy showed no signs of losing sleep over taunts, he was losing hairs very fast due to a diseased scalp that caused premature balding—something that was unheard of at age thirteen.

We waited until the end of the academic year but to our utter disappointment, the ‘noble boy’ never attained noble baldness. To silence us forever, he topped in the class and thus became in Mr Nasiri’s eyes a saintly cat whose halo was not visible to the rest of us spiritually blind mice.

Who is?

Long before computers for the masses came long and internet took over our lives, Mr Nasiri invented an amazing word: WHOIS. Although he used it in a different context, today it means: a query and response protocol that is widely used for querying databases that store the registered users or assignees of an Internet resource (such as a domain name, an IP address block, an autonomous system, and a wide range of other information).

Mr Nasiri delighted in reading important parts of Urdu poems and essays but when he felt exhausted he commanded, “Boy, read now, YOU!”

Allama Iqbal, resting

That command always disturbed my sense of good English during his Urdu period of forty-five minutes duration. The sound of Urdu text being read by a student acted like a sweet lullaby and made the teacher fall asleep with his temple supported by a clenched fist. The real difference between him and Allama Iqbal was that while Mr Nasiri snored in Urdu, the Indian poet-philosopher dreamed Arabic thoughts in Persian language.

Mr Nasiri's snoring would grow progressively louder and hypnotise some of us into falling asleep. He would be aware of our loud chatter but remain unable to discern exactly ‘what nonsense’ was being discussed. Sometimes the snoring would stop and prompt Mr Nasiri to demand 'pin-drop silence' from the entire congregation by yelling only two shrill words: "Who is?"

The way he stretched the word ‘is’ to ‘eeeezz’ lent great seriousness to the question. Even at that young age I was aware that ‘who is’ was an incomplete sentence in incorrect English. That ‘who is’ was always accompanied by a loud thump of Mr Nasiri’s left palm over the desk. He probably dreamed the impossible, that someone someday might confess: “Sir, it is I making all that noise. Please, I beg you, punish me!”. That dream never came true.

Mr Nasiri's cat-naps sometimes progressively became longer until the Urdu period came to an end. Calmly he would rise, button up the jacket and walk like a mildly drunk person to the staff-room where we suspected he again played the role of the sleeping beauty.

What if, who is?

Mahomedali Jinnahbhai Poonja made a famous English Speech at Islamia College for women on 25 March 1940. If Mr Nasiri were to repeat it, this is how he would:
“There are two powers in the world; one eeeezz the sword and the other eeeezz the pen. There eeeezz a great competition and rivalry between the two. There eeeezz a third power stronger than both, that of the women”.
Sister Fatima, brother Jinnah, daughter Dina
Jinnah being Pakistan's founding 'father’ knew everything there was to know about this ‘third power’ through the courtesy of the ladies in his life. His young Parsi second wife, Rattanbai Petit, never became the mother of the nation. His spinster sister Miss Fatima Jinnah, was declared the official 'mother of the nation’ but was defeated in the elections by military dictator Ayub Khan. Jinnah's estranged daughter, Dina Wadia, was never acknowledged as the daughter of the nation because she married, Neville Wadia, an Indian Parsi-Christian.

Now if successive governments can do this to the top family's relationships and history, imagine what else they will stoop to distorting.

-- to be concluded --

Stay tuned. Mr Nasiri will return in Part-2: Stone The Crows

©Tahir Gul Hasan, 2017

Similar stories may be read HERE

Friday, 28 April 2017

The Dramatic Death of Amrita Sher-Gil

Recalling the separate economic conditions of the Hindus and the Muslims during the 1947 partition of India, my mother describes it all with a Punjabi saying which translates to:
"The [affluent] Hindus left behind palaces [in what became Pakistan [and the [poor] Muslims abandoned hookahs and broken earthenware utensils [when they left India]."
Throughout my wonder years I heard tall tales of vast 'poodinay kay bagh' (gardens of mint) and tall 'mahallaat' (palaces) that some Muslim immigrants claimed they 'left behind in India'. Years later when I took up street-photography, I noticed that most of the British Raj-era buildings in Lahore were named after Hindus, Sikhs and the English.

Amrita, our old neighbour 

We occupied one flat in a group of flats that stood on Temple Road. They were owned by rich Hindu landlords who fled to India during the bloody partition. There were numerous residential buildings littered about the ancient city, one was Ganga Ram Mansions on the Mall and this is where Amrita lived and died.

Amrita Sher-Gil lived less than a kilometre away from where I spent my childhood and youth. I recall visiting a friend of mine who lived in flat number 20 of the Ganga Ram Mansions; twenty-five years earlier Amrita lived in flat 23. The layout of all the flats was the same: two rooms on the ground floor, a wooden staircase at the entrance that led straight up to two more rooms on the first floor, and an attic (baraasti).
Attic studio in Lahore

Star-studded Lahore

Let us return to Amrita's story. Once done with decorating her flat at the Ganga Ram Mansions, Amrita turned it into a meeting place for a select group of people. She wholeheartedly participated in the cultural life of Lahore, gave talks on the radio (Lahore radio station was functional in 1937) and met as many interesting people as she could.

Amrita chose Lahore to give her art a chance to survive. The famed short story writer Rajinder Singh Bedi was born in Lahore and started his career as Mohsin Lahori but finally migrated to India after partition. Amrita Pritam Kaur spent her formative years in Lahore. Professor Ahmed Shah 'Patras' Bokhari, Kartar Singh Duggal, G.D Khosla and Mangat Rai (brother of Miss Mangat Rai the principal of Kinnaird College), artists Abdur Rehman Chughtai, Satish Gujral (eminent painter and brother of former Indian premier I. K. Gujral), and Roop Krishna, all lived here.

Amrita became friends with Nawab Muzaffar Ali Qizalbash, Jamil Asghar (later a High Court judge), Rashid Ahmed (married Zeenat Rashid and whose daughter married Senator Javed 'JJ' Jabbar) and Professor U. Karamet (the Vice Chancellor of the Punjab University would signed papers with 'OK–UK').

Lahore had become a melting pot of ideas and attracted poets and writers like Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Ahmed Faraz, Sahir Ludhianvi, Intizar Hussain, Sir Muhammad Iqbal and the rebel Saadat Hasan Manto. Many of them would assemble at India Tea House (renamed Pak Tea House after the partition of 1947). Lahore finally became a centre for Pakistan’s left-wing Progressive Writers Movement.

Nehru's biography

Jawaharlal Nehru allegedly had meetings of a very private nature with Amrita Sher-Gil at Lahore's Faletti's Hotel. He later sent her 
a copy of his autobiography. She thanked him with a candid note:

"As a rule I dislike biographies and autobiographies. They ring false. Pomposity and exhibitionism. But I think I will like yours. You are able to discard your halo occasionally. You are capable of saying, 'When I saw the sea for the first time,' when others would say, 'When the sea saw me for the first time.'
"I should have liked to know you better. I am always attracted to people who are integral enough to be inconsistent without discordance and who don’t trail viscous threads of regret behind them. I don't think that it is on the threshold of life that one feels chaotic, it is when one has crossed the threshold that one discovers that things which looked simple and feelings that felt simple are infinitely more tortuous and complex.
"That it is only in inconsistency that there is any consistency. But of course you have got an orderly mind. I don't think you were interested in my paintings really. You looked at my pictures without seeing them. You are not hard. You have got a mellow face. I like your face, it is sensitive, sensual and detached at the same time."
Testing the art scene

Amrita became an avid member of the city’s pre-partition cultural scene whose select members gathered 
fortnightly at Khushwant Singh’s home. He started his law practise in 1938 (the same year Allama Iqbal died in Lahore), joined the Indian Foreign Service in 1947 and went on to become a famed novelist and a journalist.

In late October 1937, Amrita decided to once again 'test the waters' of the Lahore art world by holding an exhibition of her works. On Sunday, 30th November, Amrita and Victor went to the site to make the final arrangements for the second week of December in the hall of the Punjab Literary League, above a fashionable café facing The Mall.

Excitedly Amrita commenced work on new paintings that would be displayed as the latest work. From her house, she could see some mud houses and a man with four buffaloes. This was her last painting; it showed her love for all things Indian.

The way Amrita worked
"If there were no poor and destitute people in India, I would have nothing to paint". —Amrita Sher-Gil (on her patient, submissive, fatalistic and silent subjects)
India's poverty, with its barely surviving people in primitive and inhuman conditions, seemed photogenic to Amrita. She was no revolutionary, only a keen observer who painted what she noticed minutely. All true artists possess this amazing quality.
Amrita in her very tastefully decorated flat

Amrita painted during the day and used no artificial light. She wore a large painting coat and tightly tied her hair at the back. By the evening she would dress finely and become a glamorous socialite. Such was her energy that upon returning from her engagements, she would return to painting. Her output was twelve to fifteen paintings a year.

A sudden end

On Wednesday, 3rd December 1941, Amrita became very ill with what she, and her doctor husband thought, was dysentery. Dysentery in India being quite common, neither of them suspected a fatal illness. 

She lay in bed, looking very pale with a greenish tinge to her, with Victor frantically attempting to make her feel well again. When all efforts failed, Amrita slipped into a coma, but not before mumbling something about colours.

Two other doctors examined her; they felt it was 'too late'. Severe dehydration and peritonitis had already perforated her intestines, and nothing else could be done.

Just after 11 p.m., as a last desperate effort, Victor ran to fetch another well-known physician; by the time they returned, Amrita was already dead. He told Victor, "Had you called me just a day earlier we could have saved her". These words would haunt Victor forever.

The last rites

Amrita planned to hold her first major solo exhibition at Faletti's Hotel in late December of 1941 but she died on 6th December, aged only 28.

The next day was a cold Sunday. Amrita's parents wanted a Sikh style funeral. Her body was carried to the burning ghat on the banks of the river Ravi. The ceremony was attended by her parents, sister Indira and her husband Kalyan Sundarm. Also included in the forty friends was Khuswant Singh.

Amrita's body was laid on a pile of chopped wood and some sandal wood sticks and ghee (clarified butter) were added. Victor lit up the fire. The last rites were performed by a devastated Umrao Singh who had nurtured her as a child, read her fiery mind and was now watching the funeral pyre with the following parting words on his lips:
"She had entered the prenatal world at Lahore and death seemed to have conspired with life to release her spirit from its physical chrysalis in the same city."
Amrita was a shooting star, misunderstood as she blazed across the horizon of art and scattered after death. Her ashes were collected and cast into river Ravi.

The usual suspects

Amrita had been at Sir and Lady Abdul Qadir’s home for tea; some speculated that the pakoras caused food poisoningYashodhara Dalmia writes:
"Helen Chaman Lal found Amrita dying. Two doctors, Dr Sikri and Dr Kalisch, a German, were brought in and found that peritonitis had set in and her intestines had perforated. Around midnight on December 5, 1941 Amrita Sher-Gil passed away".
Indira (sister) in autochrome
A comment made on Arif Rahman Chughtai's article shows that "Amrita died in the first floor room. The top of the house had a barsaati on the roof that was her studio. She made her last painting sitting there. The ground floor was the dispensary and the consultation room of her doctor husband."

Being of mix parentage, Amrita felt she owned both the worlds of art and sexuality. The Bohemian life of artistic Paris fuelled Amrita's sexual urges in the wrong directions, leading her to be called in hushed tones, a 'nymphomaniac'. The citizens of Lahore suspected Victor of 'poisoning her to death' because he was 'unable to satisfy her sexually'.

Khuswant Singh on Amrita Sher-Gil
“If you don’t smoke, drink and womanise, you are a dangerous man”. —Khuswant Singh
Just as Amrita declined a prize in Simla, Khushwant Singh when decorated with the Padma Bhushan in 1974, returned the award in 1984 to protest against Operation Blue Star in which the Indian Army raided Amritsar's Golden Temple (Sikh Holy site). In 2007 he was awarded the Padma Vibhushan, the second-highest civilian award in India.

A prominent Indian novelist and journalist, Khuswant Singh (1915-2014) penned the famous column 'With malice towards one and all' and wrote the nostalgic novel 'Train to Pakistan'. In his autobiography, '
Truth, Love and a Little Malice', he recalled very unusual things about Amrita on pages 96 through 99. A synopsis is as follows:
"Her fame preceded her...she very beautiful and very promiscuous...Pandit Nehru succumbed to her charms...stories of her sexual appetite were narrated...she gave appointments to three or four lovers every day...
When I came home for lunch, I found Amrita in my apartment...helping herself to the beer from the fridge...wanted advice about carpenters, plumbers, tailors...
I couldn't look her in the face too long because she had that bold, brazen kind of look which makes timid men like me turn their gaze downwards...she was short and sallow complexioned (being half-Sikh, half-Hungarian)...had a bulbous nose with black heads showing...thick lips with a faint shadow of a moustache...
Politeness was not one of her virtues; she believed in speaking her mind, however rude or unkind it be...she called my son "an ugly little boy" wife described her as a bloody bitch...Amrita retorted, "I will teach that woman a lesson. I'll seduce her husband" wife declared our home out of bounds for Amrita...
Amrita's mother got the details of her daughter's illness and death and held her nephew and son-in-law responsible. She bombarded ministers, officials, and friends (including myself) with letters accusing him of murder.
Dr Raghubir Singh, then a leading physician of Lahore, was summoned to Amrita's bedside at midnight when she was beyond hope of recovery...she had become pregnant and been aborted by her husband. The operation had gone wrong. She had bled profusely and developed peritonitis. Her husband wanted Dr Raghubir Singh to give her a transfusion and offered his own blood for it. Dr Raghubir Singh refused to do so without finding out their blood groupings. While the two doctors were arguing with each other, Amrita slipped out of life.
Badruddin Tyebji has given a vivid account of how he was seduced by her ("she simply took off her clothes and lay herself naked on the carpet by the fire place"). Vivan admits to her having many lovers. According to him her real passion in life was another woman."
L'Holme - The Majithia residence in Simla
The survivors

The case did not close with Amrita's death. To Marie Antoinette, victor was the murderer who also covered the cause of death. In a strange twist of fate, the day after Amrita's death, Britain declared war on Hungary and Victor was jailed as a 'national enemy'. He died an old man in 1997.

Marie Antoinette was devastated by young Amrita's sudden and mysterious death. After several failed attempts of suicide, on July 31st, 1948, she took the gun from Umrao Singh's study and shot herself. Her tragic fate reminds one of the allegedly promiscuous Marie Antoinette who faced the guillotine for high treason during the French Revolution.

After the sad death of Amrita and the unfortunate suicide of Marie, Umrao Singh Sher-Gil Majithia gradually lost his memory. He lived out his last few years with his second daughter, Indira, in Simla and Delhi. He died in Delhi in 1954 at the age of 84. His papers in Hungary once stated: 'no faith' and 'living in Majithia as a British citizen'. The truth is he died as a free Indian citizen.

Dead artists are rich artists

Amrita is the paternal great-aunt of Indian actor and painter, Jimmy Sher-GilRecently Amrita's 1933 self-portrait sold for a record Rs 18.2 crores ($2.9 million) in India, the third most expensive work of Indian art to be sold at an auction. 
India declared Amrita a national treasure artist in 1976, which means that her work cannot leave the country. She did not, like most artists, live to enjoy the fruits of her efforts.

Works by Amrita are very hard to come by since most are in possession of her descendants and the National Gallery of Modern Art in Delhi. The only painting by Amrita Sher-Gil that hangs in Lahore Museum is the Veena Player.
Sardar Umrao Singh Majithia taking a walk

Pakistan need not go to war with India to recover Amrita's art; we still have Kashmir to fight over. One hopes that the Sikh pilgrims who regulary visit Pakistan will petition our government to recognise Amrita as a national treasure. This being an 'Islamic Republic' will never have Amrita's statue placed on The Mall of Lahore, however, affixing a Heritage Plaque at her house to read "Residence of Amrita Sher-Gil" is the cheapest risk-free option.

What has Amrita taught us?
Amrita, as most artists do, showed us that creating art is a lonely and serious process that requires shedding of sweat and tears if one desires to occupy a high place in the art world. As a gifted but vulnerable artist she took huge chances with her body and soul but ended up being utterly misunderstood. Amrita's sensitive soul often guided her to a dark and destructive path that challenged the accepted standards of society.

Literature and the arts soften the blows of time, for some religion does it best. Just as children play and enjoy themselves after school and studies at home, grownups too, after having done their duties to God and fellow human beings, are allowed to channel energies into wholesome efforts. All work and no play, makes Jack dull; we can see dull Jacks (and Jills) all over this 'land of the pure'.

Artists and writers live and die by their brush-strokes and pens. Amrita Sher-Gil was neither a bureaucrat nor a politician but rather a creator in a world full of empty-headed onlookers.
Amrita Sher-Gil

Daggers drawn, but why?

Religious or political ideologies need not close our minds to the beauty that is in everyone and everything, beauty created by the Exalted Creator and Bestower of forms (al-'Alī, Khāliq, Musawwir). Only those misunderstand art whose eyes cannot fathom abstraction, symbolism, geometry and other disciplines. What is not understood is always feared in repressed societies.

More damage is being done today to mankind through bad policies of governance than vulgar art. The inartistic, unintelligent and ugly pictures painted by some insecure ones in Pakistan and India continue to divide the people through a severe deadlock in all avenues of trade and arts. Fear of the 'other side' is destroying appreciation and lack of healthy artistic expression is stunting the growth of entire cross-sections of societies. Without art and artists, what is any country if not an ugly factory for slaves? The war being waged on art and artists is not expected to end any time soon.

Lahore, the last stop

Amrita's broad forehead indicates she was generous and intelligent, her lips show she was full of life and love. As for her flirtatious nature, this was due to the example set by her mother, the neglect of her apparently religious and philosophical father, the overly liberal education, the upheavals of time, and the wounds inflicted by society.

One could say that some are born crooked but it is clear from Amrita's story that society's crooked factory does produce many faulty products. One might be born a saint but it is certainly the upbringing and the company that turn one into a devil.

If one were to speak to the elected custodians of our State, they will cringe at Hindu or Sikh names being remembered or celebrated. Amrita came to Lahore not to be physically loved to death but rather for acceptance and artistic immortality. Amrita did not die on Champs-Élysées having soufflé; she lived on art's two-edged sword and died in Lahore. She loved this ancient city in so many ways. The city, as of this writing, is unable to pay her back with love.

-- concluded --
©Tahir Gul Hasan, 2017

Further reading
Iqbal At Close Range
Allama Iqbal: A Letter to The Times
The Artistic Youth Of Amrita Sher-Gil
The Fantastic Growth Of Amrita

No one must misconstrue the information presented here about Amrita Sher-Gil and other persons mentioned as disinformation or insults. All the information was meticulously collected (after cross-checking) from numerous sources on the internet (without the use of proxy servers in Pakistan). If you feel something here needs to be amended, please email me the suggestions with believable references. Until then, whatever is written here shall be considered correct.


I visited hundreds of web sites while researching for material on Amrita Sher-Gil. The most important ones have been either listed here or have their web links included in the text. Just click on the words in blue colour and you will reach those other pages that contain either the text used (after laborious editing) or more information. Omissions, if any, were not made intentionally.

See paintings by Amrita HERE
Photos B1A, F in my folder