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Home > City Resources > Arts and Antiques > Interview
 Arts & Antiques


Painter, sculptor, and architect - a "quirk of fate" brought him to greatness.

Satish GujralMany years ago, a wise aunt told me that a tree without fruits will stand tall and straight but one that is laden will bend. Such a one is Satish Gujral, winner of the Padma Vibhushan in 1999 for his contribution to Art - a man who had to pay a great price to realise his Destiny. Had he not become deaf when he was ten years old as a complication of a childhood illness, he would probably never have been the artist he is today. At best, he may have dabbled as so many gifted people do and earn a living through other means. And we would have been one great artist poorer.

Whenever I have met this quiet, modest man, he is usually surrounded by people, as chelas around a guru who has taken the vow of silence and knows secrets which others don't. Today, in retrospect, the setbacks of his childhood are signposts to a great destiny; however, for him they were very real trials at the time. This emerges in the following interview which Satish Gujral.

As one of India's leading artists, you have received fame and accolades. Why and when did you choose the artistic medium to express yourself?

I did not choose art as my vocation by intention; rather, it was thrust upon me. Though I showed a keen interest in drawing and painting, it was not taken seriously either by me or by my parents as promise of a future vocation.

It was a quirk of fate; an accident at the age of eight that put me into sick bed where I stayed for half a decade. The infection that subjected me to an endless series of surgeries also brought in its wake, total deafness, at the age of ten while still in sickbed.

The calamity foreclosed any possibility of me following a normal curriculum and forced my father to give greater significance to my pre-occupation with drawing, which had further become intensified with my long spell in sick bed.

A graphic curriculum, he realized, was the only course left for me to follow. At the age of thirteen, after I was able to walk again, I was admitted to an Art School in Lahore.

Had you not been compelled to opt for a graphic curriculum what would you have chosen to be? Was there any other discipline that drew you?

As a child I must have had dreams of becoming this or that, but had I not become deaf, my father would have probably chosen his own profession for me to follow - that of a lawyer. However, if I were to go by the inclination of later days, it is architecture that I would have chosen. Being successful as an artist I chose to make forays in this vocation in later years. This shows that the inclination had roots.

Your family came to Delhi with the Punjabi Diaspora out of Pakistan after partition. You are, today, one of the city's leading citizens. Can you tell me how Delhi shaped your identity and your art? Also, your thoughts on how this city has grown and changed?

I arrived in Delhi not immediately after partition but almost a decade after it. The intervening years were spent in Shimla and in Mexico
. However, it was in Delhi that I grew roots that became deeper as time passed. Though I often grieve at the quality of life in this city with the passage of time, yet the way it has grown culturally has made me ignore all else.

In the four decades that I have lived here, the city grew from a village to a metropolis. Out of nothing it became a cultural centre that rivalled long-established centres like Bombay and Calcutta. I think the credit for this, to a large extent, must go to the Punjabi Diaspora
. They injected into the city the vividness and joie-de-vivre they brought with them from Lahore.

There are many struggling artists in India who remain undiscovered mainly due to a lack of opportunity. Some cannot even afford to buy paints or canvas. What do you think should be done to encourage and develop Art in this country?

In creative fields, as far as success is concerned, there will always be a gap between the haves and the have-nots. Instances of overnight successes in the creative fields are rare and this is natural. It is the same even in developed countries such as the United States where there is an abundance of State patronage and even more support from private foundations.

Recognition may not always come to the right person, but in modern times this is becoming the exception rather than the rule. Wrong persons may have much more monetary success but instances of such artists winning acceptance in circles that matter are growing fewer.

The complaint that some artists cannot afford to paint has grown louder with the growing success of many artists in recent times. It has made beginners envious. They think that they too deserve a share of the cake without going through the acid tests that provide substance to maturity.

I give here the example of a British Master Painter who, when questioned as to why he demanded so much money for the work of a few hours, replied: "The amount is not the price for a few hours work but for a life-long experience".

Satish Gujral has indeed been through the acid tests he speaks about. This is perhaps why he has little patience with those who ask for more support and opportunity. Be that as it may, there is little doubt that his success has been richly earned. A full-length film is being made on his life, based on his autobiography. In December 2000, the National Gallery of Modern Art will host a Retrospective of his works to celebrate his 75th birthday.

He has excelled in every sphere of the Plastic Arts: Painting, Sculpture, Architecture, Graphics, Murals and Object Design. For designing the Belgian Embassy in New Delhi, Gujral was the only non-Belgian to be honoured with the Order of the Crown. An International Jury selected this building among the 1000 most outstanding buildings built in the 20th century.

It is the ambition of most gifted people to build a piece of architecture of their lives, an edifice that will stand the test of time. Satish Gujral has succeeded in doing this, both literally and metaphorically.

- Shanta Bhalla

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