Painter, sculptor, and architect - a "quirk of fate" brought
him to greatness.
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
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
I arrived in Delhi not immediately after partition but almost
a decade after it. The intervening years were spent in Shimlaand 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
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?
Increative 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.
Recognitionmay 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 theacid 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.