Death of India’s iconoclast Satish Gujral

Multifaceted master modernist and Padma Vibhushan awardee Satish Gujral passed away at 94 on March 26 night. He was an architect, painter, muralist, sculptor and graphic artist

Death of India’s iconoclast Satish Gujral
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Girish Shrivastava

Multifaceted master modernist and Padma Vibhushan awardee Satish Gujral passed away at 94 on March 26 night. He was an architect, painter, muralist, sculptor and graphic artist. His artworks were majorly inspired by the turbulence of his early years including the illness that impaired his hearing as a child and the partition of the subcontinent. His familiar works include the alphabet mural on the outside wall of the Delhi High Court and the outer designs on the Belgian embassy in Delhi. While many of Gujral’s contemporary artists like S.H. Raza, F.N. Souza, M.F. Hussain, Ram Kumar and others went to Paris or London in the early 1950s to study and practice art, Satish Gujral went to Mexico city to study with Diego Rivera and Siqueiros. Gujral’s oeuvre is a versatile practice spanning painting, sculpture and architecture.

Death of India’s iconoclast Satish Gujral

Satish Gujral (25 December 1925- 26 March, 2020),the younger brother of the Prime Minister of India (1997-1998) Inder Kumar Gujral, was born in Jhelum in undivided Punjab in British India. When he was crossing a rickety bridge in Kashmir, he slipped and fell into the rapids, which later resulted in impairment of hearing, which he regained after surgery in 1992, 62 years later. And, thereafter, he could speak but his voices were incoherent gibberish. Because of his hearing problems in the childhood he had to face many refusals from schools but at last he joined the Mayo School of Arts in Lahore in 1939 to study applied arts. He moved to Bombay in 1944 and enrolled in the Sir J J School of Art and due to a recurring sickness, he was forced to drop out of the school in 1947 and leave Bombay. In 1952, Satish Gujralreceived a scholarship to study at the Palicio de Bellas Artesin Mexico City, where he was apprenticed to the renowned artist Diego Rivero and David Alfaro Siqueiros.

The Partition of India and the associated agony of the immigrants impacted a young Satish and manifested itself in the art works he created. From 1952 to 1974, Gujral organised shows of his sculptures, paintings and graphics in many cities across the world such as New York City, New Delhi, Montreal, Berlin and Tokyo, among others. Dozens of documentaries have been made recording Gujral’s work and a full theatre film on his life is in the making. He was also part of the 2007 BBC television film, Partition: The Day India Burned. A 24-minute documentary called “A Brush with Life” was released on 15 February 2012 which was based on his own book with the same name. Four books of his work have been published, including an autobiography.

Death of India’s iconoclast Satish Gujral

Satish Gujral is survived by his wife Kiran in New Delhi. Their son Mohit Gujral, who is an architect, is married to former model, Feroze Gujral. They also have 2 daughters, Alpana, a jewellery designer, and Raseel Gujral Ansal, an interior designer and owner of Casa Paradox & Casa Pop and is married to Navin Ansal. His nephew, Rajya Sabha MP Naresh Gujral said of him “He led a challenging life but he proved himself equal to it. His zest for life despite his handicap was incomparable. He lost his hearing at the age of nine when he knew only Punjabi and could read a little Urdu. From there to becoming an artist, sculptor, author of his autobiography (A Brush with Life), he proved that he was equal to whatever life threw at him. He lived an enthusiastic and passionate full life.” If painter and poetess Kiran is a picture of dignity and affection, Satish was flamboyant. If Kiran chooses her words carefully, Satish had a wry sense of humour and cared two hoots about what comes out of his mouth. A shy Kiran reserves her smiles to a minimum, while Satish loved to laugh uninhibitedly and laced his speech with verses from Urdu poetry. He eventually regained his speech after a surgery at 72 but not hearing. He mostly read Kiran’slip movements before answering most questions. In one of such conversations with this author, he said about his early life full of struggles in Delhi, “I came to Delhi from Jhelum in Pakistan in 1939 and lived here for a while. I remember the stretch from Tilak Bridge till Delhi Gate was empty. Today’s Indian Medical Association building at ITO was yesterday’s jail, travelling in Delhi required a great deal of thought. People used to travel in bullock cart to go to Humayun Tomb from Lajpat Nagar. Today’s Sunder Nagar was a graveyard then. Most of it was marshy because of the Yamuna riverwould flow till there. I wanted to make Sunder Nagar my home, but my brother said , ‘Kabristan jaane ke aur bhi raastehain’ (There are other ways to go to a graveyard).”


Death of India’s iconoclast Satish Gujral

On how art grew in the city, Delhi’s first burnt-wood sculptor says: “When I came back from Mexico to Delhi (on a scholarship in 1952), I wanted to sell my works. So, I went to Dhoomimal (now an art gallery) at Connaught Place. There was Kumar Gallery (Delhi’s second art gallery that came up in 1956) where Virender Kumar worked for Rs.75 per month. When he saw me, he whispered : ‘I want to start a gallery of my own. Can you help? I need four to five artists to give me their works.’ It was done. He opened a small gallery in a corner at Sunder Nagar. Today he is a billionaire. His growth says much about the artistic trends and progress of art in Delhi.” Today Satish Gujral is survived by some of his famous works as ‘Mourning en masse’, ‘Resurrection’, ‘Meera Bai’, ‘Prophet’, ‘Village’, ‘Femme assises’, ‘Days of Glory’, ‘Tree of Life’, ‘Raising of Lazarus’, etc.

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