Dr Ajaz Anwar shares memories of his stay in India, in this concluding part of his series of columns on BC Sanyal
he first Indian principal of Forman Christian College, Dr SK Datta, at the campus near Neela Gumbad called Ewing Hall, had asked BC Sanyal to paint a mural for the library reading room. The painting, titled The Pedlar, depicted a salesman carrying his wares that include terracotta items on a donkey. Today, it is located in the college’s new campus along the Canal.
Although Dr Datta had invited Sanyal with the hope that the students would develop a liking for the art of painting, ironically, FC College still does not offer fine arts as a subject in its curriculum.
Sanyal was in a big hurry to see as much as possible of the Lahore he had known as a young man. He did not have the time to visit his residence behind Sanobar cinema on McLeod Road. Taking a turn along the Ganga Ram Trust building, he stopped to have a look at Flat No 23 where Amrita Sher-Gil had breathed her last on December 5, 1941, at the tender age of 28.
Next, he stopped by at the building owned by Diyal Singh Majeethia. The basement used to be his studio. It was called the Lahore School of Arts. A studio cum art school, it had been inaugurated by Mian Afzal Hussain, the then vice chancellor of the University of the Punjab, in 1937. Leading literary and art personalities had graced the occasion, as can be seen in a photograph that is part of Sanyal’s autobiographical work, The Vertical Woman.
Eminent personalities like Abdur Rehman Chughtai, Zubaida Agha and Bevan Petman had lived and worked at the LSA. Sanyal had also helped organise Sher-Gil’s first solo show at the Faletti’s in the November of 1937. This soon become a meeting place for the students of fine arts from Mayo School as well as the University of the Punjab.
Over time, the arts school flourished, and both girls and boys enrolled, though Sanyal was not much concerned about its financial success. He was now my guide too. He took me to the Regal cinema where he had once rented the upper floor for his studio. It was here that my father had retrieved his art pieces in the aftermath of the Partition, as mentioned in an earlier dispatch.
The place has an interesting history, as related by Khalid Hassan. It was the ballroom of a dance school established by Aslam Lodhi, who left a deep impact on the city’s cultural life. He owned a number of bars in Lahore. One of those, named Volga, remained in business on The Mall until the early 1960s, according to Hassan.
Our next trip was as state guests in India. Much to the regret of my spouse, I had not requested a visa for Agra. Even though some of my new friends offered to take me to Agra and to my janam bhumi (birthplace), Ludhiana, I like to abide by the laws of the host country.
The exhibition of my Old Lahore signed prints was inaugurated by Sanyal amidst multiple metallic lamps that had been lighted as part of a tradition in India. On that occasion, I presented Sanyal a copy of my article about his visit to Lahore that had been published in The Pakistan Times. Later, he included it in his book (The Vertical Woman).
I reminded him of our parting dialogue about the counterfeit coin, and we had a hearty laugh. (It is documented in my previous dispatches.) The High Commissioner of Pakistan, HE Ashraf Jehangir Qazi, joined later as my fax requesting him to inaugurate my exhibition had not been delivered in time. However, he invited us to the High Commission the following day, and we enjoyed the tea.
The exhibition at the Centre was one of my most successful ones. Throngs of old Lahoris, mostly octogenarians and some nonagenarians, visited repeatedly to see the Lahore of their childhood days. The visitors’ book at the venue received some heartwarming remarks.
We visited many historical places in the city and were invited to give talks on different platforms including the Jamia Millia-i-Islamia. Later, we were invited to a dinner at Sanyal’s house where we relished the food prepared by his wife, Snehalata, a Punjabi woman.
Once settled in New Delhi, Sanyal continued with his teaching and art activities. He was awarded the fellowship of Lalit Kala (or Fine Arts Academy) in 1980. Four years later, he was bestowed with India’s highest award for arts — the Padma Bhushan.
My father remained in touch with Sanyal through postal letters, and always signed as “your most obedient student.” In one of the letters, dated January 14, 1988, Sanyal wrote: “Please ask your son Ajaz to discreetly find out about the seven Indian saris I had sent through the Pakistani ladies visiting Delhi, as a token of remembrance. Not having received any acknowledgement, I am beginning to feel a little concerned.” Those were his polite words. We too chose to close the file.
Sanyal always expressed a nostalgia about Lahore. On March 16, 1990, he wrote, “You are the only link left… Do keep it up… Hoping this letter reaches you.”
On February 28, 1999, my father wrote that he had had the chance to attend a get-together of old students at Government College, Ludhiana, a month earlier. He had visited his birthplace, Koocha 13, Wakefield Ganj, where the occupants of his ancestral house had welcomed him graciously.
Even though he had a visa for Delhi, he could not make it there, much to his regret. He thought he’d make it some other time. Sadly, that other time never came.
In one of his letters, dated October 12, 2001, my father lamented his failure to get the sculpture pieces that had been returned to him. Mrs Naheed Rizvi, the very efficient director of the museum, recently messaged to me that she had those cleaned with the intention of putting them on display, but then her tenure ended. The pieces are now gathering dust in the basement, in the company of Queen Victoria’s bronze, seated figure (poetically, it coincides with the coronation of King Charles III).
(This dispatch is dedicated to Amrita Sher-Gil)
The writer is a painter, a founding member of Lahore Conservation Society and Punjab Artists Association, and a former director of NCA Art Gallery. He can be reached at ajazartbrain.net.pk