Dr Ajaz Anwar recounts his days at GC’s Fine Arts Department which had just been started
In our education system, matriculation is regarded as a crucial stage. It’s an irony of fate (or the system?) that many of those scoring high merit through rote-learning opt for the medical and science subjects or join the armed forces. The students from Central Model School, donning the same uniform of dark red blazer and khaki pants invariably score the highest marks through memorisation of the whole syllabi and bearing strict corporal punishments. They get all the top positions, yet they lack in general knowledge and extra-curricular activities.
Journalism, or literature, or even psychology and other humanities’ subjects also need bright minds. Again, the relief is found in the system: many, seemingly delinquent, fare better later in their practical life. I appeared for my Class X exams in the year 1961. My roll number was 1960. I utilised the three months’ wait for the results in copying old painting classics in water colour. I had sourced these paintings from the various magazines in my father’s collection.
Daily, I would finish a new painting. I developed a special liking for Utrillo who painted streetscapes. My father occasionally gave me instructions on how to let the coloured water flow over the paper.
I wanted to become a painter and study fine arts as an elective subject. Though I got a first class I was far below what Saadatullah Khan or Asif Naveed had achieved the previous year. My class teacher, Enayat Pervaiz, once remarked that he had expected better results from me.
I was desperately looking for a college that offered fine arts. I visited the MAO, Islamia, FC and Diyal Singh Colleges, only to learn that no boys’ college offered fine arts. Perhaps, because it was thought to be something of women’s interest only.
Though the Mayo School of Arts, which had just been rechristened as National College of Arts, offered courses leading to diplomas which the matriculates could apply to, I wanted higher education in the subject. By some stroke of luck, Government College, Lahore, decided to start offering the subject. The Punjab University’s Fine Arts Department, whose student enrolment had been reduced to 10 or so at the time of Partition, had been taking in only girls. The boys were finally allowed in the year 1959. Sufi Waqar (son of Ghulam Mustafa Tabassum), Colin David, and Aslam Minhas were among the first students to qualify with a master’s degree in fine arts (MFA).
Khalid Iqbal, Naseem Hafeez Qazi and Zakia Dil were the professors at the department, which was headed by Anna Molka Ahmad. Anna Molka’s husband, Sheikh Ahmad, taught history of Muslim architecture and Malik Shams, the curator of the Central Museum of Lahore gave a series of lectures.
Even more problematic for those finally qualifying — back in the day when paintings didn’t sell and sculpture was totally without any patronage — was finding job opportunities. Both the institutes strived to absorb the most talented graduates as enrolment increased. Anna Molka Ahmad hired Colin David because he was a gold medalist. Aslam Minhas, though more skillful, hadn’t fared too well in the final thesis.
Anna Molka sweet-talked Dr Nazir Ahmad into creating the Department of Fine Arts at the GC. Since no vacancy existed in the subject, a post for lecturer in Persian was converted to accommodate Aslam Minhas. This proved to be a technical error. Consequently, Minhas sahib never got promoted in his over 35 years of continuous service. However, when Prof Khalid Aftab built an art gallery at the college, he dedicated it to Minhas.
The brilliant book written by Prof Khalid Masud Siddiqui on the history of GC mentions a number of societies that offered extracurricular activities including debating, dramatics, literary activities and the like but none for the fine arts. Minhas was able to organise a paintings exhibition as part of the college’s centenary celebrations circa ’64.
Initially, the new department had a nomadic life. Practicals were held outdoors where we painted landscape scenes. The lectures too were more of verbal communication. Abdul Qayyum Jojo would marvel at the students’ gathering. Finally, a large room was allotted to us. Its furniture consisted of only a large wooden almirah. The college carpenter made easels for us ‘donkeys’ and a set of chairs suitable to hold the drawing boards. Some allowance was sanctioned for human models and we were able to stretch full-length arms to take measurements of the model. There was just four of us — Sufi Waqar, Tanvir Shamsi, Shoaib Anwar and myself. Anwar I don’t think ever qualified, but he managed to become the deputy mayor of Lahore.
We were all given duplicate keys to the ‘department’ so that we could come and go at our ease and work in our lean hours. The department became a meeting place, or common room, for the professors, all learning from one another. I remember the principal walking in once; we rose respectfully but he asked us to continue working.
After a few months we were able to hold an exhibition of our paintings and drawings. It was inaugurated by Anna Molka. Aslam Minhas was asked to paint a picture of the famous tower of GC, to be presented to the chief guest. On another occasion, Minhas asked me to paint one. I obliged by painting it in oil on hardboard. While it was being presented to the guest, the whole crowd of students shouted my role number (282). I felt elated.
Back then, GC’s dramatic society was quite active. Once, our teacher designed a poster for the play, The Matchmaker, in which Shoaib Hashmi and Jojo played the lead roles. It won us great applause.
The film society regularly screened quality films that might have been box office disasters.
I wanted to join the rifle training club, but my father opposed the idea. Yet, I got full training from a retired soldier, Gulistan Khan. He taught us how to ‘slope arms.’
College life was entirely different from the restrictive school. Here we were, free to roam about and cultivate habits according to our interests. Suddenly, we felt like we were adults.
Nearly everyone owned a bicycle. Under a very old banyan tree sat the caretaker of the bicycle stand, watching over hundreds of vehicles lined up in such an array that if one of them fell down it triggered a chain reaction.
Next to it was a fruit shop which sold fresh juices.
To be continued
Corrigendum: The Government College of Ludhiana was founded in 1920, Prof KM Siddiqui has pointed out, and I stand corrected.
(This dispatch is dedicated to Prof RA Khan)
Note: Free Art classes, all ages and genders, are held every Sunday online at houseofnannas.com
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 firstname.lastname@example.org