Artistic action is a strange fury. It has to be cultivated with trust in fullness, like the patience of the mountains, in quiet waiting, all alone. That which is in front is evident but eyes alone are not able to perceive. From form to transform there are many unfamiliar possibilities where truth lies hidden. Without doubt, intelligence, reason and the divine energy residing on the top of restrained fury, the inner flame, alone are the best means of artistic action.
Sayed Haider Raza
Widely acknowledged as a master of Indian art, S H Raza has been living and working in Paris for more than half a century. He combines in work an intensely Indian vision with the French sens plastique. A fellow of the Lalit Kala Akademi and a Padmshree, Raza has been honored by the French government. His works are in important private art collections and major museums of the world.
An eminent Hindi poet-critic Ashok Vajpeyi (1941) has been deeply interested in and knowledgeable about the arts. He has been writing about music and visual arts and has writing about music and depth S H Raza. One of the major institution-markers in India, he lives in Delhi.
A Few Words
Sayed Haider Raza belongs to Damoh, a town only a few miles away from my home town Sagar. I heard of him, however, as a major painter only when I came to Delhi for my post-graduate studies in early sixties. Till then I did not know that he belonged to Damoh. Many years later when a new cultural initiative was taken in Madhya Pradesh, the fact that he hails from the same state and lives in Paris made us feel that Madhya Pradesh should remember and honour him. This became possible in 1978 when Raza came to Bhopal at the invitation of the Government of Madhya Pradesh. It was then that I met him for the first time. He was, of course, overwhelmed by the honour and warmth he received from his native land. What was truly amazing for us was the discovery that this man, after having lived in France for so many decades, remembered vividly his childhood, his teachers, the Hindi language and many poems and utterances in his mother tongue. During this visit Raza went to many cities of the state including Damoh. He made a tremendous impact on the art-loving public and the younger community of artists. Everyone impressed by his capcity to speak lucidly and effectively in Hindi, by his intellectual simplicity, his keenness for the work of the young artists, and his warmth and generosity.
Raza has termed this visit as a path-breaking turn in his artistic journey. He recalled the instruction given to him in his childhood by a primary school teacher to forget everything else and concentrate on the 'Bindu' he had made on a wall of the school. It made Raza consciously turn to Indian concepts and motifs, while keeping his French initiation into technique and plastic values active and alive, and evolve a new artistic identity which has already attained the status of an icon the world over. This enthusiasm and unlovability for his childhood memories, poetry, and ideas etc. are unusual. Since 1981 I have been meeting him regularly both in India and France. I have spent weeks talking to him, watching him paint and go about his life. As a person he has his beliefs and prejudices but he never tries to impose them on others. He is never averse to listening attentively to what others have to say. He is transparent. He feels that even a person younger to him by fifty years and much less experienced could teach him something.
Since the last few years, the market for modern Indian art has heated up and the prices of the works of many masters including Raza have escalated very high. So far as I know, it is only Raza who is investing a lot of the money he gets from the sale of his works in a trust he has set up to promote and help young artists and poets. Every year when he visits India, he sees a lot of works of young artists, and besides discussing with them various aspects of their works, buys some of them for his own collection. Such trust in the possibilities of the young is rather rare.
Over the years Raza has kept a notebook entitled 'Dhai Akhar' (One and A Half Letters) in which he has noted down in his own handwriting many poems, sayings, reflective extracts, and words in Hindi, French, English and Sanskrit. He has entitled most of his paintings in Hindi or Sanskrit. His house in Paris is a small museum of many artifacts from India he has been collecting over the years. Living in Paris for more than half a century, Raza has retained his Indian citizenship. He carries an Indian passport.
That a man from Babariya, Bachia, Kakaiya and Damoh reaches the top, that too in Paris, without support or resources, is an exciting and instructive tale. It took some time to convince Raza that the story of his life is worth telling. Raza is a humble and reticent person. To exaggerate or dramatize his own life or experiences is not in his nature. He felt that talking such elements his story would be of no interest to anyone. Anyway, in 2001 the autobiographical account was recorded in his studio in Paris. This is a spontaneously spoken account and not a written one. Very few changes have been made in the written version. It is not chronological in the strict sense. When the conversation took place Janine Monjillat was alive, though ill. By the time the Hindi version 'Atma Ka Taap' (Rajkamal Prakashan) came out last year, she had expired. A small piece has, therefore, been added later to the script. A small selection of entries in English from Raza's notebook has been included to give the readers a flavour of the interior world which Raza inhabits, and the ideas and insights of others which excite his imagination.
I have been writing about Raza since 1978. Four essays, some notes (English versions of some pieces which apears in the Hindi daily 'Jansatta' in my weekly column 'kabhi kabhar') and a poem I wrote for Raza when he turned 80 years of age have also been included.
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