Indian art is great, says SH Raza

Aman Kanth

For someone who has lived in foreign shores for decades, the desire and immediacy to get back to one’s roots can be excruciatingly painful, especially if it is sixty-year-long wait.

It was a rare delight and honour to have SH Raza, one of India’s most distinguished artists, who graced the Day 4 of DSC Jaipur Literature Festival 2011. Despite having lived and worked in France, 89-year-old Raza is deeply rooted in the Indian culture, its spirituality and philosophy.

In conversation with Ashok Vajpeyi in ‘A Painter’s Life’ at Vodafone Front Lawns, it was a first of its kind experience where an artist was given a chance to share his views on life and experiences at a literary fest. Madhya Pradesh-born SH Raza is the first painter to be featured in the Jaipur Literature Festival 2011.

When enquired by Vajpeyi on this extraordinary homecoming, Raza proudly said that despite having lived and worked in France, at heart, he was always an Indian. During an hour-long session, Raza addressed the crowd both in English and Hindi, sharing rare anecdotes about his early days. Raza stated his great dislike for studies, especially Mathematics and English and how he was indebted to his parents and his art teacher, who let him follow his dreams, which ultimately took him to Nagpur School of Art, JJ School of Art and finally École nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris. It was at the École nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts where Raza met his future wife in fellow student Janine Mongilliat.

Raza said that his stay in France was a great experience because the climate of Paris was very congenial to his art. However, at the same time, Raza maintained his love for India. “India is a great civilization. Indian art is very great,” he said.

Interestingly, Raza is famous for his ‘Bindu’ paintings, which were inspired by one of his childhood instances. Talking about the inspiration behind the ‘Bindu’ paintings, Raza said that due to his lack of concentration in studies, once one of his teachers drew a circle on the blackboard and asked him to focus on it. The ‘bindu’ worked magic on Raza as it taught him one of the guiding principles of life – focus. Raza spoke about the importance of focus and the ‘Swadharma’ philosophy of ‘Bhagavad Gita’, which asks human being to try and concentrate on one goal in life. Talking about the great need to focus, he said, “We should find ourselves first and should not worry about what others think.”

Raza ended the session extolling praise on his teachers for making him realise his talent with a beautiful couplet:

“Guru Govind dou khade, kaake laagoon paye
Balihari guru aapki, Govind diyo milaye”