He may have been one of the most-celebrated artists of India, but Himachal Pradesh, where artist Sardar Sobha Singh lived the better part of his life, appears to be in oblivion.
Neighbouring Punjab - his birthplace - remembers him every year by organising various programmes. But, in
Himachal, no one, including the state government, seemed to be interested in paying tribute to the legendry artist on his birth anniversary, which fell on Thursday.
Except for Sardar Sobha Singh Memorial Art Society, established by admirers and family members at Andretta - the place where the artist gave colours to his themes for 38 years -, no organisation or government body remembered him.
Born in 1901 in Gurudaspur town of Punjab, Sobha Singh, after serving the army, opened an art studio in Amritsar and later in 1949 settled in Andretta near Palampur.
During his 38-year stay at Andretta, Sobha Singh painted hundreds of paintings. The lives and works of Sikh gurus were his focus. His themes also included 'Heer Ranjha and Sohni Mahiwal' and portraits of martyr Shaheed Bhagat Singh.
To the distress of his fans, the Sobha Singh Kala Puruskar, which was instituted in 2001, was allegedly later discontinued because of reasons best known to the state department of language and culture.
Legendry artist's grandson and secretary of Sardar Sobha Singh Memorial Art Society, Dr Hirday Paul Singh, said the Rs. 11,000 prize was given twice in 2001 and 2002. "A decade has passed since. But no one has been conferred with the prize. We don't know why it was discontinued," he said, adding that they had written numerous letters to the department, but never received a reply.
Singh remembers that the first prize was conferred upon Hari Chander Rai. "He donated the money to the chief minister relief fund. Next year it was given to Sukhraj, a student of Sobha Singh."
"When BJP government again came to power in 2007, chief minister Prem Kumar Dhumal had announced to revive the prize during his visit to Palampur," he said, adding that it seemed the officers of language and culture department were least interested in the same.
"Now, we have stopped correspondence with the department. Their attitude is pathetic," Singh said.
A follower of Sardar Sobha Singh accused senior officials of the department of trying to belittle the artist. "It's unfortunate that (the work of) an artist who brought Himachal on the world map of art has been ignored like this. Now, no one seems to be interested in taking initiative to remember him," he said.
In spite of repeated attempts, no officials of the department could be contacted for comment.
While the state government continues to ignore the work of Sobha Singh, Himachal Pradesh University (HPU) has decided to set up a chair in his memory. "We are facing shortage of funds. But, once the money is available, the chair will be set up," HPU public relations officer Ranveer Verma said.
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