At the age of 72, nearly a decade ago, he could hear again, but he has now opted to return to the sound of silence. Here is an e-mail dialogue with the New Delhi-anchored artist and architect.
Could we start with the theme of your exhibition?
It doesn't have an overt ideology, it's purely aesthetic. My painting on Gandhi My Father gives an idea of this imagery. Ever thought of shifting base to Mumbai? No, never. I guess I'm better off in Delhi.
Does your ideology influence your work?
Ideologically, I have always been a leftist but I don't reflect my political leanings in my artwork. <b1>
Have politicians ever influenced you.. like say your brother (former Prime Minister) I K Gujral?
(Sternly) I have never been affected by politics in any phase of my work. Some say that you haven't cashed in on the art boom. The prices of your work have remained static.
Don't you want to sell like Tyeb Mehta, F N Souza or M F Husain?
You can interpret that in any way you want. I have never been swept away by commerce. But the boom has benefited me.. perhaps as much as it has to Mehta and Husain.
What's your view on Husain's ‘exile'?
I deplore the frenzy of religious bigots who are running a campaign against an artist like Husain. Far from hurting the religious sentiments of Hindus, he has done more than any other contemporary artist to give relevance to Hindu religious beliefs through his art.
What are you better at painting or architecture? Painting or architecture?
Well, there is no question of preference. It's just that for the last 10 years, I have given up architecture.
It was never a dhanda for me. It was born out of a mood and ended with the expiry of that mood.
There is a wrong perception that you were once a part of the Progressive Artists' group Bombay.
I don't know why. I have written about that in detail in my autobiography (A Brush with Life). In fact, I had opposed the very concept of the group.. it blatantly imported western modern art.. that didn't appeal to me at all.
Where do you see Indian art heading?
In its current state of evolution, our art has turned to represent urban culture. The achievement is remarkable, if I may say so.
You were operated in Australia for hearing impairment. How did the successful surgery, after many years of silence, change your life?
My experience of sound wasn't very pleasant. It bothered me.. I wanted to go back to that silence.. which the poet Iqbal describes as the envy of stillness. I got the implant removed.. now I am back to where I have been since the age of eight.
You overcame physical disability to achieve success as an artist. Any advice for disabled artists?
There is no formula that I can offer to the disabled.. I can't explain how to overcome it. As far as a man's desire to be an artist is concerned, it is erroneous to think that disability can produce talent for any creative work.