The news of Jehangir Sabavala’s passing away has sunk deep in my being.
I had known him since our years together at the JJ School of Arts in Mumbai in the mid-1940s of the last century.
It is now more than half a century, but time only brought us closer, much due to the charm and gentleness he possessed, which grew inspite of our never having shared domicile, except for these few early years at JJ School.
There are many who knew Jehangir for his contribution to the development of modern Indian paintings, but I do not think there are many who knew him as a person, and he remained an enigma to most.
It was his enigmatic self, which was the most dominant — hiding most of his otherwise charming and simplistic self. The earliest image that I have of Jehangir is the one I faced at the time he would enter school at the starting of classes.
It was of an aristocratic-looking young man holding a palette, armed with fresh paints in one hand and a set of brushes in the other, coming out of the car he owned as if he had left the school while still working.
The scene would be repeated at the end of the day. No other student had the means to afford these facilities, especially so long ago, when a car was such a luxury. This, despite the fact that our class in the forties at the JJ School was over flowing with students that would make centrestage of Modern Indian Art.
I may just name a few to give weight to my point. These were FN Souza, SH Raza, VS Gaitonde, MF Husain, Akbar Padamsee, Tyeb Mehta, PN Mago, Harkrishan Lall, and of course, myself.
How I made acquaintance with Jehangir in this atmosphere, I don’t know. What I came to know was that Jehangir belonged to one of the top Parsee families in Bombay, which included the Tatas and the founder of JJ School and JJ Hospital, and almost much else of public institution.
JJ or Jamshed Jeejeebhoy, to further his experimenting options, invested in institutions of public welfare. Maybe it was Jehangir’s family roots that caused his isolation from popular art trends in Mumbai. His style had much of European effect in fashion.
It, in a way, helped Jehangir to enrich his imagery with an approach that remained individual upto his last, and shaped him as an artist and gentleman.