Akbar Padamsee and Lalitha Lajmi get all emotional about the Taj Art Gallery, writes Reema Gehi...
A week after armed intruders stormed these hotels, Mumbai is trying to pick up pieces of shattered dreams.
Two veteran artists recollect memories of the Taj Art Gallery and a city which was once resilient and today seething with resentment.
Akbar Padamsee (80)
In the early days, when there were no galleries, artists would exhibit their works at the Taj. The pristine walls were a window to the future for so many young artists like Shiavax Chavda. For a collegian like me, it was an educational trip.
One of my own paintings was to be a part of Neville Tuli’s collection, which was to be showcased at the Crystal Room last week. A truck stacked with artworks was parked outside the Taj last Wednesday. It even took a hit from one of the blazing guns and was sent back. Fortunately, all the works are intact. Unfortunately, I can’t say the same for the Taj Art Gallery.
‘I don’t want to be Picasso’
I don’t want to paint what I’m seeing today. I don’t want to make posters. I don’t want to be Picasso painting Guernica. But I know that one-day forms will emerge from this destruction.
When people light candles and pray together for harmony, it’s like a balm on my wounds. Usually, wounds heal with time but this time, I’m not so sure..
What do we lack? Is it skill or will? I really don’t know. Our policemen, armed with wooden lathis, are expected to fight men with AK-47s? They are not provided with bulletproof vests, they are paid peanuts, yet they fought for us, valiantly. I salute them.
I lost a dear friend of mine, art dealer Pankaj Shah. He was the only one I knew personally who was inside one of the hotels. I had hoped that he would be safe. The news of his death has upset me deeply.
'I wanted the job badly'
So many precious memories flood my mind when I think of the Taj. When my husband was working with the Bombay Port Trust, we used to live just behind the hotel. I would enter the gallery, view the works on display, then, sprint off to the adjacent Fort Convent School to take my art class.
In the initial years of my career, I’ve also exhibited my works at the Taj Art Gallery. It was a compact and intimate space for a solo show. The lighting was perfect.
There used to be a pleasant girl called Uttara Parikh who would manage the gallery. When Uttara was leaving to join Air India, she graciously recommended my name as gallery manager. I wanted the job badly because back then, we were pretty badly off financially. Unfortunately, the Taj management opted for someone else.
Going.. going.. gone!
Over the years, Sotheby’s and Christie’s have held their auctions either at the Taj ballroom or at the Oberoi’s. If I remember, the first auction I attended was at the Oberoi in the mid-1990s. It was for the Save the Children India Foundation, organised by Vipula Kadri.
I know they will rebuild both hotels and they will be much stronger now. But what of the lives which have been lost? Thousands have died. It has been a very disturbing week for all of us. I have hardly slept.
I’ve lost two of my Campion School students, Sunil Parekh and Ashok Kamte. They were my son’s classmates. My close friend, Tao’s Kalpana Shah lost her husband, Pankaj. I feel so helpless in the face of these tragedies. I can only offer my prayers.