It was rather a touching gift by an artist to a mother who was emotionally wrecked after her son, an Indian Air Force officer, died in an air crash. Painted in 1974, the portrait of Flight Lieutenant Harjit Singh Kahlon, after remaining in possession of various members of his family, is back at Andretta - the picturesque village tucked in the foothills of the mighty Dhauladhar range near Palampur in Kangra district where Sobha Singh lived the better half of his life giving colour to his art works.
Kahlon was killed in an air crash in Rajasthan while flying a Hunter aircraft on September 28, 1974. After his death his mother, Harnant Kaur, approached Sobha requesting him to paint a portrait of her son. "However, the family had no picture of the officer in uniform. Sobha asked the family to give him his uniform," said Hirday Paul Singh, grandson of the celebrated artist.
As Sobha had himself served in the army in Baghdad before India got its independence in 1947, he was so emotionally involved, that what came out was an outstanding portrait that exactly resembled Kahlon as he would look in a uniform.
The artist gifted the portrait to the soldier's mother without charging for his hard work. Kaur died a few years later and the painting came into possession of Kahlon's younger brother HP Singh.
"HP Singh too died a few years ago and the since then the painting was with the youngest of the brothers, Captain RS Kahlon, who lives in Tokyo, Japan," said Hirday, who runs an art gallery containing art works of Sobha.
"Harjit's brother (RS Kahlon) wrote to us after we put a post on our website urging people having Sobha Singh's art works and if they are finding it hard to preserve the same. Initially he wanted to keep the portrait with himself and sought suggestions to preserve it, but later decided to return the portrait so that it could be better conserved. The younger Kahlon flew to India from Tokyo last week to hand over this finest of Sobha's art works," Hirday said.
The portrait has now been put on public display at the Sobha Singh Art Gallery.
"While returning the portrait RS Kahlon was very emotional and felt that his sacred duty towards his departed brother and mother was fulfilled. Harjit's portrait was not the only art work of Sobha on the Indian army. He painted numerous portraits of army soldiers and officers especially those from the Sikh regiment," the artist's grandson added.
A few of these portraits are on display at the Indian army's Mahar Regimental Center in Sagar, Madhya Pradesh.