Art transcends borders and artists belong to the world

Spice of Life: The bookseller replied that Amrita Sher-Gil was not an Indian and insisted that she was a Pakistani because she lived and died in Lahore
Artist Amrita Sher-gil was a citizen of the world. Art and literature transcend borders, so artists and authors cannot be confined to boundaries, the bookseller’s father said. (HT file)
Artist Amrita Sher-gil was a citizen of the world. Art and literature transcend borders, so artists and authors cannot be confined to boundaries, the bookseller’s father said. (HT file)
Published on Oct 04, 2021 07:27 PM IST
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By Dr SS Chhina

A visit to the Lahore Museum was on the itinerary of our delegation. I was looking forward to seeing it because I had been hearing about it since childhood from my father and uncles, who migrated to India after Partition. The museum is housed in an imposing building in front of Anarkali Bazaar.

The imposing structure is extraordinarily tall and has departments concerning different periods of history of Punjab beginning from the ancient times. There are paintings and books related to the Mahabharata and Ramayana besides the Buddhist era, the period of Hindu rulers and the Mughal period. I was expecting that the section depicting Sikh history would be comparatively smaller as Maharaja Ranjit Singh had ruled only for 40 years, but contrary to my expectations, the department of Sikh history was among the largest. Apart from Maharaja Ranjit Singh, there was a lot of material related to the rule of Maharaja Kharak Singh, Maharani Chand Kaur, Maharaja Sher Singh and Maharaja Dalip Singh.

The British era and Pakistan post-1947 were also depicted through pictures, paintings and other documents. The common factor in all the historical material was the reality of life that the rule is short-lived, and life is perishable. It goes on changing, one after the other.

As we came out of the museum after spending more than two hours, we saw a number of shops selling memorabilia, but I was more attracted to a book shop. I noticed some of the books were written by famous authors, such as Shakespeare and Charles Dickens, besides Pakistani writers, including Tehmina Durani, who advocates women’s and child rights.

While browsing through different titles, I enquired from the young salesman if any books by any Indian author were bestsellers in Pakistan. He gave two names: Khushwant Singh and Rajinder Singh Bedi.

But as I looked around, I found that there were a large number of books on artist Amrita Sher-Gil and the museum also displayed her paintings. I noticed that some of the books on her had been published by European publishers. The books had been prominently displayed so I could not restrain my enquiry and reminded the bookseller that he had mentioned only two names of bestselling authors of India when books on the artist were in demand.

He replied that Amrita Sher-Gil was not an Indian and insisted that she was a Pakistani because she lived and died in Lahore. How could she be called an Indian? I tried to correct him that she was the daughter of Sardar Umrao Singh, a Jat Sikh of Amritsar, who married a Hungarian woman. Another person listening to our conversation interrupted and added that Sher-Gil was a Hungarian as well.

It’s then that an elderly gentleman, the father of the bookseller, intervened and wisely said that Amrita Sher-Gil was a citizen of the world. Art and literature transcend borders, so artists and authors cannot be confined to boundaries. He concluded that Sher-Gil belonged to every nation. Why Sher-Gil alone, artists like her belong to all nations and are citizens of the world. sarbjitchhina@yahoo.co.in

The writer is senior fellow, Institute of Social Sciences, New Delhi

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Wednesday, October 27, 2021