Steadfast through change and beyond

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Gentle genius: Tyeb Mehta. (1925-2009)
Gentle genius: Tyeb Mehta. (1925-2009)

Renowned painter and sculptor Satish Gujral remembers his friend Tyeb Mehta.

The passing of Tyeb Mehta filled me with mixed feelings – of loss and relief. Loss because we shall not have him around to continue enriching the art treasures of our country in his unique way. And relief because during recent years, which were his last, he had been suffering from multiple ailments that seemed to be pushing him towards the end at a cruelly slow pace.

Tyeb’s was a persona who both in his facial expression and physical motion portrayed a continued inner torment. I cannot recall of a single occasion in our long standing friendship when I may have noticed any change in the impression his movements gave. Likewise, the figure in his paintings forever seemed to hang in an unending posture in the vacuum.

Much is written about Tyeb’s having been affected by the killings he witnessed during Partition and the communal disturbances in following years.

I do not think his tortured being had been moulded by these happenings. No outer happening, I believe, shapes the inner physique of an artist, though at times the artist may use these as themes to identify his own inner state.

Goya’s ‘Casa del Sordo’ series is often linked to the Spanish Revolution and its aftermath that caused a human catastrophe. But his having titled these series as ‘Casa Del Sordo’ (The house of the deaf ) explains the cruelty of isolation that was inflicted on him by his having lost his hearing. Otherwise, just having witnessed these tragic happenings could not infuse the sense of a bleak surrounding that was overwhelming in its blackness.

Remarkable trait

The most remarkable characteristic that I noted about Tyeb was his remaining steadfast in his beliefs regardless of change in his own circumstances.

I recall once, over 30 years back when for a short while he had settled in Nizamuddin, New Delhi. The city society in those days was overflowing with so-called art connoisseurs who were fond of gathering artists in their posh dwellings to discuss art trends. It was in such a gathering that one of them asked the attending artists, “What are the trends prevailing in art at the time.” Everyone muttered his pseudo-philosophy. When it came to Tyeb he finished with one sentence: “It is the market place that is guiding art.”

I recalled it recently when one of Tyeb’s painting fetched more than crores and he was asked what he got out of it. “Fame.” He muttered nothing else.

The only redeeming factor that I recollect about Tyeb’s long years of existence is the rewards he was showered with in his later years. Though watching him during this short period on the few occasions that I met him, I did not get the impression that these had made any difference to his inner physique. I can only hope that now that he has parted with his mortal being, may God bless him with eternal peace.



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