Wheel of life

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PERSONALITYVeteran artist and freedom fighter Devi Prasad's contribution has been multi-layered


As the family of eminent artist and peace activist Devi Prasad keeps vigil at his bedside, India is moving towards the close of yet another chapter in its modern history. Lying in a critical condition at his home in Delhi, the 90-year-old artist worked alongside Mahatma Gandhi during the Quit India movement. He is recognised as having instigated a new wave of pottery making in India that did not forget the traditional potters of the country. He belongs to the vanishing breed of Indian nation builders. The life of Devi Prasad — painter, photographer, ceramist, writer, educationist, Sarvodaya and peace activist — has exemplified a blend of tradition with modernity, personal philosophy with profession, individual endeavour with the wider social perspective.

Devi Prasad was born in Dehra Dun in 1921 and graduated from Santiniketan in 1942 where he had the fortune not only of studying at the feet of Rabindranath Tagore but also of being taught by the three great master artists Nandalal Bose, Benodebihari Mukherjee and Ramkinkar Baij. After participating in the Quit India movement in 1942 he joined Mahatma Gandhi's Sevagram Ashram where he stayed until 1962, developing the art school, editingNai Talim— the journal of the basic education philosophy formulated by Gandhi — and participating in the Bhoodan and Gramdan movements.

Invited to lead War Resisters International, he moved with his family to London, serving for 10 years as its General Secretary and three as Chairman.

He is credited with playing a leading role in widening WRI's work outlook from personal war resistance towards nonviolent social change as the only way to a war-free world. In 1973 he returned to art and set up a studio pottery, which he moved to Delhi in 1983 where he also started teaching a growing number of students, many of whom have gone on to be celebrated potters in their own right.

Devi Prasad's work has been the subject of a number of major exhibitions in Delhi, Mumbai, Calcutta, Ahmedabad and Santiniketan. He published over 20 books and 100 articles on peace studies, child art and education, Tagore and Gandhi, studio pottery in India, along with translations of seminal works by Tagore, Gandhi and Antoine de Saint-Exupéry into English, Hindi and Bengali.

He was awarded the Lalit Kala Ratna by Lalit Kala Akademi in 2007 and the honorary degree of Desikottama (Doctor of Literature) by Visva Bharati in 2008 in recognition of his contribution to education, the art of pottery and dedication to the cause of international peace.

Prasad's health was failing but he maintained his interest in his work till about a week ago when renal failure sent him into a coma. He is being looked after at home, says his wife Bindu Lal, because that is the way he wished to go. Having been hospitalised in October, and having suffered two strokes and a heart attack, she says the family has decided not to put him on life-prolonging treatment now as that will only increase his suffering.

A book, “Gandhi and Revolution” containing his essays on various aspects of Gandhi from 1962 to '97 is due to be published by Routledge, says Bindu. He put it together with great interest, she says. Routledge is also publishing the artist's biography, “The Making of a Modern Indian Artist — Craftsman Devi Prasad” by Naman Ahuja. Since it was not ready, Bindu showed him a digital printout. “It's a beautiful book,” she says. Only befitting a life beautifully lived.

He is recognised as having instigated a new wave of pottery making in India that did not forget the traditional potters of the country. He belongs to the vanishing breed of Indian nation builders




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