Thursday, November 22, 2007

'sare jahan se accha "hindoostan" hamara,hamara'











an exhibition of original paintings in oil and watercolours and also prints by distinguished european(including british) artists is being held at 'cymroza art gallery',warden road mumbai.till 27th november. these are rare museum quality paintings and prints from the private collection of dinesh and varsha thacker.having received an invitation to attend the inauguration by the british deputy high commissoner,uk which i could not unfortunately attend, i decided to take a dekko this afternoon at lunchtime as i happened to be in warden road for a meeting.

the paintings relate to the indian sub-continent in the 18th and 19th century. hence the name for the exhibition "hindoostan". these paintings were done in oils and watercolours by distinguished european artists. john gantz, william westall, henry singleton, john griffiths to name a few. john grifffiths was responsible for setting up the bombay school of art in india. many of our famous painters have learnt the intricacies of painting in this school. on display were also prints by the daniells brothers-thomas and william, william hodges, james bailee fraser and many others.i have great fascination for the works of daniells which touch my heart.

the subject for the paintings were mainly rural scenes of villagers with their animals, princely families and their domestic staff (a defiant maharaja of holkar,indore, beautifully painted in battlegear),battle and war scenes(tipu sultan and hyder ali), court gatherings and shikar, temples and mosques, religious people, different tribes,festivals etc. the natural flora and fauna were also well covered reflecting the historical and cultural relevance of that period.if you want to see how beautiful bombay was during the british raj,this exhibition gives you a good glimpse.an 81 inch-long watercolour painting by rev w h carpendale gives a panaromic view of bombay from malabar hill in the 1850s.

i met dinesh thacker,50 years old,the collector and keeper of these paintings. a modest and an unassuming person who is totally passionate about paintings. from a young age he and his sister varsha were encouraged by their parents to take interest in indian art and culture and books,said thacker when i asked him whether this was a recent hobby of his. "no discos,no partying for us.with our small pocket money and guidance from our parents we would shop around for paintings from a very young age.one day our parents gave us rs 200 to pick up one of k h ara's paintings. when we met ara he asked us to take any painting that we liked from a stack of canvasses that lay rolled up in a corner.we bought a painting of horses because we loved horses!(incidentally,there are some terrific paintings of horses in the exhibition) and that is how over the last forty years we have been able to collect all these paintings". when i asked him whether any of them were for sale, he said "sorry,i can't sell many of them because they are registered with the archaeological society of india(asoi). which means that it is 'heritage'. also to bring these paintings to the cymroza art gallery from my residence prior permission of asoi was required to be taken". according to dinesh thacker,how do you put a value on these paintings? there is really no benchmark. but since many of them are rare and brilliantly done,they are invaluable. in a way,i could make out that he was happy that he could not sell. they were too dear for him to part with. the art market now is on an upswing. modern art is the in-thing. but then historical art has its own beauty. our beautiful monuments,landscapes,festivals and various events in our urban and rural areas give our artistes an opportunity to remain in touch with our roots rathen than painting something abstract.when i said this to dinesh thakker,he couldn't agree more.

encouraged by pheroza godrej to exhibit their collection the media-shy couple finally agreed to have this exhibition.their collection runs into thousands of paintings and prints.some of the paintings like tipu sultan fighting the british,the queen's necklace seen at night from malabar hill,the churchgate surroundings before and after reclamation,etc caught my eyes.the attention to detail in the paintings was staggering.we live in a building constructed just before the second world war erupted.i was thrilled to spot our building in one of the prints on churchgate.

i left the hall clean bowled by the artistes.these europeans who came to india during those two hundred years of british rule have contributed enormously to our history through their paintings by keeping alive our old art and culture in public memory. some of the paintings of rural bengal are very vivid. the taj mahal, jamma masjid, dashasashvamedha ghat at benares, tanjore temple, trichy fort, gomukhi gangotri(the origin of ganga) makes you ponder how they went to these far off places in those days by bullock carts and horseback and painstakingly made such beautiful paintings for generations to see and appreciate.and three cheers to the thackers and the godrejs for exhibiting these priceless paintings to the general public. if i can get some free time over this weekend, i will go again and get lost,surrounded by these paintings which i will never forget.

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