It’s a birthday overshadowed by the rush of Christmas wishes and celebrations all across the world. But if the person we’re talking about is Satish Gujral, he’s given us more than enough reason to celebrate! Not only is his contribution to the arts unparalleled but the landmark buildings that he has designed in India and over the world are a cause of national pride.
I was lucky enough to be on a recent shoot with him, which had me spend a few days talking to him about his multi faceted art practice. Where once I used to bump into him at art events almost every week, this particular shoot together was happening after a gap of 6 years!
His most recognisable works are the textured paintings on canvas. But he has mastered the use of granite, burnt wood and bronze for his sculptures – as also scaling up his art in murals. His life-size art – in the form of buildings designed by him – is of course, legendary.
Why the Choice of Silence
There’s so much already written about his wide art practice. The conversations that enter a personal realm, therefore, are even more special. And there’s not a single chat that happens without his wife Kiran. She’s a pivotal presence, our conduit to communicating with him.
I was curious to know what attracted him to this silent world because almost a decade ago, he had made a conscious decision to hold on to the ‘silence’ in his life. He had got a surgery done for hearing implants but it had left him unhappy.
I lost my hearing at the age of eight. When I was 80, I got the implant. Sound came back but it was not familiar to me. I got the implant removed! Every world has its own attraction. Had I got the implant after two-three years of my deafness, it would’ve been fine. But after so many years, I could not recognise another world...Satish Gujral
His Beauty of a Wife and ‘Listening’ to Music
In the middle of the interview, he suddenly thinks of an incident which he cannot help but share. He has been talking about his love for Urdu poetry and how it has helped him cope in difficult times – when he remembers his friend, Faiz Ahmed Faiz.
But this has nothing to do with Faiz’s poetry!
Gujral grins wide, looks at wife Kiran and then beams with pride. “When we got married, a common friend visited us from Lahore. He went back and asked Faiz if he had met Kiran yet. Faiz said, ‘No’. The common friend retorted, ‘Well, we’ve been fools wasting our time in writing Urdu poetry. Look at Satish, he paints and then gets to marry a beauty like Kiran!’….”
Gujral adds that while Urdu poetry is closest to his heart, music isn’t alien to him either.
“I heard your grandfather Talat Mahmood’s songs before I lost my hearing! He was new then but I’m familiar with his work.”
My favourite was the reigning sensation KL Saigal. I went to meet him when I was studying in Mumbai. Saigal was a bit indifferent to me when he found out that I cannot hear. So Saigal wondered how could I know his music. When I insisted that I love his songs, he asked me to sing one. Balam Aye Baso Mere Man Mein… Saigal kissed my eyes and hugged me.Satish Gujral
Such is Satish Gujral. A life lived differently and with unseen conviction to conquer different worlds in inimitable silence. On his 90th birthday today, here’s wishing him more such unchartered territories.
(Sahar Zaman is a news anchor, curator, designer and founder of Hunar TV, Asia’s first web channel on arts.)