the-south-asian.com August 2004
Culture & History
Page 2 of 4
– the enfant terrible of Pakistan art
Tell us what brought you to painting and how you started painting.
I started seriously quite late as part of my thesis at National College of Arts. In my childhood I was never interested in art ….. "Bilkul" [absolutely], not at all………. sitting outside growing up next to the Badshahi Mohalla, I was always into street sports, gambling, bird fighting, dog fighting, selling cinema tickets in black. ………It’s a long story.
I scraped through Matric [high school] in 3rd Division- barely - by copying and had to take a few papers a second time. I planned to become a doctor. I tried three different schools and for being naughty I was thrown out before Matric from these schools. Although I was good in studies and went to Cathedral school, I got expelled for playing marbles. My aunt‘s daughter who really supported us was called Anwar. She was the central support and godmother of the family……….later she also threw me out, and as a result I broke the glass windows of her house with a sling shot [gulail].
After Matric, I was not sure of what I wanted to do. In the evenings, I would often sit in the open with a very good friend of mine – Amanat Ali [singer of "Insha Jee Utho" ]. The roofs of our present house were broken and fallen in. Wearing a dhoti, in the evening, this was around 1968, 1969, we used to sit on the charpaai [the local bed /hammock style] and he would bring the harmonium and try out some tunes. I tried to become an electrician, supervisor, and a line superintendent. At the time in those days my sister was in the "profession", she used to go to the bazaar, my mother use to go along with her. I was the only son. I would sit outside and late at night at 2 a.m., sometimes the customer used to come along with her also. These were very disturbing times for me, I could not sleep; I would go outside and sleep on the footpath.
My sister supported me. After Matric she tried to get me a job. Meanwhile Anwar died. Subsequently I tried getting jobs through various people, who would not recognize me when I went to their offices. I got a job at a gas /petrol station at Rs. 60 per month. Sometimes they did not pay.
It was at this time that Raza came into this story; he was a very good friend of mine -and still is- at school. In those hard times I would cut his trousers and wear them at school. At that time I had started making pictures of film actors and actresses such as Waheeda Rehman, Dilip Kumar, Saira Bano. These would be passed around and people would say…"great, bravo [wah jee wah]. …Well done". Raza suggested I should try and get admission into the National School of Arts. This was 1970. So I went for the admission test. I had to sketch a flowerpot before me. I was selected. There was a test of English also, which I did not take - because I was not aware of it. Next day I went to the NCA again. In those days Shakir Ali [modernist school Pakistani architect /painter] was there as the head of the department, so too was Khaled Iqbal [a noted Pakistani impressionist painter of landscapes] There were about eight or nine people sitting there. I lied and told them that my mother was not well; hence I could not appear for the English test. One of them said, "Here, read the newspaper." I had been selected.
I had no clue as to what was to be done there. I was the leading college toughie; I used to carry a gun along with a dagger; this is how things used to be, you know, just to impress, you looked after the girls, but no one was impressed, [kissy ney ghas nahin dali], no one bothered. ……
When I was in the 1st year of college, I was not serious; sometimes I would study; sometimes just fool around ; I used to fire guns and do different things to impress the girls but nobody was interested . I passed luckily. Then there was Bashir, who is the miniature guy, now head of the department. He was scared of me; he used to help me. I was very bad at calligraphy; he did calligraphy for me, sometimes he would design for me. He would come to my house to do all my homework at my place, because I was a toughie and I enjoyed all these things. Every morning I use to give him a hint about the homework; the only interest I had was in drawing.
Then came the turning point. I passed marginally in the first year; the passing marks were 245 and I got 248. In the 2nd year I didn’t know which subjects to choose; I asked everybody what subjects they were taking; one of my friends told me that he was taking Fine Arts. I asked him what is Fine Arts? He told me that it’s about making pictures; so I said that I will also take Fine Arts; and this is how I got into the Fine Arts department.
So they don’t teach you drawing in 1st year?
No they don’t teach you anything in 1st year - just basics things. Small stuff, here and there [idhar, udhar], sculpture, small basic elements and then I made my first painting. There was my class fellow - Bashir, and then there was Mustafa, and seven others who were my classmates. They put a flowerpot in front of me and asked me to make a still-life painting. I didn’t know how to fill colours; I made it black & white but everyone else made it in colour. The turning point I was telling you about was my teacher Khaled Iqbal, who is still my teacher. He passed me, and I came into the 2nd group. People asked him why he had passed me as I had made a black & white. He said that at least ["Challo"- Come on], he has used the thick paints - and that was the encouragement that got me going. Second painting onwards, I did better.
Khaled Iqbal played a great role in my life. He gave me the love of a father, unconsciously. I think he knew that there was some spark in me but he never ever mentioned it. So I did a second painting, then a third. …and got totally involved in painting - I did nothing but paint day & night. I would get up at 2 am, draw figures and paint. People said that I had gone crazy, I was wasting my parent’s money, but I kept on working. My thesis was limited because of my lack of command over the language.
What was your thesis on?
My thesis was on the red light area of Lahore [the courtesans’ quarter]. In between, I was painting my relatives, portraits, but these were really bad. I lost all those paintings but one, which is a landscape I made in 1971. That is still lying around - I had gone to the Ravi to paint this.
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