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Art in India was still finding its feet. But Gopi Gajwani recalls that in the 1950s when Keshav Malik wrote a good word about an artist, it would help build a career. “Writing on art meant doing something great back then, and artists waited to know what Malik was going to write about their work. Even the reader took the reviewer’s opinion as the last word,” says the Delhi-based artist about the art critic and curator, who breathed his last at the age of 90 on June 11. He is survived by his wife Usha, sister Kapila Vatsyayan and brother Bhashi Malik. A Padma Shri awardee, he died of a heart attack in his Connaught Place home. The funeral was attended by several members of the art fraternity, including Manu Parekh, A Ramachandran, Paramjit Singh, Amitava Das and Mona Rai.
Born in Miani, now in Pakistan, in 1924, Malik was an art critic for arts journal Thought, Hindustan Times and Times of India. Co-founder of the Poetry Society of India, he also published 18 volumes of poetry, including The Lake Surface and Other Poems (Surge Publications, 1959) and Between Nobodies and Stars (South Asia Books, 1985).
“He dedicated his entire life to art and his doors were always open for artists who wanted to learn from him,” says artist Sangeeta Gupta, who made three films on Malik. “I think he sensed his death. Recently, he had started distributing his possessions. All his books were donated to the India International Centre and Kurukshetra University,” she says. Shobha Bhatia, director of Gallerie Ganesha, describes him as a true gentleman. “He was a wonderful person, very quiet and knowledgeable. He knew what he was talking about and keenly studied art,” she says.