Jawaharlal Nehru was much struck by the genius of Amrita Sher-Gil and her charm and became friends but failed to find a place in her canvas as the artist thought he was “too good looking”.
Amrita lived life on her own terms,scandalising the staid society of her times with her love affairs and unconventional ways. Her charismatic presence,her immense physical charms and the dramatic life she led have captivated the imagination of many.
But she struggled against great odds,and her solitary quest as a woman,when few stepped out into the public arena,is all the more remarkable.
In a fascinating biography “Amrita Sher-Gil: A Life”,art historian Yashodhara Dalmia paints a compelling portrait of the artist who,when she died in 1941 at the age of twenty-eight,left behind a body of work that establishes her as one of the foremost artists of the century and an eloquent symbol of the fusion between the East and the West.
It was in Delhi that Amrita met Nehru,what the author describes as perhaps the only eventful thing that happened to her in an atmosphere she did not find conducive to painting. In the midst of all the capital’s officiousness,Nehru stood mout as someone quite different.
They exchanged several letters and met a few times but she never drew Nehru’s portrait. So when Iqbal Singh,whom she met in Shimla in the summer of 1937 and who became a close friend and confidant,once asked her why did she not paint Nehru’s portrait,she replied that she would never paint Nehru because “he is too good looking”.
In February,1937 Nehru attended her exhibition held in Delhi. She later described her meeting with him in a letter to a friend as,”I think he liked me too,as much as I liked him.
He came to my exhibition and we had a long chat.” Did she have an affair with him? If so,was it a serious affair or a mild flirtation?
Says Dalmia,”The exact nature of their relationship is difficult to gauge,because many of Nehru¿s letters were later burnt by Amrita’s parents,much to her chagrin,while she was away in Budapest getting married” (to her cousin Karl). She had a Sikh aristocrat father and a Hungarian mother and was born at the turn of the century,in 1913 in Budapest.
Shocked over the burning of her letters,she wrote to her father,”I had left them behind not because I thought them dangerous witnesses to my evil past but because I didn’t wish to increase my already heavy luggage. However,I suppose I have to resign myself to a bleak old age unrelieved by the entertainment that the perusal of old love letters would have afforded it.”