The Collector of Memories

The Collector of Memories

Ina Puri remembers Manjit Bawa.

Every morning,at the crack of dawn,Manjit Bawa would pick up a paintbrush with the finest bristles,his box of paints and work on his miniature paintings. At this time of the day,his hand was the steadiest,and so were the strokes — fine and firm. “It was like a haiku (Japanese poetry) of a painting,” recollects Ina Puri — author,columnist,curator and documentarian. Mentor,soul-mate and friend,Puri is yet to give a definitive form to their relationship of many years. Bawa’s been gone almost three years now,and this is a bond she still hasn’t broken,but instead,has kept it alive through his work,her books and writings on him and the long conversations they shared all the time. Friday evening saw a glimpse of one such conversation that encapsulated their time together,in a National award-winning documentary,Meeting Manjit,directed by Buddhadeb Dasgupta,produced by Puri and brought to the city by the Chandigarh Lalit Kala Akademi. While one craves for more after viewing the 39-minute feature,Puri tried to reveal a part of Manjit,as she read excerpts from a book on him titled,In Black & White.

“I came to know of Manjit’s art through him — how he used to paint,doodled sketches and transported them on a larger canvas. Alongside he would talk,sing songs,share anecdotes,tales and experiences,” says Puri as she recalls the “chatty and talkative” Bawa,a collector of memories,a Sufi man,who forgot and forgave.

From the first time she stood in the doorway of his studio and was welcomed with his warm smile to travelling beyond his canvas,being a confidante and becoming a part of his life,Puri talks of the artist as if he is still around her. The film starts,and Dasgupta’s camera follows a simple man living a simple life in Dalhousie,gardening,cooking in traditional Punjabi copper handis,singing Sohni,enjoying the long strolls and serenity of the mountains. “Sufi saints and Sufi poetry became my subjects,” says Bawa in the film. “Manjit’s memory was filled with colours and he was always fascinated with the space,the depth it provided on the canvas,” recalls Puri.

He loved travelling,tells Puri,meeting people,registering observations,striking conversations and seeing new places,watching films and reading,which would eventually come forth in his work. “He inspired me,taught me to think,how to look at art and be objective about it,savour cinema,music,and devour books. Manjit was my friend; someone I shared my solitude with,” says Puri. It was his sensitivity towards life,creativity in others,the balance he found in existence and revealed in his paintings,that made him the genius he was. “Even the animals in his works were never fierce. They had human expressions and eyes and I guess it comes from the fact that he was born in a gaushala and felt an instant kinship with them,” says Puri. Although Bawa never spoke of the 1984 riots post Operation Bluestar,he expressed it through a painting,one he never sold or displayed.

Professor BN Goswami had once said that Bawa was a ‘wonderfully thinking man,who created timeless magical figures.’ His life carries on in his children,Ravi and Bhawna,and soon,it will speak through three books — In Black & White,Manjt Bawa and In His Own Words apart from a documentary.