Friends remember many hues of manjit
Ludhiana December 30:
The world knows him for his masterstrokes on the canvas, but his friends remember Manjit Bawa as a singer-percussionist, who also had an arsenal of rip-roaring stories, which he narrated breathlessly.
The eminent painter, who breathed his last at his home at Green Park in New Delhi early morning, was born in Dhuri in Sangrur district in 1941. His close friend and well-known art critic, Dr Madan Gopal Singh, says, “I met him 31 years ago, when I approached him to do a poster for Mani Kaul’s ‘Satah Se Uthata Aadmi’ (Arising from the Surface) towards the fag-end of 1979.
The film was selected for the Un Certain Regard at Cannes Film Festival and Mani wanted an avant-garde poster. I approached Ranbir Kaleka, another eminent painter from Punjab, who took me to Manjit Bawa, who happened to be amongst the three best silk-screen artists of the world. The poster, which was a collaborative effort of the two, was stunning, and its copies were repeatedly stolen from the board.
Thankfully, the last few copies were retrieved by the Posters Archives of Paris, where they lie now.” Dr Singh reminisces, “Manjit was a great storyteller. His stories never followed the same path of narration. Ranbir was an amazingly slow raconteur, while Manjit would go on breathlessly.” Few know that Manjit was also a performer. “I would sing and Manjit would accompany me on his match box, giving rhythmic support.
Before we could realise our talent, we were inundated with requests to perform. Manjit soon graduated to dholak and gave me his harmonium, and we started belting out Sufi music. Our playful musical journey was interrupted by the anti-Sikh riots, which lent a degree of emotional depth to our music,” recounts Dr Singh. “Then, the demolition of Babri Mosque brought us together many a time at the Artists Against Communalism Forum, formed under the aegis of Sahmat, and we became integral part of the pan-India campaign against the demolition of the mosque, Anhad Garje. By then, Manjit had given up silk-screen printing,” he says.
“Manjit was a down-to-earth man. He used to wash his clothes and cook his food, singing, ‘Bulle naalon chulla changa jitthe ann pakaayida rall faqiraan majlas kitaa bhora bhora khaayida’.” Well-known painter Viren Tanwar says, “Bawa’s death is a personal loss. He was full of life, and so were his works. He had put Punjab and Punjabis on the international art scene. His use of flat colours, series on mythological figures and 1984 riots are breathtaking.”
“Manjit Bawa is part of the new movement in art. There is a feel of Sufism in the choice of subjects, like that of the flute-playing Krishna and the cattle, predatory animals and gatherings of men,” says Punjabi critic Amarjeet Grewal