The Man And His Times
Sardari Lal Parasher was ill-fated to a life of wide swinging changes, a life that would
teach him lessons in pain and sufferings of others. It was a life that witnessed despair, helplessness and agony. Born in Gujranwala (West Punjab) now Pakistan he took his Masters degree in English literature at the very reputed, Forman Christian College, Lahore in 1935. It was popularly known as F.C. College and boasted of very fine alumni.
In 1936 he joined the Mayo School of Art as a lecturer as well as its Vice Principal. Mayo School of Art was established along with Lahore museum in 1875 with John Lockwood Kipling as its first curator and Principal. Sardari Lal married Lajjaya Kapila and remained happily married for 52 years. They, together, raised four daughters and one son. In 1947 their peaceful life took a turn for the worse and his first thoughts were that he could stay in reinvented Pakistan. As that became impossible, in the coming days he and his family decided to move to India. While migrating they went through a lot of pain and a strange feeling of displacement. He witnessed scenes that tugged at his heart while staying in the refugee camp of which he was the Supervisor also. As a supervisor, he saw much pain and suffering. While on duty, he would often stop and sketch. One can fathom from his sketches that his work was while on the move. It was not just art but pouring the reality of those times on paper for posterity.
Later on when the situation improved and the family settled he became the founder principal of Shimla School of Arts in 1951. The School was named after Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first Prime Minister. Sardari Lal Parasher played a very important role in setting up the school. Parasher had previously sent a proposal tone Mr. S N Kapoor (the then director of industries in East Punjab) to establish a government school of art and design in Shimla. The letter was dated July26th, 1948. Thus, the School in Shimla. Then later on he moved to Bombay as director of the All India Handicrafts Board in 1958 and settled finally in Delhi in the early 60’s. So, it was an eventful life marked with unfortunate event of the Partition of India.
A major incident marks the development of Parasher's art career when, in 1931,
Rabindranath Tagore came with his troops of players to Lahore. Parasher sketched while the poet was listening to the music of the Sikh minstrels. When Tagore saw the sketch he retorted to the young artist, “Yes, you have got it. You have got my expression.” This must have boosted Parasher’s confidence. During partition when Sardari Lal Parasher had to leave Pakistan, he had to leave behind all his sculptures and paintings at his residence in Lahore arriving empty handed except for a newspaper cutting of his sketch of Rabindranath Tagore that he had made. This could prove useful to start a new.
His sketches and paintings done in Baldev Nagar refugee camp in Ambala are remarkable but are filled with pain and anguish. He spent sleepless nights walking among the people who were suffering and who had lost everything: houses, comfort, security. He would stop to sketch visible evidence of all that was lost which he witnessed. Each sketch of the artist becomes a tale of anguish and pain. He catches movements of individuals without giving out or disclosing their identity. He wants the lines and strokes in his sketches to speak volumes about the pain inflicted without exposing the people. The birth of nations was accompanied, unfortunately at the cost of sacrifices of many innocent. The cost of partition has been very high. Each sketch narrates an unfortunate story. The work of the artist forces each one of us to ponder and reflect on the past. Partition, we learn from the work of Parasher, was not just an event but a turning point for many who were displaced from their homes to an unknown, uncertain future.
The despair and the helplessness are caught by the artist through his sketches. The violence echoes till date which reminds us the value of peace. As the figures emerge from the frames they are a grim reminder of a heavy past, a past which went horribly wrong. The figure could be of anybody: a father who lost his children, a mother who saw the men being slaughtered, abducted women etc. No wonder the artist didn’t want to see the sketches again as it reminded him of those grim times. He put these sketches in a trunk never to be opened in his lifetime. It is only after his death that his children found them and displayed them so that people could also see and feel the pain people had experienced. Though the sketches are beautiful works of art but the reality attached to them must be disturbing to Parasher that is why he didn’t want them to be displayed. The horrifying event that is partition is the reality of those sketches may be that is why Parasher didn’t want to see these again. May be, he was not very proud of his work but the artist in him had captured the painful times.
The paintings are aptly named :
Cheekh (Scream)-A cry from the heart for all was lost
Nothing safe- Life could be wiped out.
Grief has no voice - voiceless figures shocked with the violence and grief around.
As the artist moved in the camp he must have been touched by people and their woes. He captured them in his works in the process catching the essence of a violent event that changed the lives of countless people.
Here I would like to describe one such sketch named ‘Despair’. In this sketch the man is sitting with his head in his hands. His body language shows that he has lost everything. It’s a black and white sketch. The strong strokes of line are prominent and the stress and tension in his body are expressed very clearly. Though we can neither see the man’s face very clearly nor his expressions yet nothing is left to imagination. He is wearing only a garment covering his lower part of the body and the background is just a blank wall. The light and darkness in the sketch is so appropriate. It reflects what the man is going through. It actually draws the spectators in trust and we can imagine the whole scene of devastation around him.
Another sketch which is captioned ‘What now ?’ Is a sketch of a middle aged lady with a dupatta covering her head. Her expressions are calm but her eyes tell a different story. There might be hundreds of questions in her mind and her eyes might be trying to peep into a future that is uncertain but certainly hoping for a better future.The sketch is so real that one can actually hear her voice saying‘what would happen now?’Her face is sharply chiseled, the strong cheekbone highlighted at the right place giving a surreal feeling and an urge to know the identity of the lady. The artist’s signature is visible on one side. And all this is caught on a simple piece of paper that now stands damaged with a few holes.
SL Parasher prajnaparasher.com