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Trauma of Partition: Krishen Khanna

We all know partition that was a very traumatic experience but during those times also there were many artists who were working and recording the unfortunate events though it was very painful. Those series of events affected lives of many, the effects of which could be seen in the coming years too. We have many artists who witnessed the horrifying event and it left an everlasting impact on them. The dramatic events of the Partition deeply influenced the artworks in a very morose manner in the coming years. We have many works of art completed in those years which reflect the tragedy and trauma of a million people.

One such painting by Krishen Khanna pulls at your heart. It is the painting in which he

depicted the tale of his extended family’s ‘sudden flight from Pakpattan‘. Someone came and told the family that thugs were on their way to murder and plunder their house in the morning. As we can see in the painting a Tonga is loaded with essentials and the entire family huddled in the Tonga. Even 80 year old bebeji (grandmother) had to flee and take the arduous journey . In this painting we can see carriage rolls over a difficult terrain. The horses seem to be advancing on firm ground but uncertainly. That is how it was for thousands who had to cross borders leaving their homes.

The tonga dominates the whole painting in brown tones with a big wheel in the forefront. The figures have expressions of uncertainty as to what would happen next. We can see the family members sitting as if they have embraced their whole world in the tonga, including their children. One can make out that they have started their journey in a hurry. The figure of a girl with uncombed hair catches our attention who seems to be looking around for sudden, unseen dangers.There are two other ladies; one who's holding a child and another is elderly (bebeji), Two male figures can be seen in a very somber mood.

There is another painting that Krishen Khanna painted from memory nearly three decades after witnessing partition. In this you can see an old battered truck with people

inside. We can see only two figures; one is in the background and another in the foreground. Symbolism is the main effect in this painting. It depicts that partition didn't happen over a day. The migration happened over several days and weeks and months. Animals and people along with their belongings were shoved inside trucks and uprooted.

Krishen Khanna was born on 5 July, 1925 in Lyallpur (now Faislabad, Pakistan) . He attended Imperial Service College from 1938 to 1942 in England. He studied at Government college, Lahore from 1942 to 1944. In 1946 he started working with Grindlays bank where he worked for 14 years. In 1961 he resigned from the bank and devoted his full time to art. A self taught artist, Krishen Khanna, is recipient of the Rockefeller fellowship in 1962, the prestigious Padmashree in 1990 and the PadmaBhushan in 2011.

Krishen Khanna grew up in Lahore.During partition, his family moved to Shimla. He was 22 years old and the forced move from Lahore to Shimla was an experience that he never got over. Even 60 years on, the trauma of that time can be seen in his paintings, a trauma that he never got over. Partition has been his main theme in all his paintings.

“It was a painful event, the kind that leaves a scar on your ego and psyche.”

Krishen Khanna has stated that he still has nightmares but feels fortunate that he could pick up pieces and start again. He has related the partition with the recent migration

which happened due to covid in the last two years. The pain of uprooting once and then to move to a new place is not new. We witnessed again, after COVID, mass migration that took place was quite possibly the biggest since partition. Krishen Khanna felt that the same atmosphere prevailed.With limited transport and restrictions many travelled by foot to their ancestral villages.

Though the bloodshed was not there but the trauma and uncertainty were there.

He has shown how workers are sleeping tired amidst boxes. In the second one he has shown families waiting on the station as the train was late. The exhaustion on the faces of waiting passengers and every mind clouded with uncertainty as to what will happen has been captured.

Krishen Khanna painted using thick impasto strokes and was perhaps one of the earliest artists in modern Indian art to dabble with abstraction. His figurative paintings are laced with unbounded energy. His work has always been focused on happiness in daily life, street culture and the working class. Colours used by him are not always vibrant but make the subject dominate.

At present Krishen Khanna lives in New Delhi. He turned 97 on 5 July, 2022 and is the last living member of Progressive Art Group. He is perhaps one of the most talented and versatile self taught artist modernists of our times.







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