NEW DELHI: When Syed Haider Raza's family moved to Pakistan after the 1947 Partition, the iconic painter chose to stay back, not just for the sake of his loyalty for his motherland, but for his admiration for Mahatma Gandhi.
The veteran artist, who passed away last month at the age of 94 revealed this to writer and poet Ashok Vajpeyi who recollected the tidbit about Raza last evening at a function organised at the Indian Women Press Corps here to remember the artist.
Raza was merely eight, when he first saw the 'Father of the Nation' at a public meeting in Mandla in Madhya Pradesh.
"He used to say, 'This is my country. Where would I go from here?' But, I was never convinced with this argument. After lots of pestering, he once told me, 'When the Partition happened, my family left. But I used to feel that if even I leave, I would be betraying the man who I saw at the age of eight for the first time," Vajpeyi recalled. Raza who is best remembered as the creator of the iconic 'Bindu' grew up in Barbaria in Madhya Pradesh to a forest ranger father and was trained in art at Nagpur and Bombay.
He was also a stalwart of the Progressive Modern artists group with other greats like M F Husain, F N Souza and K H Ara.
According to Vajpeyi, Raza perennially felt indebted to the society and as a token of gratitude he believed it was his duty to "help" budding artistes in their times of need.
"Raza was one person who touched the lives of thousands of artists, dancers, musicians. He helped them when they needed that aid in their respective careers by showcasing his work alongside a lot of young emerging artists," he said.
Sharing one such incident, he said at an exhibition here, the painter had expressed his desire to purchase a painting but only on the condition that the entire proceeds would be given to the artist with the gallery would not take any commission.
At another exhibition in Mumbai, after news of Raza buying one of the artworks started doing the rounds, the entire show was sold out by next morning. "This was one of his ways to help other artists," Vajpeyi said.
In his desire to give back to the society for whatever he had achieved, the painter set up the Raza Foundation that provides for spaces for various art and culture programs, publications and fellowships to the younger talent.
"He used to say, 'I will get so much money, what will I do? I want to do something for others.' He suggested that we create a foundation.
"Throughout his lifetime he had given nearly Rs 20 crores and in his will too, he has given everything to the foundation. No other artist in the history of Indian art, has given such a great gift to others," Vajpeyi said.
Although, Raza had spent nearly 60 years in France, the Indian in him remained unaltered, for his paintings which often have a couplet or a phrase written on them, are like a call back to the miniature paintings like 'Kavikapriya' and 'Ragamala', from the past where the text was often inscribed into the paintings and sculptures.
"In a way, he revived the dying art of miniature paintings. He used texts from Upanishads and Vedas, from writings of Ghalib, Surdas, Tulsidas and even my poems in his paintings," Vajpeyi said.
It was perhaps for the same reason that Raza was often called "a painter of the mother tongue" by his friends and contemporaries.
Vajpeyi says how he was "extremely loyal" to Hindi.
"He spoke and wrote such good Hindi that great titans of the language would be put to shame. Having lived for so long in Paris, he spoke French very well, English was conspicuously good, but if he received a call from anybody from India, he would talk to them in nothing but Hindi." The writer who had known Raza for over 40 years compares him with river Narmada, which unlike other rivers has two banks.
In Raza, he said, "On one side was India, on the other was France; on one hand was his greatness, on the other was generosity and on one hand was faith, on the was diffidence."