Join EAR Forum | Follow Eastern Art Report on Twitter | Follow the Editor on Twitter | Follow the Editor on

Portrait of an artist as a yearning man: Gulgee in conversation with Sajid Rizvi

Detail from a Gulgee painting, 1999.
  • Twitter
  • AOL
  • Gmail
  • Print Friendly
  • Yahoo Mail

Detail from a Gulgee painting, 1999

The artist Gulgee, murdered in Karachi around mid-December 2007, spoke to Sajid Rizvi on 11 September 1994. Edited excerpts of the interview initially were published in the Arts and the Islamic World magazine and are reproduced below, courtesy of AIW’s Editor, Jalaluddin Ahmed. A version of the interview also appeared in Eastern Art Report, online and various portals and websites.

During the interview Gulgee said, “The ultimate direction of art will be spiritual. That is the only thing which has depth and all the other reasons — Cubism, this ism and that ism — are just pieces of whimsical nothingness. Very important in artistry, of course, because the whole structure has been built up around it, but ultimately man’s relation with God or with Nature, or with himself — which is the same thing as man’s relation with God — will extend the power of art.”

Gulgee portrait by Sajid Rizvi, 11 September 1994
  • Twitter
  • AOL
  • Gmail
  • Print Friendly
  • Yahoo Mail

Gulgee portrait by Sajid Rizvi, 11 September 1994

From his minuscule, increasingly fragile frame Gulgee appears to exude great energy, but more often than not when left entirely to his devices. That may be in the recesses of his various studios or in the sunshine of adoration of friends or ‘fans.’ He is readily led, like a child, to feasts of paper, pens or colour by friends that wait upon him in the hope of securing a Gulgee scribble, but seldom produces souvenirs of substance unless he feels that he needs to — not to please but to express himself.

A consummate mathematician by training, Gulgee in his sixth creative decade has progressed from highly regimented traditional styles, in which he excels, to a powerful new vocabulary which he uses to great effect in his oils on canvas. From large 100 x 300 cm formats to smaller pieces, Gulgee creates a sense of tremendous amounts of energy being released in a few moments of creative inspiration. The impression is not contrived, he says. After creative outbursts such as these, he retires exhausted, thoroughly drained but exhilarated.

Gulgee’s approach to creativity thus compares more with Japanese calligraphers’ practices than those suggested by the work of other contemporary Islamic artists, who find expression through carefully studied and executed calligraphic compositions.

Gulgee, now more than 70 years old, still paints elaborate arabesques and complicated calligraphic arrangements, and not just on paper or canvas. His ability to combine aesthetic power with mathematical precision finds an awe-inspiring expression in his work with semi-precious stones, in particular lapis lazuli. But, more and more, he is embracing and being embraced by the abstractions of image and form that best lend themselves to his yearnings as an artist.

Gulgee spoke to this writer during a recent visit to London. These are the edited excerpts from a moving conversation during which Gulgee revelled at life, and openly wept with emotion:

Sajid Rizvi. You’ve been an artist all your life. What was the earliest moment you can recall when you decided on this course?

Gulgee. Since as far back as I can remember– since I was a child — this was the only thing I wanted to do. But we had very bad financial circumstances, so I had to flirt with engineering.

SR. What kind of engineering?

Gulgee. Civil engineering. I went to Aligarh University (in India), did my B Sc Honours there. I also taught graduate students at that university when I was 20 years old. Then I got a scholarship to go to Columbia and to Harvard where I did my postgraduate work.

SR. What was the postgraduate work on?

Gulgee. Hydraulics at Columbia University and Salt Mechanics at Harvard.

SR. Do you think that your education has helped you in the world of art?

Gulgee. I think so. You don?t lose anything. Basically what one needs as an artist is a certain kind of sensitivity. You apply it to anything — apply it to a painting, and it works. You apply it to mathematics and it works. I don’t believe in compartmentalised things. What you need is understanding and a searching after a certain kind of perfection. Once you have that kind of temperament it is immaterial where you apply it.

SR. Did you ever feel you might be better off doing something else — other than engineering, other than art?

Gulgee. No. While I was doing my engineering, while people were saying I was a child prodigy in engineering and mathematics, all I knew was that I wanted to be a painter. There was no question about any other interest.

SR. Were there any moments in your childhood that come back to you as being formative?

Gulgee. My grandfather was an artist — a very good one, but totally unrecognised.

SR. Where was this?

Gulgee. In Peshawar. I was born in Peshawar and I remember seeing him work. My father was an engineer, a very good one, but as a child all I thought about was to be an artist. Had our financial circumstances not been so bad, I would have gone to study art in Paris. My father would have sent me. I also remember my beautiful art teacher at the convent school in Peshawar. One day she came to the class and said, ‘Yesterday there was an artist here. You should have seen him. He was magnificent. You take a brick to him and he turns it into a thing of beauty.’ Then she showed to the class her little handbag on which the artist had painted some roses. Somehow to me, as a child, that was great.

SR. How old were you then?

Gulgee. About 10 years old.

SR. You already were an artist at that age?

Gulgee. Absolutely, yes.

SR. So how did it start? What did you do first? Draw or paint?

Gulgee. I drew, I painted. Most people are true artists at that age. They are close to God and close to reality. And they are not self-conscious. They are not pushed. They are not trying to make a great impression on anyone. And they are fascinated by colours, and by paper. They are not bothered with techniques and the rights and wrongs of art.

One of the great things in my life, most fortunately, is that I may have done half a century of painting but, when I paint, I’m essentially like a child. A German friend once told me, ‘Gulgee, I want to buy that painting. It looks like the work of a 20-year-old.’ I said, ‘That’s not true. It’s been done by a nine-year-old.’ And that, I think, is really the strength of my work.

SR. Did you, as a child, go to a preferred medium like pencil drawing, or brush?

Gulgee. Everything– brush work, pencil drawing, water colours. My grandfather used to work in pencil. I began to work with black pencil and, later on, with oil. But watercolour is even more interesting.

SR. But what did you do the very first time? Draw or paint?

Gulgee. What all children do. I went to an American school to give a lecture and a child asked me, ‘What did you do as a child?’ I said: about the same kind of things that you people are doing.

SR. No preference at all? Like still life, people, or animals?

Gulgee. Anything — still life, people, animals, flowers — that came to mind.

SR. Did your father say, as you progressed in your art that, ‘Oh there is no money in art, don’t waste your life in it,’ or anything like that?

Gulgee. My father was sad that his financial circumstances had changed and that he could not send me to an art school in Paris. As for fatherly advice, you know, I myself thought of doing something in which I could get a scholarship. I got scholarships to Aligarh and then to America. I was teaching engineering when I was 20 years old. I graduated first class in engineering and made sure that I did well.

SR. Has your background in engineering helped you with your work in stone and with mosaic?

Gulgee. No, not with my work in stone but it has helped me. Because, in engineering and mathematics, you learn to be analytical and develop your own discipline. That has been good for me. Because the total thrust of my work as an artist is undisciplined in the traditional sense and yet extremely disciplined in another sense.

SR. How?

Gulgee. Undisciplined because when, say, I’m working on a big painting 30 feet across, I do not plan anything beforehand, I do not organise it so that the composition goes like this or the structure emerges like that. I do nothing of the sort.

SR. Do you sketch?

Gulgee. No, I do not. For a calligraphic piece I might write an ayat [Urdu: verse> Arabic ayah verse, evidence or sign] 50 times but whatever I do has nothing to do with the ultimate result. It’s all sketched and thrown away. But there is a certain organisation that is derived at the intuitive level. No, not with the mind or with the faculties of reasoning, but in a state when I become a part of the Universe, a part of the Cosmos. There is a certain order that prevails in the Universe, an order which exists in everything– in the atom, in the tiger, in the trees, everything in life, and in the movement of the heavenly bodies. In everything there is a certain unity.

SR. So when you create art, it’s spontaneous?

Gulgee. Absolutely. But you’re relaying your part of a cosmic awareness. You’re a part of God and you are a part of the Universe. That spirit flows through you into your work and you’re just the channel through which that feeling flows. Then you’re not afraid, you’re not bothered about what to do. You know that you’re in that state of ecstasy, in that state of mind, when you work.

SR. Do you meditate before you start?

Gulgee. Yes, I meditate. But meditation is just like, maybe, the tears in your eyes when you ask God for His help. But you get into a state where you submit to the will of God and your own ego ceases to exist. You become a part of a cosmic awareness of things and it is in that state that you paint.

SR. At what stage in your artistic life did you begin to feel like that?

Gulgee. I think during the last 10 years. But the feeling gets more and more intense as I grow older. As I get older my work gets younger and livelier. My hands seem to move with great assurance, my mind becomes clearer. I may be old to look at but, in that moment, there is a freshness. It’s like a man in a fit of madness — ten men may try to stop him but he has a kind of strength in him. When I paint there is a tremendous power, a tremendous amount of energy released.

SR. Do you feel things coming to you which you interpret in your own way?

Gulgee. Things come to me but I do not interpret them. They just come to me — the movement, the arrangement of things in a painting. And if, at that moment, I begin to worry what somebody will say when they see that painting then the whole fabric is destroyed. Painting is the closest thing to making love: it just happens. I put everything that I have into it. That is why a lot of people are moved by my work because, deep down inside, you and I are not different from each other.

SR. But, over the past 30 years, you have moved away from the classical styles to an abstract style. The power that one sees in your classical style is a different kind of force — different from the power one sees coming through your abstract paintings.

Gulgee. But there’s one thing in both of them: I am searching after excellence. When I do horses, whether in the classical tradition or in the post-classical style, I’m searching for an arrangement that works, for something which holds it together, for colours that are beautiful, for shape, excellence and form.

I used to do portraits 20-25 years ago. When I did a portrait my subject became the most important entity in my life. Whether it was an old woman or a beautiful young one it did not matter. All that mattered to me was the sitter as a subject. But then I have the advantage that I don’t have a huge ego — that I am Gulgee The Artist and not The Eye that I should be. I would lose myself in the sitter, my only thoughts being not of Gulgee the artist but of the sitter. That was all that was important to me. I went into areas where if, you look at somebody in a certain way, everything becomes transported to you. I was painting like that.

SR. So you were you looking for the innate beauty of the person and not the outward appearance?

Gulgee. Outward beauty is fine, but it is in the inner person that you find the essence. Take a woman with beautiful features: if she is not nice all that beauty becomes a piece of nothingness.

SR. Does this mean that, in order to do a portrait, you need to get to know the person for a long time?

Gulgee. No, I don’t, because my process is different. It is not as though you need to know the person by what is said and what is re-said. Mine is a direct approach where you’re totally open. It’s like one human being seeking another human being, like the act of love. That itself provides the understanding.

SR. To what extent do you believe that art should be pleasing to the eye?

Gulgee. Art should not be pleasing, nor should art be displeasing. There should be no rules attached to what art should be. Art should be sincere. Art should come from within. Art should not be created for any ulterior motive. If the artist aims to become famous or rich then I think these are not good incentives for being an artist. To me it defeats its own purpose because art should be like a dialogue with God. You should not have any mercenary or other motives attached to it.

SR. But a lot of people who are creating art today do not see any divine connection.

Gulgee. That’s why their art is so hollow, vacant, empty and lifeless, unmoving and of no value. Allow me to say that. Those who have the technological superiority in the modern world are the masters of the earth. Wonderful. They’ve made technological progress, so they are the lords. But they also want to be the most spiritually advanced people. They want to be the spiritual guides and also the most artistic people in the world. Let them want to be the most artistic people in the world, and spend their millions to attain that position. But I don’t think art can work like that. They can, for a period, create that impression. I’ve read about art critics and about artists. You read the write-ups and you think, ‘My God. what a magnificent artist, what beautiful things.’ Then you pause and ask yourself, ‘What?s he saying?’ You look through the lines again and again and you find that there’s nothing there– just a whole lot of fancy words put together.

SR. It is said by some art historians in the West that there is one art which is theirs and one which is not. This them and us attitude is then extended to mean it’s all right for everyone to have their own art — but not necessarily in the mainstream.

Gulgee. Sure. They have created a value system that is suitable for them. Let’s go back to wherever there has been interaction between the West and the East. Picasso gets confronted with primitive African sculpture that in his time was not recognised as art. As a man of sensitivity he sees its strengths as art and he absorbs much from that — and western abstract expressionism is born. Look at American art after the Second World War. Artists go to Japan, get influenced by Zen philosophy and Eastern calligraphy and find in it an exhilarating freshness and freedom they didn’t have before. So, it is obvious that these interactions are very helpful. But, like trade quotas, they stop suddenly at a certain point because many in the West don’t want to look beyond that certain point.

SR. Does that make most western art derivative?

Gulgee. No, these influences are good. I’m not saying they are derivative because they have got our sources. They are natural, healthy influences and they should be recognised and accepted as such. And if they can carry them forward, then well and good. But they are closing their eyes to the art of the rest of the world. This means they are in-breeding and western art is being drained of its vitality. And then there is the gallery system. If profit is the only criterion for art and for promoting art then we must not expect anything other than the rubbish that we now get.

SR. Should there be a way of leading the West to another direction?

Gulgee. What the West should do is to permit itself and others to be exposed to art from throughout the world. The prices demanded by galleries in the West are a case in point. That is a cunning way of cutting out nearly all art from the East. Few eastern artists are ever going to have the kind of money to have the privilege of being seen in the West.

SR. But there are plenty of galleries in the West which are cheaper and affordable and show artists from the East.

Gulgee. Yes, but they cannot match the exposure you get with the bigger ones. A small gallery in London or in Manhattan is not going to make the impact. The saddest thing is I cannot blame others. Look at our own Muslim benefactors with their new found wealth. How many of them have bothered to give toward establishing galleries or museums in the West, outlets where the work of eastern artists could be shown. I am not saying that our work should be bought, I merely demand that it should be seen. If it is seen, people will be moved by it. But that is perhaps what some interest groups do not want, because if people come and are moved by it then the work of some of their own artists will not look so magnificent. When Claes Oldenburg wants to make a hamburger 50 feet high and calls it the greatest piece of art, it will perhaps not look that great.

SR. But surely some of the best eastern art — Islamic, Chinese, Indian or Japanese — is promoted and preserved by western museums and western scholars?

Gulgee. Exactly. They want a time lapse of 5,000 years. I said at a recent lecture at Trinity College, Cambridge, ‘Must you wait 2,000 years before our work comes into your museums?’ Because then they feel a little safer? Because it is not immediate, it is a thing of the past? For example, when some venues show Muslim art of the past, one cannot help feeling that they want to show Islam as a great dead religion. I don’t blame them for doing that, but a lot of beautiful work is being done in the Islamic world today. And not only in the Islamic world, but in the Third World at large. Beautiful work that few in the West see. A Tibetan artist doesn’t know what fame is, what money is. All he knows is that he has an urge to express and express and express. Shouldn’t we look at what he is doing? We are not asking them to give us export quotas, we only beg that the art of the Third World should be seen. I know I might be putting my artistic reputation on the line if I say that, if there was an exhibition of good Third World art, not the kind that governments sponsor because they sponsor the jee hazoor (sycophantic) artists, it will jolt the artistic world.

SR. But is that not being done already with the work of artists such as yourself being shown in the West?

Gulgee. The process is slow and painful — very painful indeed.

SR. Do you feel that the art being created in places like Pakistan really deserves to be shown in the West?

Gulgee. Yes.

SR. But most western critics see art from the Third World as mostly derivative of their own art.

Gulgee. Yes, some of it is derivative. Let them reject the derivative art but let them see what is not derivative. But they tend to reject all of it. Which is why I now refuse to send my paintings to group exhibitions. Because if you have a show with 30 artists represented, some of them are bound to be derivative. All art is. And the critics seize upon the derivative work and condemn everything wholesale. So now I exhibit my work only with my son Amin (Gulgee). who is doing very good work as a jeweller and sculptor.

SR. Do you feel that the artists in the Third World are moving away from creativity as economic progress comes to their countries?

Gulgee. For one thing economic progress is not coming to our countries and I don’t think it is going to come — ever. The economic conditions are going to get worse and worse. It is not fair to blame the West entirely for it because our own policies, our own prejudices, our own systems are partly to blame. All right, we may say they make us fight but still we do not have to fight. We must learn to identify our enemies. These enemies are not this country, or that country, our enemies are hunger, poverty and disease. Let’s go after them, let’s fight them. Let’s not buy all the arms that we keep buying. We cannot afford them and all of this is destroying our people and putting us in perpetual slavery. It’s all pointless.

SR. But, at the same time, there is this dilemma: how can you expect people to appreciate art if they are so concerned with day to day existence?

Gulgee. No, it works the other way round. How do you teach art to a modern world which is so preoccupied with success and with money? An artist before he’s 25 years old can only think of what gimmick to do next to become famous. This is not how art is made. There was a time when Rembrandt and Leonardo da Vinci had pupils staying in apprenticeship for years. Now artists want instant success. Now we have galleries that will build up one artist and then drop him. The whole thing has become totally commercial. That is the worst thing in art. Against that economic deprivation may be an advantage. When you express this frustration, this longing, this wanting in your work it can turn out to be a good thing. The developed world doesn’t have an advantage in art, it only has an edge in science and technology. It is the developing world which has an advantage in art.

SR. But does it really? What about art education in the developing world? In art colleges and schools, the theory and practice of art has an unmistakable western orientation.

Gulgee. Totally. Quite right. And this is what happens. The West has gained supremacy and through that we have learned their ways. Our people keep what is worthwhile in art and what is convenient to them. If the Third World had pre-eminence then the criteria would have been different. Take the example of Islamic art, it is a highly intellectual art form. But how much of it is art and how much is craft? This is where western theory runs into serious problems. If I take a pencil and do a drawing it becomes art. But if I do the same portrait using 10,000 pieces of lapis lazuli, at once it will be dismissed as a craft. They should look at the work. Is it a mosaic? Does it not represent character of the person I am doing? If using a medium which is a thousand times more difficult than paint is not art, then what is? They should look at it for what it is. Quite different from when they find a discarded bus ticket and put it on a piece of canvas and call it great art.

SR. Should there be a new dividing line — a new definition of art and a new definition of craft?

Gulgee. I think they should do away with all these definitions of what is art and what is craft. What is moving is art — you can call it by any name you like. The West has got blinkers: it refuses to look at what three quarters of the world’s humanity is doing. What terrible damage it has done to its own art! And that is why the artists in the West keep repeating themselves. The abstract expressionist movement, what did it have? Each of the artists was copying everybody else — Mark Rothko, Franz Kline, Ossip Zadkine, were all doing that. Zadkine sold his work for millions of dollars, one for $20.5 million, but I don’t think it’s worth one-hundredth of that amount. But this has been a way of establishing that these are great artists. Artists in the other parts of the world cannot hope to sell great works for one-hundredth of a million dollars.

SR. But isn’t that the fate which awaits the developing world? And aren’t there twilight zones? Look at Japan, which has all the ingredients of an industrial society and yet it has an eastern heart. Wouldn’t the developing societies eventually have to confront that same commercialism that has become the hallmark of the world of art in the West?

Gulgee. It is a problem. Because if you do not have economic prosperity somehow the atmosphere is more conducive for art to flourish . It is a sad thing. But then you do not have the means and you do not have the awareness to make the effort to bring the art to the public. It is a quandary. In my country the Bhutto family is doing a lot for art. The prime minister takes the initiative of opening an exhibition of my paintings. She presents my paintings to different heads of states. But, even at that level, even with the best intentions, if I want to have an exhibition in a prestigious place like the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, I am confronted with astronomical costs. What are these great philanthropic organisations doing? They should have two criteria. Either they should say the work is trash and not worth exhibiting, or they should come right out and say the work cannot be exhibited because it’s not supported by $60,000.

SR. This is where patronage comes in because patronage as you mentioned has been a tradition in Islamic culture. Some of the great art in Islam was created due to patronage of rulers. In the same way as the church in Europe patronised art. If the church had not patronised art, western art would not be where it is today.

Gulgee. True, but now the opposite is happening. At least in the Renaissance they had the sense to patronise great artists. Nowadays it’s like an election; it’s like getting votes. The gallery owners manipulate the whole thing. All right, what they want is somebody young, somebody with obviously a certain amount of talent whom they can build up. They build him up for a few years, they profit from him as the prices go up. Then they get another one, and build him up, too. It’s a bad situation, it’s a wilderness. Art is a wilderness in Europe and in America.

SR. But don’t you think the same system is creeping up on the Third World? You see the same thing happening in the interaction between the nouveau riche societies, the artists and the galleries in places like India and Pakistan. The middle classes are being drawn towards new art, often irrespective of its quality or historical value.

Gulgee. I am ashamed of our rich people. If they had any sense they should have collected Zainul Abedin, one of our greatest painters who died recently in Bangladesh, when you could buy his work for a few hundred rupees. Now in Bangladesh you pay 300,000 rupees or more for feeble works of his. People didn’t have the sense to buy his art.

SR. What can you do about that?

Gulgee. Nothing, not much. It requires a certain kind of education. In the last many years I used to invite people to my house — a centre of artistic life in Karachi! — and I would explain my paintings to them. Now when I have people over I do not say anything at all, lest my social acquaintances, the rich and the newly rich, think that they have been invited because I want to sell a painting to them. I do not sell much either, but then I am not pushed. I do not care, because, inshallah, if I live long enough, I am going to have a Gulgee museum in Islamabad and one in Karachi, where I will put all the work I am storing up. Otherwise, when you die, it’s like another dead dog gone.

SR. So you’re planning to set up a museum?

Gulgee. It will be the Gulgee Museum, containing my work and the work of my son, Amin. He’s very talented. When Benazir Bhutto introduced my wife to (the then United Nations Secretary-General) Boutros-Ghali, she said, “This is the wife of one artist and the mother of another.”

SR. Would you rather not have a museum where the work of other contemporary artists could also be preserved?

Gulgee. That’s all right but the government will have to do the funding for it. I, on my own, with my very limited resources, could not do that. I have a small collection of the work of other artists but I can’t have the work of all the artists. My own work is with me, I can put it in.

SR. Who are your favourite artists in South Asia?

Gulgee. Zainul Abedin for one, then there is Sateesh Gujral in India. There are other artists.

SR. What about artists from the rest of the world?

Gulgee. There are good artists here and there.

SR. Do you collect any?

Gulgee. I’ve collected a lot of Zainul Abedin and the work of Chughtai and Ahmad Parvaiz, who is another of our very good artists. At one time you could buy his work for a few hundred rupees a pair, but nobody bothered. He died of starvation. It is strange– in other countries artists have died but nowhere else, to my mind, do you have the example of an artist who dies of starvation even when he is recognised in his own country as one of the important artists.

SR. Do you think there is a future for creativity in a changing society such as Pakistan?

Gulgee. Yes.

SR. But does one wait for it to happen or do you do something about it?

Gulgee. It is happening. Art is being produced. I get absolutely amazed at the enormous amount of talent in our countries?I mean, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Tibet, Nepal, Egypt. It’s in their blood. These are such sensitive and beautiful people. They don’t need injections to make them creative. When their work is appreciated, they know they are on the right track, they know their work is not being wasted.

SR. Do you think that art has a spiritual purpose?

Gulgee. The ultimate direction of art will be spiritual. That is the only thing which has depth and all the other reasons — Cubism, this ism and that ism — are just pieces of whimsical nothingness. Very important in artistry, of course, because the whole structure has been built up around it, but ultimately man’s relation with God or with Nature, or with himself — which is the same thing as man’s relation with God — will extend the power of art.

SR. Is it a prerequisite that an artist should believe in God?

Gulgee. No, I don’t think so. I believe in God but you can believe in the spirit of the Universe and flow through that, and call it any name you like. What’s important is that certain feeling that exists around you and sustains you.

SR. So it is a prerequisite for an artist to be spiritual?

Gulgee. For one kind of artist, that’s one direction. There are other directions also — the cerebral direction, the analytical direction of the mind. What is needed is a sensitivity to exist that allows an artist to work.

SR. Do you think of your art as a kind of prayer?

Gulgee. It is a kind of prayer, absolutely a prayer, it is humble. I join my hands, bow down and pray to God….

SR. How do you feel once you’ve finished a work of art. Drained? Or liberated?

Gulgee. When I paint I feel absolutely alive. I feel I can do ten hours and not be tired. The energy I feel gives me a beautiful feeling.

SR. And has that feeling increased over the years?

Gulgee. Yes, there’s much more of it. Now I’m getting to a point where I am beginning to understand what it’s all about. If I have some more time, if I live a few more years?

SR. But you believe in posterity, don’t you? And in the spiritual dimension that one gets compensated eventually? Your own role in history and in society — how do you see that?

Gulgee. People have been kind to me, and that’s what I really care for. People in the street, wherever I go they recognise me. I go for a snack somewhere, someone standing next to me says, ‘Are you Gulgee?’ And then we talk and they won’t let me pay for my snack. ‘This is our duty,’ they say. I went to a little bazaar in Peshawar to get some tablets. The chemist said, ‘You’re Gulgee. No, we don’t have them but just wait here I’ll go and fetch some for you.’ And then he goes and gets the tablets. They are very expensive tablets and he says, ‘What? I should take money from you?’

One day, when I was at the Faisal Mosque in Islamabad for the opening of my exhibition, they recognised me. The women came to me with their children and asked me to place my hands on their heads. An old man came and started kissing my hands. Anyone who kissed my hand, I kissed his hand back. I can’t pull my hand away but I was in tears, such warmth, such kindness …

SR. What do you think you have done for them?

Gulgee. I don’t know what I have done for them. I try to do the best I can but I’m rewarded beyond my worth.

SR. But you must have done something for these people?

Gulgee. They are extraordinary people… The love…. (weeps).

SR. Do you think it is something you have done for their spirits?

Gulgee. I have a lot of love for them. I don’t know what I have done for them. This reward is undeserved. [Distilled and edited from a single conversation over more than three hours] © Sajid Rizvi

Author: Editor

Share This Post On
Join EAR Forum | Follow Eastern Art Report on Twitter | Follow the Editor on Twitter | Follow the Editor on
Share This

Share This

Share this post with your friends!