|Daily Times - Site Edition||Tuesday, November 12, 2002|
THE WAY IT WAS: Sadequain — as I knew him
Syed Abid Ali
On this first night that he arrived at our place, Sadequain refused to sleep in a bed and selected instead an old fashioned sofa, a family heirloom. For the next two decades whenever he visited us in Karachi, Islamabad and Lahore, he invariably slept on this sofa
He was a painter par excellence; trend-setting calligraphist; poet of the most difficult genre — Rubai. He was gifted with a remarkable, almost photographic memory; marvellously at ease with the historical, philosophical, cultural and religious traditions of different civilisations and schools of thought. A large-hearted man, he was generous to a fault, had a fine sense of humour and was warmly affectionate towards his friends and family. In short a truly loving and lovable human being –Sadequain
I vividly recall our first meeting in the “Salon” of the Central Hotel, Karachi in early 1961 when our mutual friend, Syed Jamil Ahmed Shah introduced us to each other. That was one of the most precious moments of my life as it turned out to be the beginning of a beautiful relationship which flourished despite many differences of opinion and nocturnal tiffs.
At the time we met, Sadequain was executing his first and now famous mural commissioned by Syed Shujaat Ali Hasnie, Governor of the State Bank of Pakistan. During the next few months our acquaintance grew into a mutual affinity as we found that we shared many common interests: Urdu poetry, English literature, and socialist theories. On a lighter note we spent long hours composing satirical, and sometimes, pornographic verses.
Towards the end of the year, Sadequain returned to Paris where he had already carved out a niche for himself in the world of art. Occasionally I would receive a letter postmarked Paris, London or New York which would provide an account of his activities especially the exhibitions he had held in all the three centres.
He next visited Pakistan in 1964 and stayed a few months. He spent most evenings and nights at my house in Karachi which was shared by Jamil Shah and frequently visited by Yunas Said, Tajammul Husain, Nagi, S.M. Sultan (the great Bengali artist) and occasionally. Ahmed Pervez.
On this first night that he arrived at our place, Sadequain refused to sleep in a bed and selected instead an old fashioned Sofa, a family heirloom. For the next two decades whenever he visited us in Karachi, Islamabad and Lahore, he invariably slept on this sofa. Much later, he remarked that he had slept in that particular sofa in all the eleven houses which we had inhabited at different times and in different cities.
At the end of the year, he returned to Paris where he concentrated on lithographic illustration of Albert Camus, “L’ Etranger.” Incidentally, I still have five of these rare lithographs which he presented to my wife during his next trip to Karachi. For the next year or so, Sadequain stayed in Pakistan and held a number of exhibitions at Karachi and Lahore. This was the time when our friendship really blossomed as we spent a lot of time together discussing every subject under the sun, sometime disagreeing vehemently but without any venom. I was then incharge of publicity in the Department of Tourism which was headed by Masood Mahmood.
The Pakistan Government was invited to participate as a “guest of honour” in the Comptoire Swiss (Swiss National Fair) in Lausanne and I was nominated to organise the Tourism Section in the Pakistan Pavilion. Fortunately, I prevailed upon Masood Mahmood to commission Sadequain for executing a mural depicting various aspects of life in Pakistan as the main attraction of our pavilion.
Sadequain left for Switzerland by ship in July 1966, as he was mortally afraid of flying. On board the ship he held an exhibition of drawings made during the voyage and, as he later told me, made a handsome package to tide him over while in Lausanne. My wife and I joined him in August. By this time he had completed the mural.
Hung at Tourism pavilion, the mural attracted hundreds of viewers every day. This mural was later displayed in Tokyo. New York and Toronto. Unfortunately, its present whereabouts are not known. At the Tourism counter, he would make signed pencil sketches of some of the beautiful female visitors and give them away as gifts. Next to our pavilion was the Swiss Wine Pavilion. One afternoon, their Public Relations man invited us over.
All the Swiss Wine manufacturers had tastefully displayed their products and at every counter one was supposed to taste the choicest wines. After taking a full round of the pavilion, Sadequain selected a particular counter to indulge in some serious wine tasting and asked me to collect him at closing time. When I called for him at the end of the day, some half a dozen stall owners from the pavilion and their spouses accompanied us for dinner. Sadequain had invited them all in his exuberance.
Sadequain left for Paris a week before the closure of the Fair, inviting us to spend a few days with him on our way to London. In true artistic tradition, he forgot to give us his address or telephone number. However, when we arrived in Paris by train, he was there at the railway station to receive us. When asked how he knew that we were going to arrive that day, he just smiled and said, “I had a premonition”.
Although it was pouring in Paris most of the time, we enjoyed our four day stay thoroughly as Sadequain took us around and made sure we saw all the sights. While shopping one day, we went into an Indian Sari Centre where Nazi liked a sari. But after enquiring the price, she quietly walked away. Later, as we hailed a taxi and sat down in it, Sadequain handed over a package to her. It contained the same sari. He appeared to be a carefree “dervish” but was full of such thoughtful gestures.
Syed Abid Ali is a former Director General Public Relations Pakistan, Punjab and the founding Secretary-General of the PNCA. This is the first article of a three-part series
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