Whenever Rudi thought of India, he thought of Krishen Khanna, and a happy past a sentiment Rudi shared in a letter addressed to his friend in 1974.

Despite the passing years and the distance between them, the warmth between the two stayed the same. Krishen Khanna was like a younger brother to Rudi, and he considered the Khanna family as his own. He adoringly called Krishen Khanna’s three children Rasika, Malti and Karan – “Rakshasas (monsters).

He was like a grandfather figure, my father’s friend, but much older. Each time he would come home, he’d bring chocolates and gifts. He would take us out to parks to play and was affectionate towards us,” Rasika Khanna Mohan recalled.

Krishen Khanna and Rudi didn’t become friends instantly. “Our friendship grew over the years. It was given time to grow. It was unprepared, unforced and there was no obligation,’ said Krishen Khanna. Perhaps, it was the interconnected pas the trauma of being uprooted from one’s home in their early twenties that cemented the connection. Krishen Khanna was only twenty-two when he witnessed the tumult of Partition and had to leave his home in present-day Pakistan an experience that influenced many of his works over the years.

Unlike his bond with Ara and Raza, Rudi’s friendship with Krishen Khanna was that of an equal. The initial meeting occurred in Bombay during the late 1940s. At that time, Krishen Khanna was employed at Grindlays Bank in the city, a position he held for thirteen-and-a-half years. Concurrently, he nurtured his passion for painting, albeit in a somewhat amateur capacity.

Krishen Khanna has described it as a dichotomy dealing with money all day while spending the nights painting. Encouraged by his artist friends to follow his true calling, Krishen Khanna made the decision to give up his career in banking in 1961, much to the disbelief of his colleagues. This choice was joyously celebrated by Husain, Bal Chhabda and Gaitonde, who, as Krishen Khanna remembered, waited for him at the bank’s entrance on the day he resigned. “It was to welcome me from one life into another,” said the artist, also known for his diverse body of figurative work capturing the vibrant depictions of the bandwallahs, an organised army of musicians who perform at celebratory occasions.

It was during his time at the bank that Krishen Khanna, who had briefly studied art at Lahore’s Mayo School of Art, visited the Artists’ Centre to learn about developments in Indian contemporary art. “Rudi and I met each other there a couple of times. I was there in 1948 when his parents exhibited their work; it was a good show,” he recalled

Rudi invited fellow attendees to his house to celebrate the occasion and asked Krishen Khanna to join them. At that time, Rudi lived in a spacious terrace flat in Colaba, just a few blocks away from Krishen Khanna’s residence. Drinks were served and a table laid with cold cuts. A young Krishen Khanna found the entire gathering to be “quite European!” When Rudi’s mother visited India in 1965 following the loss of her husband, she travelled to Delhi. There, Krishen Khanna drove her to see the Red Fort. To express her gratitude, “Mrs. von Leyden” bought him a little crucible for grinding paints. Rudi brushed off Krishen Khanna’s formality and insisted he call his mother “Mamsi”, like him. “How about you call my mother, ‘Mamsi’, and I call your mother ‘Mummy’,” Rudi declared.

Krishen Khanna’s mother was amused by this arrangement. Upon meeting Rudi and being addressed as “Mummy” by him, she turned to Krishen Khanna and chuckled in chaste Punjabi: “Aye dekho! Aye medi umar da hain, aur menu ma bulanda hain! (Look at this! He’s my age and addressing me as his mother!)”

Krishen Khanna laughed uproariously while recounting the incident. Rudi was permitted to continue calling his mother “Mummy”. He shared a special bond with the Khannas, who were in every sense as Lucy pointed out in a letter to Krishen Khanna in 1983 Rudi’s “spiritual family”.

“Years ago, we were taking a ride together in a taxi from Chota Shimla to the city centre, where Daddy was getting off. He embraced Rudi at that stage. En route, Rudi remarked, ‘Your father is gearing you up to look after the family. A certain sense of responsibility is put on you’ Rudi was able to pick that up astutely because he was so close,” Krishen Khanna said.

Both Krishen Khanna and Rudi were prolific letter writers. To this day, Krishen Khanna has neatly preserved these handwritten letters in his studio at Gurgaon, a testament to the friendship that still lives on in his heart.

The letters also served as a way for them to catch up on both eventful and mundane activities of life. In one of the correspondences, Rudi mentioned receiving a picture of Krishen Khanna looking rather handsome, but he quipped that he wouldn’t share it with him for fear that he might become “too conceited.”

The correspondence showcases the deep level of trust between the two. In one letter, Rudi expressed how Käthe Langhammer wasn’t too pleased with the ‘recent Razas’ and felt that her husband Walter’s art career eventually flattered to deceive. Rudi never mentioned this to anyone else.

Excerpted with permission from The Catalyst: Rudolf Von Leyden and India's Artistic Awakening, Reema Desai Gehi, Speaking Tiger Books.