Artistic Influences

When Amrita Sher-Gil vowed to seduce Khushwant Singh to take revenge on his wife

On the artist’s 104th birth anniversary, a look at some of the stories from her life.

I was in Lahore in 2007 for a conference and on the first evening Punjabi poet Zoya Sajid offered to take me for a drive through the city by night. There could not have been a better welcome gift. As Sajid, a couple from her neighbourhood and I sped through Lahore’s wide, well-lit roads, I wondered if I would ever form a connection with the city my parents had left behind in 1947. I grew up listening to their stories, but felt those memories, stories and scars had come from some imagined place. The only world I had known was Chandigarh, a city of East Punjab built to replace the lost capital of Lahore.

As we were each lost in a private reverie, Sajid asked her friend to stop by an imposing building with spectacular Mughal-Gothic architecture. “This is Lahore’s General Post Office,” she said. “Do you know this was where your Rajinder Singh Bedi sat stamping letters?”

We burst into laughter. Urdu writer Rajinder Singh Bedi, who penned the classic novella Ek Chadar Maili Si , the maker of the loved film Dastak, had begun his working life as a postal clerk. It seemed absurd. Suddenly I felt could connect to Lahore.

Another surprise awaited me just a little distance away on Lahore’s Mall Road. Sajid asked us to halt again, by a stucco building that seemed to belong to another era. “This is the home of Amrita Sher-gil, in the building called Ganga Ram Mansion.” (To be precise, Sher-Gil had lived in the house numbered 23, as the writer Yashodhara Dalmia later recorded in a biography of the artist.)

Amrita Sher-Gil's home in Lahore.
Amrita Sher-Gil's home in Lahore.

Amrita Sher-Gil was loved and revered in the world for her art, but she also held an eternal intrigue for us, because of the passionate way she lived her life and because of her early death, at the age of 28 on December 5, 1941. Seeing the home in which she had chosen to live and paint, deepened my connection to Lahore, and I found myself wishing the Partition away.

“This was the city Amrita had come to in September 1941, full of hope, planning an exhibition for December,” Dalmia writes in her book. “But before that could happen, she took ill and died suddenly. The exhibition was posthumously held. It was from her studio that she saw a milkman with his buffaloes and did her last unfinished painting. Slate black buffaloes squat on the ochre road, one with a crow perched on its snout.”

'Women on the charpai'. Sher-Gil is well-regarded for her portraits of women, which are human and poignant, without needlessly treating their bodies as sensual.
'Women on the charpai'. Sher-Gil is well-regarded for her portraits of women, which are human and poignant, without needlessly treating their bodies as sensual.

The painter left behind a legacy admired equally in Pakistan and India. Much of her work is housed in what is popularly known as the Sher-Gil Room at the Modern Art Gallery in New Delhi. Her painting The Veena Player hangs at the Lahore Museum. In both countries, debating the cause of her death became something of a national obsession: while Indian chroniclers believed it to be the result of a clumsy abortion by her doctor husband, Pakistanis still say it was a crime of passion. A blog from an art lover from Pakistan says: “She had an excessive sexual appetite and quenched it through affairs with many people. Her Hungarian husband Dr Victor Egan did not like that, although he loved her very much. A jealous husband with access to sophisticated poisons, he poisoned her to death.”

The interest in Sher-Gil’s persona persists, but what she is remembered for most is her work. Her first painting, Three Girls, made when she returned from Paris, was made at the Majithia House in Lahore and is an iconic work. Sher-Gil was the child of a Hungarian-Jewish mother, Marie Antoniette Gottesmann and a Punjabi-Sikh father, Umrao Singh Sher-Gil Majithia. Gottesman was an opera singer who came to India as the companion to Princess Bamba Sutherland, daughter of Maharaja Dalip Singh – when she met the bohemian aristocrat Umrao Singh.

'Three Girls' was painted by the artist shortly after her return to India in 1934.
'Three Girls' was painted by the artist shortly after her return to India in 1934.

The girls in Sher-Gil’s Three Girls were named Beant Kaur, Narwair Kaur and Gurbhajan Kaur. They were the daughters of the artist’s father’s brother – so were in fact Sher-Gil’s nieces, although they were about the same age. She painted them sitting on a roller in the lawn of her house.

Three Girls won the gold medal at the annual exhibition of the Bombay Art Society in 1937. Sher-Gil continued to paint evocative studies of the Indians at her parents house, known as The Holme, in Shimla. At the time, Shimla was part of united Punjab and the summer capital of the British Raj. It was at her hilly home that she made the celebrated painting The Hill Women, along with several other studies of mountain folk.

Sher-Gil's home in Shimla, The Holme.
Sher-Gil's home in Shimla, The Holme.

There are several accounts of how Sher-Gil shook the elites of Shimla with her outspoken persona. Khushwant Singh recalled one such time in his book My Unforgettable Women: at a party on his lawn in Shimla, she looked at Singh’s son, the journalist-writer Rahul Singh, who was then a toddler and exclaimed “What an ugly child!” This annoyed the senior Singh’s wife so much that she struck the artist off her list of invitees for the future. When the reason for her exclusion reached Sher-Gil she is believed to have retorted, “I will teach her a lesson by seducing her husband.”

Khushwant Singh expressed his dismay that she never actually did so.

'Hill Women', by Sher-Gil.
'Hill Women', by Sher-Gil.
We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

The pioneering technologies that will govern the future of television

Home entertainment systems are set to get even more immersive.

Immersive experience is the core idea that ties together the next generation of cinematic technologies. Cutting edge technologies are now getting integrated into today’s home entertainment systems and challenging the limits of cinematic immersion previously achievable in a home setting. Here’s what you should know about the next generation of TVs that will grace your home.

OLED Technology – the new visual innovation in TVs

From the humble, grainy pictures of cathode ray tube TVs to the relatively clarity of LED and LCD displays, TVs have come a long way in improving picture quality over the years. The logical next step in this evolution is OLED displays, a technology that some of the best smartphones have adopted. While LED and LCD TVs make use of a backlight to illuminate their pixels, in OLED displays the pixels themselves emit light. To showcase darkest shades in a scene, the relevant OLED pixels simply don’t light up, creating a shade darker than has ever been possible on backlighted display. This pixel-by-pixel control of brightness across the screen produces an incomparable contrast, making each colour and shade stand out clearly. OLED displays show a contrast ratio considerably higher than that of LED and LCD displays. An OLED display would realise its full potential when supplemented with HDR, which is crucial for highlighting rich gradient and more visual details. The OLED-HDR combo is particularly advantageous as video content is increasingly being produced in the HDR format.

Dolby Atmos – the sound system for an immersive experience

A home entertainment system equipped with a great acoustic system can really augment your viewing experience far beyond what you’re used to. An exciting new development in acoustics is the Dolby Atmos technology, which can direct sound in 3D space. With dialogue, music and background score moving all around and even above you, you’ll feel like you’re inside the action! The clarity and depth of Dolby Atmos lends a sense of richness to even the quieter scenes.

The complete package

OLED technology provides an additional aesthetic benefit. As the backlight is done away with completely, the TV gets even more sleek, so you can immerse yourself even more completely in an intense scene.

LG OLED TV 4K is the perfect example of how the marriage of these technologies can catapult your cinematic experience to another level. It brings the latest visual innovations together to the screen – OLED, 4K and Active HDR with Dolby Vision. Be assured of intense highlights, vivid colours and deeper blacks. It also comes with Dolby Atmos and object-based sound for a smoother 360° surround sound experience.

The LG OLED TV’s smart webOS lets you fully personalise your TV by letting you save your most watched channels and content apps. Missed a detail? Use the Magic Zoom feature to zoom in on the tiniest details of your favourite programs. You can now watch TV shows and movies shot in 4K resolution (Narcos, Mad Max: Fury Road, House of cards and more!) as they were meant to be watched, in all their detailed, heart-thumping glory. And as 4K resolution and Dolby Atmos increasingly become the preferred standard in filmmaking, TVs like LG OLED TV that support these technologies are becoming the future cinephiles can look forward to. Watch the video below for a glimpse of the grandeur of LG OLED TV.

Play

To know more about what makes LG OLED TV the “King Of TV”, click here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of LG and not by the Scroll editorial team.