Syed Haider Raza, the man who pictured the entire universe in a single Bindu, passed away on 23rd July 2016 at the grand age of 94. Visiting the maestro’s studio after he was no longer there, was heartbreaking. He was the last of the Progressive Artists Group (PAG), leaving a vast legacy for his students, fellow artists and compatriots. This legacy stands in the form of books, letters, magazines paintings and a hundred anecdotes that his protégés are happy to talk of endlessly.
This is because the painter has always had the greatest respect for the tradition of guru shishya parampara, a tradition of mentorship where a protégé is nurtured. Raza was born in Babaria a small town in Madhya Pradesh, and it was his early experiences that led him to become a great master and reach his apogee.
Raza traced his development of the Bindu to his teacher who punished the naughty youngster by making him stare at a dot on the wall for hours. “That is how the Bindu entered his subconscious and found expression on his paintings years later in his studio in Paris,” says Ashok Vajpeyi, one of the founder members of the Raza Foundation, that was formed in 2002, along with Arun Vadehra and Raza.
It is not entirely surprising to find black-and-white photographs of Raza’s school and college teachers put up in his studio, which is in the building that now houses the Raza Foundation at Safdarjung Development Area, New Delhi.
The studio also has an unfinished work by Raza ji, since it was his last canvas that he was painting before he died. “We wanted to keep everything exactly the way he left it,” explains Vajpeyi. There is all the original furniture from his Paris studio, a collection of some antiquities and three paintings by his wife Janine Mongillat. Below in the basement we find a vast collection of Raza’s books and magazines including, Beaux Arts, preserved from his days in Paris.
With the birth centenary of Raza fast approaching in February 2022, the Foundation has many plans for the celebrations. “We have already come out with important books on Raza’s life. Along with Vadehra Arts the Raza Foundation has published, Raza: A Journey of the Master, which holds 100 large, high-quality prints of the artist’s important works and Geysers — a collection of correspondence between Raza and fellow artists and friends such as Akbar Padamsee, Bal Chhabda, E Schlesinger, FN Souza, Gaintonde, Laxman Pai, MF Husain, Ram Kumar, RV Leyden, Tyeb Mehta and Walter Langhammar,” says Vajpeyi.
In its initial years the Foundation gave two awards annually, one in visual arts and one in poetry. Later the scheme expanded to cover classical music and dance. Each award carried a sum of rupees one lakh and a citation. However currently the award has currently been discontinued. The Foundation also plans a series of exhibitions as part of the IIC Series, 8 annual memorial lectures, several publications in both Hindi and English and a series of festivals, like Kritya International Poetry Festival.
Raza was a figure who straddled Paris and New Delhi, spoke French and Hindi with aplomb and while he loved being in Paris, the center of art in the 1970’s and ‘80s, he always had a craving for the motherland. “Raza was perhaps the only painter from India who regularly included text in his paintings and I am very honored that he included these lines of mine in one of his seminal works: “Ma jab mein lautunga mein kya launga?” (Which translates as Mother when I return what will I bring with me). Raza always had a great sense of responsibility towards his motherland and he always took it upon himself to contribute towards the growth and development of the arts. Which is why he bequeathed everything to the Raza Foundation.