Jatin Das showcases enviable collection of portraits

by Shilpa Raina
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It was while shifting his studio from ShahpurJat to Mehrauli around three years ago that JatinDas’s pupil Aalap Shah discovered a treasure trove of portraits – all of them gathering dust and some of them being eaten away by moths. They were no ordinary portraits. They were drawings and sketches of significant people from creative world. Jatin Das had met all of them personally and shared good rapport with many of them. Hence, Aalap found it ideal that they be framed and displayed to a larger audience. After all, not every day one gets to witness a large collection around 500 under one roof.

This is how the idea of an exhibition, Jatin Das:Artists and Friends Over Fifty Years came about. It has kept Jatin and his team on the toes ever since. However, it is the short duration of the course that has irked Delhi-based artists, slightly. “The amount of money, time and investment we have made in this exhibition is huge. None of the portraits were framed earlier. Also, think in terms of transportation and logistics. We have invested a lot of energy only to put up a show that would be displayed only for a week,” he says.
The curtains would be drawn on the exhibition,which opened at Lalit Kala Akademi on November 17, on Wednesday. He sounds a bit disappointed but agrees that there is a sea change in the art world. “Earlier, all artists would support each other and would come for each others’ opening. Today, the times are different as many of my contemporaries are already not in this world. So, there is a sense of aloofness. But all this is part of life.”
However, what bother the Padma Bhushan recipient the most is the fact that visual art in contemporary times is become more of an isolated field, with no connection with the vibrant association of the past. To give an example, he reminisces how earlier art hubs flourished in Delhi and Mumbai, with creative synergies from different mediums converging at these destinations. “There was a unique place called the Bhulabhai Desai Institute where we all had our little studios. Iyengar Started his yoga, Ravi Shankar, Dashrath Patel, Gaitonde, Alkazi’s theatre…even some theatre directors like SatyadevDubey and actors were there like HariharJhariwala, who became Sanjeev Kumar and JatinKhanna, who became Rajesh Khanna.  It was one of the most important art centres in the country that doesn’t exist any more.”

Similarly, he adds, Delhi was different and not to be compared with Bombay. “Delhi was a sleepy town and in those days people used to say let’s go for a drive or a coffee to the airport! The locality of Nizamuddin became a special place for artists, as we all started to live close to each other. Ram Kumar, Raj Rewal, Alkazi, KrishanKhanna, Tyeb Mehta, Ramachnadran, ShankhoChowdhury, Gaitonde, Dagar Brothers, UstadAsad Ali Khan…pretty much the entire artist community was there. Nobody was talking about art as such, we used to go buy vegetable and meat and drop at each other’s places for tea or coffee and people would stay for a drink or dinner if it got dark. It was all very casual and friendly and everybody helped each other.”
Changes like these bother him, but he is unperturbed. He has avoided the limelight and focused on his passion. He has delved into different mediums and collected art and antiques. In fact, he fascination with panka(fans) is known to everyone as he has collected an enviable collection of 6,000 pankhas in the past several decades. “I am ready to donate them to a museum if the government ever thinks of building a national pankha museum,” he says.
The exhibition is over, but the passion with which Jatin Das pursues his passion is a thing forever.

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