TSC Interviews | Juliet Reynolds | Part 2

Juliet Reynolds, well-known art critic and wife of the Hungryalist painter Anil Karanjai, met the editors of the Sunflower Collective at their Jor Bagh residence recently for a chat about her husband and his art, the art-world of India and in general, and the Leftist politics and its understanding of art. 

The following discussion was preceded by Juliet Reynolds objecting to Malay Ray Choudhury making certain remarks about Anil Karanjai’s time in the US and his first marriage, in an earlier interview  with us. We would like to note that and make it known that we do not believe in censoring any form   of expression. However, it is also not our intention to cause anyone hurt and we regret any misunderstanding. This is part two of a three part series.  
Painting by  Anil Karanjai from the series called  'Solace in Solitude' painted during the last year of his life.

Another landscape by  Anil Karanjai

AS/GB: Anil fell out with the Leftists, isn’t it?

JR:  Anil went to America when the movement was gone.

GB: What time…

JR: He went in 1974. The Naxal movement was over by then. It wasn’t that he was running away which some of the comrades did. Anil did not do anything like that. He just left. Nothing dramatic, like getting chased, escaping… nothing like that. He was quite good at covering his tracks when the thing was going on, except they had raids, they raided the studio and all the material was taken by the cops.

GB: That Malay da mentioned.

JR: So that’s why I have almost no material. I have almost nothing from the 60’s …the police took it and he never got it back. Terrible waste, terrible.

GB: The raid was in Benaras?

JR: They were everywhere but the raid on these guys, yes. The police were following them also. They developed a kind of code in which they talked nonsense stuff to mislead the police… bullshitting you know (chuckles). So, yeah…when he came back (from the States) he continued to meet these people. Kanchan Kumar was bringing out Amukh, so Anil designed the logo; he also designed the logo of PUDR (People’s Union of Democratic Rights), he did the portraits of martyrs… Sometimes, posters and stuff he would do. And most of them would not respect his work. He used to feel really mad about that. But he never went and denounced them elsewhere. All his criticism, he would keep to himself. That hurt badly. Once they had organized an event and they asked him to do portraits of their martyrs and he went to tremendous pains to do these portraits well, black and white, not oil portraits,  but still they were very nicely done and after the rally was over, they were all torn and thrown on to the ground.
And then, when he started painting his landscapes, they really turned against him.

AS: They must have thought it was not “committed” art, or not for the people.

GB: It was probably too existential or individualistic for them.

JR: Yeah.

AS: They have their stock insults for people who don’t toe their line.

JR: Yeah. He used to feel sad or angry about this. He wasn’t at all happy about it. He called them nincompoops, half-educated fellows, illiterates….

GB: It is interesting to know that Benaras already had a communist movement going on there because we did not have much of a clue.

AS: Yeah.

JR: I think because of the Bengal connection. Huge numbers…the fixed population itself when I went there first in the late seventies, was at least 40% Bengali…and others came due to migration and pilgrimages. Now it’s much, much less. There are no jobs and they are going away. Benaras was half Bengali, all these schools and libraries…Anil was educated in a Bengali medium school, and not in Hindi. He learnt Hindi.  I think now they have scrapped that; there is no Bengali medium education in Benaras anymore. But in his time, it was very much there, you could walk out in the streets and every otherperson is speaking Bengali. Even the fish seller who came to Anil’s house spoke Bengali. Anil’s mother spoke no Hindi at all. All the vegetable vendors also spoke in Bengali. So it was mostly because of that.

GB: And he used to frequent Kolkata.

JR: He used to go there. Even after the Hungry Generation…for his artistic quest also.
He came close to Gopal Ghosh. He was a kind of a mentor (to him). Gopal Ghosh painted landscapes. I did not realise till very late how much the Ghosh family knew Anil. One of these dealers that cheated Anil, which I wrote about in the book (Finding Neema), one of the things he was able to get out of Anil was an introduction to Ghosh’s family. They trusted Anil, he introduced them to this man, and he ripped them off. He sweet talked Anil and Anil was not somebody who got taken in by people but he was getting tired and worn out by then. These were the kind of things that were happening at the end. Gopal Ghosh was quite an important figure in his life. When the Naxalite movement was going on – Anil told me this story – some journalist asked him, pointing at a flower painting, “why are you painting this when bloodshed is going on outside?” “You see, my roses are red”, (Ghosh said). The point was, the emotion Ghosh was expressing through his landscape, it was not unrelated to what was going on around him.

Read Part 1 of this interview here

Read Part 3 of this interview here

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