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Finding a 'home' for Kashmiri artist Bansi Parimu

Artist Bansi Parimu’s work was inspired by Kashmir, its people, the landscape, seasons and culture—and the pain of being forced to leave your home

Bansi Parimu's 'The Grief Within' (1991) shows Kashmiri Pandit women, in traditional attire, grieving the loss of home. (Photographs courtesy Jheelaf Razdan)
Bansi Parimu's 'The Grief Within' (1991) shows Kashmiri Pandit women, in traditional attire, grieving the loss of home. (Photographs courtesy Jheelaf Razdan)

"A dedicated painter from Kashmir whom I came to know during my early sixty (sic; 1960s) visits. We became friends and his works gained a stature that could reflect the beauty and turmoil of Kashmiri people.... Parimu’s paintings keep singing the song of creation that is Kashmir on our planet,” wrote M.F. Husain in a note dated 1 January 2001.

Bansi Parimu (1933-91) was a self-taught artist. His early works included watercolours and oil on board but he went on to evolve his own unique style of abstract painting, both pure and figurative. The use of intense colours was a dominant feature in his work. His inspiration came from Kashmir—its people, the landscape, seasons and culture.

“There was no pre-existing genre that he adopted,” says his daughter Jheelaf Razdan, who is based in Toronto.

“He would use some sort of molten material and then paint over it, it would appear like wax falling off a burning candle. In fact, all his early abstract works showed the flow of ‘lava-type effect’ melting downwards till I think M.F. Husain suggested that he let it flow sideways and upwards too. He then started experimenting more with his work,” she adds.

In a Facebook post in August, Razdan wrote: “We have a decent collection of his works lying with my is not practical to have all his works in our possession. The paintings are priceless not because they were made by my father but simply the fact that he was an excellent artist.... The objective is not just ‘sale’ but finding the right place for his works, the right collector.”

The family has about 50 works besides the paintings they want to keep for themselves. Razdan says she and her sister live abroad and restoring and maintaining the paintings is expensive. Already, the humid weather of Mumbai, where the paintings are stored, has taken a toll on two-three works.

Parimu, a communist and political activist, was also a photographer and writer, passionate about environmental issues. He was an atheist but his painting of goddess Sharika can be seen at Srinagar’s Hari Parbat temple.

When his wife and artists like Tyeb Mehta and Bal Chhabda, even Husain, would suggest he leave Kashmir for greater exposure, Razdan says her father would just tell them: “Kashmir is my inspiration. If I leave, I won’t be able to paint.” These artists felt he was restricting himself and underplaying his talent and potential by staying back, she says. But when militancy gripped the valley, he, like other Kashmiri Pandits, was forced to leave.

“He was deeply attached to the language and culture, he could not accept an identity outside of these,” says Razdan.

Parimu stayed on in Kashmir till July 1990, though his wife and two daughters left for Delhi earlier in the year. He had named his house in Srinagar’s Barzulla area Takhleeq (creation). At his studio there, friends and family would gather to study and discuss his work. He did not title his works (except the few realistic ones he created), saying the viewer should be free to interpret it their way, says Razdan.

The late artist's 'Red Knows No Creed' (1991) shows Kashmiri Muslim women who lost their husbands, sons and brothers to the militancy in the Valley, indicating that violence spares none.
The late artist's 'Red Knows No Creed' (1991) shows Kashmiri Muslim women who lost their husbands, sons and brothers to the militancy in the Valley, indicating that violence spares none.

But as militancy gained ground—Razdan says he saw shells landing in their garden during encounters between the security forces and militants—his wife convinced him to leave and asked him to carry only his paintings. Parimu donated most of his books, gave the blank canvases to a friend and discarded some of his paintings, which were collected by a family friend and are displayed at the latter’s house in Srinagar, she adds.

It was hard for him to let go of his creations, she says. “My father would design our furniture too. There was this exquisite table that he had made; fearing that termites would destroy it, he gave it away.”

Takhleeq was later sold, and demolished. A new structure has replaced it.

After leaving Kashmir, Parimu switched to realistic abstract work. “It was his way of mourning and expressing his pain. Those works had a common theme around the terror unleashed, the atrocities on the common man, Kashmiri Pandit exodus, the killings of Muslims too...just about everything that was happening in Kashmir,” says Razdan.

His painting Smeared Snow, for instance, shows snow (symbolizing spirituality/peace) bleeding. Another work, Smouldering Crocus, seems vibrant and full of colour—till a closer look reveals bodies and a saffron field burning (Crocus sativus is the botanical name for saffron).

“It was like he was painting oxymorons. He was pouring out the inner and outer turbulence on to the canvas,” says Razdan. Parimu died in Delhi in July 1991, just a year after he left Kashmir. He was 58.

Smouldering Crocus, she says, was bought by C.P. Krishnan Nair of The Leela Hotels at a show held in 1992 at Delhi’s Dhoomimal Gallery. Two shows have been held since, one at Kala Ghoda in Mumbai and the other one in Dubai.

In an interview to The Sunday Times Of India just a few days before his death, Parimu had said: “I am yet to settle down. Most of my time is consumed in running from one place to another for ration card, gas, admission of my daughter. Rules don’t mention that migrants will arrive from Kashmir, so the bureaucracy is insensitive....”

Asked if he would ever be able to return to the valley, he said: “....if you search the heart of a Kashmiri migrant, most of them want to go back to Kashmir. Though it may be sheer optimism.”

Parimu could not return home but he did capture the beauty and anguish of Kashmir in his paintings.

As artist Veer Munshi, who was advised by Parimu to study fine arts at M S University Baroda and whose work also reflects the idea of lost home and identity, says: “Migration, which many of us from the Kashmiri Pandit community have experienced, has been well depicted in some of his later works. Homelessness in his art became very archival for future times to refer.”

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