Panesar

panesar
The etching Panesar took off a gallery wall and gave me.

A headline in my hometown newspaper brought me to tears this morning. B.P. Panesar had died.

He was a renowned artist. Water color. Oil. Etchings. He was also made a name as mentor to Shakila, a poor village woman who gained fame for her collages.

He gave away his earnings as an artist to charity. He never married and lived for many years in one room at the YMCA in central Kolkata. He died in an old people’s home, still holding paint and brush.

panesar2
Uncle Panesar and me when I was about a year old.

I knew him as Uncle Panesar. My father taught at the Indian Statistical Institute, where Panesar worked, and from the instant they met, they became fast friends. My father became an advcate for Panesar’s art. In time, he became a part of our family, especially in the years we spent living on campus in north Kolkata.

He loved to listen to my mother sing Rabindrasangeet and spend hours with my brother and me.

He held me as a baby, played with me when I was a child, encouraged me to paint as a teenager and inspired my creativity as an adult.

From early on, I found Uncle Panesar to be a calming force in my life. I’d peer into his eyes, under his thick bushy eyebrows and try to imagine what was swirling inside his head. What genius, I thought, to be able to produce such visual feasts.

I was especially enamored with Panesar’s collages made with magazine and newspaper cuttings, old pictures, bus tickets and other things people tossed in the trash. Panesar gave up his own collages to train Shakila. He was so taken with her talent. I was sorry at first until I went to visit Shakila and saw for the first time the mastery within that Panesar had helped awakened.

In the late 1980s, I visited Uncle Panesar at the Y. He had moved onto etchings by then and showed me his small studio. He invited me to go see his show at the Birla Academy. I was so taken with an etching of Mother Teresa — I’d volunteered at one of her organizations many years before — that when his show was over, Uncle Panesar took it off the gallery wall and presented it to me. It hangs by my dresser. I look at it as I begin each day. And think of all the good in the world.

I had hoped to see you in a few days in Kolkata. But you did not wait. You have flown away to a better place.

I will miss you, Uncle Panesar. Always.

Pedal power? Art walk is better

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The New York Times published an interesting story today about bicycles in Amsterdam. In a city of 800,000 people, there are 880,000 bicycles. The Dutch have led the way in pedal power but as the story points out, and as I found out firsthand when I was there a couple of weeks ago, the bikes can make for chaos on the streets.

I almost got mowed down by one on Herengracht.

bikeI opted not to fight to find parking places for my bike. Not to fight for space with other cyclists on crowded streets. Instead, I walked.

And did things you cannot do on a bike. Like meander through the city’s Zuid district and soak in the annual sculpture show. I got off Tram 16 and walked south on Minervalaan, stopping at sculptures made by artists from all over the world. Among them: China’s Ai Wewei and Nigeria’s Sokari Douglas Camp. In all, there were 66 pieces on display under the summer sun.

Here’s what the official ArtZuid website says about the exhibit:

“In 2008, Cintha van Heeswijck took the initiative to draw greater attention to the urban expansion of the south of Amsterdam, known as the Plan-Zuid, designed by architect H.P. Berlage almost a hundred years ago. This world-class platform for sculpture adds a jewel to Amsterdam’s crown of leading cultural events.”

After my two-hour stroll, I agreed.

Read the New York Times bike story here: http://nyti.ms/10BPQcq

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