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July 16, 2017

An Interesting Morning With Khorshed And Dadiba Pundole At Their Heritage Space

Text by Shraddha Jahagirdar-Saxena. Photographs by Shubham Lodha

Successfully spearheading their Mumbai gallery through many changes and challenges, the couple brings their own sensibilities to their work

Think Pundole’s and instantly an iconic association springs to mind — the one the gallery had with the legendary maestro M.F. Husain. And today, 50-plus years after Kali Pundole launched his eponymous venture in Fort in the heart of South Mumbai, the Pundole Art Gallery has grown — its repertoire of talents increasing over the years and its scope of activities embracing change and extending to auctions as well. Currently, the gallery is located in Ballard Estate and the old-worldly buildings provide the perfect backdrop for a space that nurtures creative minds and beautiful objects.

We walk into the expansive interiors on the appointed morning to find a few pieces from Rooshad Shroff’s show 15,556 that is due to open here the following week. On two walls we spot three paintings — a Ram Kumar, a V.S. Gaitonde and an M.F. Husain. Khorshed and Dadiba Pundole bid us be comfortable, and our interaction covers several years and memories.

I kickstart our conversation by referring to Husain — and his famous mural that made many a pedestrian stop and stare. Dadiba rewinds, “It wasn’t a part of the original design for the gallery — when Pundole’s was completed I found the facade looking a little bland, rather like a public urinal with those white tiles. I had mentioned this to Husain once and it must have stayed with him. Several years later, he just walked in one day. I think news about the Gulf War had just broken out. He asked me for a tub of black acrylic paint and took out his long brush. That was the first time I saw him actually use it. He just stood there and drew that out. It served a dual purpose — released a certain emotion and transformed the front of the gallery.”

When I ask them what drives them after so many years in the industry, Dadiba affirms, “I won’t confess to be hugely passionate about anything. It is the one source of income for me. It is the first job I got and it is the only one I know.” Khorshed says she finds the experience interesting, “I interact with many people and that is what keeps me going.”

It was Dadiba who was born into the family with an ‘arts’ spoon in his mouth. Taking him back to his childhood, I wonder if conversations at home largely revolved around colours, canvases and artists. Dadiba emphasises, “It wasn’t something that I thought I would join. My father had the business and when I started college — we had lectures in the morning — I was looking for a job. He offered me one. I took it up, not knowing what I would do post getting my degree. But, once having joined, I was sucked into it. My father never carried work home. My mother was a teacher and she had no interest in it.” The scene today in the Pundole household is different, for Khorshed and Dadiba do chat about their work at home, even though they avoid taking calls after office hours.

Dadiba does admit though that he imbibed so much from the minds he met, just by listening. He recalls, “I knew nothing about art to begin with. So, whatever I have learned it’s been on the job. Very early in my career my dad told me that when you don’t know something it is better to keep your mouth shut and listen. Even now, I follow the same principle. If what you have heard is complete crap, you can discard it later.”

While Dadiba had to step up to the challenge of running the gallery when his father passed away, Khorshed — whom he had married just a little while before that — jumped into the deep end. She says, “Though we were old friends before we got married, I knew nothing about art and artists. But this ‘job’ gave me a sense of freedom and every day was like a new day. When we were at Flora Fountain, it was on a path that most people used — either from the then-VT or Churchgate stations. They would just walk in. If an artist was sitting in the gallery having chai and someone walked in who knew him well — a writer, a poet, a musician, anyone — an interesting exchange would ensue.”

Married for 27 years, friendship has formed the foundation of their relationship and even though they are temperamentally opposite, they feel that it is the differences that make their bond work. Khorshed points out, “He is normally calm, I am the fiery one. I lose my cool very easily. It takes a lot for him to get to the boil, but when the pressure cooker bursts, everyone stops to listen.”

The couple shares responsibilities at work. Khorshed says, “I do the more mundane stuff, take care of the back-end administrative details. This is something Dadiba does not like to do — he likes interacting with the artists. And as far as your work goes, he leaves you to find your way to deal with it.”

Apart from the business that fills their daily lives, they enjoy travelling — and do end up doing a lot of it in the course of their work. Dadiba laughingly states, “We love to discuss travel for pleasure, which we do not do. We love discussing our dream second home, which we haven’t got yet. But we have been talking about it for donkey’s years. The locations where we would like to have it keep on changing, currently it is Alibaug. Khorshed has been talking about taking a holiday for the last one month. And she has gone through almost every part of the globe. So, we discuss it and it ends there. And, the next day it becomes another country, another area, another region. Our chats keep us going.”

Both foodies, they are equally fond of cooking. While Dadiba may veer towards the more Indian fare, Khorshed dishes up great Italian food. She recalls, “Just a couple of days ago, we reached home — I was completely tired out. And was thinking of ordering in as there was no help on that day. But he just stepped into the kitchen and quickly rustled up some fish.”

From the time they took over the reins at Pundole Art Gallery, the years have seen a lot of changes and challenges. Khorshed and Dadiba affirm, “The biggest transformation for us is that we have got a lot more professional along the way than we were before. From just one or two galleries in a city, there are now many more. There is a lot more activity.” This generation of the Pundoles has seen the world change and how! Dadiba says, “The business is now more organised, but it is also more competitive. Unfortunately, people no longer want to share ideas. Earlier, a lot would be gained from such interactions. Now, they have reduced.”

From being a gallery space where artists were shown and artworks sold, the Pundoles have moved seamlessly into the domain of auctions. Dadiba points out, “This just happened. I had earlier worked with Sotheby’s as a consultant of modern and contemporary Indian art. I quit in December 2010 and decided to move on before I was beyond my sell by date and was asked to leave. NCPA’s Khushroo Suntook called me in the last week of January and said they needed to raise money – but it had to be done in a transparent manner. I said that the only way to do that is a public auction. I tried to connect them with Sotheby’s but the dates did not tally and they needed the money as soon as possible. They asked me to conduct it and that is how we did our first one in April 2011 for the National Centre of Performing Arts.” This auction saw works by S.H. Raza, F.N. Souza and V.S. Gaitonde from Dr Jamshed Bhabha’s collection come under the hammer.

Asked to define what the USP of the world of art is, Khorsed says, “Anything that is aesthetically pleasing is artistic. We want to live with beautiful things. It should be a way of life like Dadiba always says. We are better equipped to deal with paintings and sculptures, but furniture as art is a new and exciting area. I have always been fascinated by design and love discovering different aspects of it since now the creative boundaries have completely blurred.”

Dadiba refers to my question and raises the relevant point: “Art has always been reflective of society and the time we live in. So, any change can be explained easily with social references. Technology, for instance, plays a big role in all our lives. However much I tried to resist it for so long, I would be foolish to ignore it. It has crept into art as well. And, art is not only about being pleasing to the eye or looking good. It reveals itself over a period of time. Certain aspects of a good work of art will immediately grab you, but then you have to give it time — for it will tell you so much more. Like any other relationship, there will be aspects that you will take for granted and others that still continue to surprise you. And, that is what I think art is all about.”

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