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July 27, 2014

Art Matters!

Text by Arthy Muthanna Singh. Photographs by Manpreet Singh

Minu Bakshi and her daughter-in-law Niamat wake up every morning in a house replete with canvases and colour. Verve wanders around the plush New Delhi home, quite overwhelmed by an art collection that speaks a thousand words

  • Minu Bakshi, Niamat Bakshi
  • Minu Bakshi, Niamat Bakshi
  • Minu Bakshi, Niamat Bakshi
  • Minu Bakshi, Niamat Bakshi
  • Minu Bakshi, Niamat Bakshi
  • Minu Bakshi, Niamat Bakshi
  • Minu Bakshi, Niamat Bakshi

Obviously someone in this home loves Anjolie Ela Menon. Kindred spirit. We were definitely off to a good start.

Stepping into the discreet home of the Bakshis on Kautilya Marg, New Delhi, ‘Art’ is what hits you straight on. It is a passion that started almost two decades ago, for Minu Bakshi. The very first painting that she had purchased for a mere Rs 10000 (an Anjolie, of course) is what started her on her ‘art’ journey. It still holds pride of place, spotted as soon as one enters the abode. Madhuri Dixit takes centre-stage in the drawing room, one of the perfect results of M.F.Husain’s obsession at that time. The dancing diva with a peacock accompanying her is un-missable, large and mesmerising. Two more Husains from the Raj series take up the larger, further walls, while smaller pieces by him figure on smaller walls.

Minu’s daughter-in-law Niamat’s interest initially lay more in the field of art history. “Having studied art history in university in the UK, earlier my interest lay more in art from Rome, Greece, Egypt,” she says. She now shares her mother-in-law’s love for art, but is quite happy to go along with her choices until she figures out what works for her. In the meantime, she enjoys all the art showcased across the four floors; sculptures included. Which is what the rest of the members of this family do too; all four generations of it, almost-four, twin grandchildren included. When asked whether she felt that children should be introduced to art early, Niamat was quite clear. “I tend to take a ‘hands off’ approach regarding that – do not force anything,” she states.

Niamat, who took up studying law after marriage, (encouraged by her father-in-law) then worked for the UNHCR (United Nations High Commission for Refugees) for many years until her twins were born. After taking a break while her children were very young, she has recently started working on an awareness programme on bulimia and anorexia at the Fortis Group of hospitals, starting with the new one – Fortis Memorial Research Institute at Gurgaon, Haryana. A cause close to her heart, she feels very strongly about the lack of knowledge about these two health problems in the country. A day care programme is almost in place, with art therapy for those who enroll.

The Bakshis do not have a particular budget set aside for acquiring art. And as Minu is quick to add, “I do not buy art as an investment; never have. I go by my gut.” Thus, while many of the acquisitions have just happened to be so-called ‘good buys’, most have not appreciated much. But since that was not the idea for buying them in the first place, it hardly matters, right? They have attended auctions, the art fairs in New Delhi and private galleries over the years, gradually adding to their collection of art by Indian artists only. The most the family has spent on a piece of art is for a Souza that Minu ‘simply had to have’.

The resident three-legged dog Joy follows me around as I drool over the Satish Gujral in the dining room, the enormous Satish Gupta nude in the foyer and the many Paresh Maity oils all over the house. The family room in the basement has many works by Sanjay Bhattacharya. Hey, I could have easily pretended that I was walking through a regular gallery here – a Jatin Das here, a Manu Parekh there; was that yet another Husain on that wall?

A lot of the family’s art collection, particularly the unusually large sculptures, is at their farm close to Delhi, where they had lived for 10 years, prior to their move to their present residence. An eight-foot-tall commissioned piece by K.S. Radhakrishnan is a case in point. The garden outside, large though it is, gives the illusion of being endless. Sculptures abound, seamlessly it seems; with more than enough space for the activity-oriented twins.

Another over-riding passion for Minu is music. She has had vocal teachers coming home on a regular basis for years. Having already cut eight CDs, she was to record her next one the day after our visit. Begum Akhtar’s music has been an inspiration to her and she holds concerts for charity – Urdu and Punjabi ghazals. She is thrilled that her grandson is also passionate about music, even at this young age. “At least one member of my family has taken to music like I have,” she sighs.

Niamat, who is into Western classical music and actually used to sing Gospel music, has not followed up on those interests once she moved back to India.

Minu’s present passion is writing, the time for which she only gets at night when the rest of the household is asleep. “There are just not enough hours in my day,” she laments, as she shows me a copy of her book of Urdu poetry titled Tishnagi – classy, coffee-tablesque, designed by Ritu Beri with a foreword by Muzaffar Ali. She had started writing in earnest in hospital while on duty when her father-in-law had been admitted. And the publication of her first book has proved to be the impetus to just keep writing. She already has enough material for the second book, but before that, she is looking forward to Tishnagi’s formal launch at the House of Lords slated for a date very soon.

Minu is quick to give her husband of almost 40 years (this important landmark anniversary comes next year) Kanwaljit credit for being indulgent and supportive about all her diverse interests and her complete lack of formality. “Actually, I think he has given up,” she says, laughing.

As formal and luxurious as her home looks, Minu confesses to being very informal, a fact vouched for by Niamat, who still hasn’t gotten used to Minu often eating in bed after an exhausting day! Which is also probably why she manages to pack so much into her day – she hasn’t given up her job at JNU (Jawaharlal Nehru University) where she teaches Spanish; at the same department she had learnt the language as a student in the ’70s. She tries not to miss her daily 6.00 p.m. walk with her husband; a ritual they re-started when they found that they hardly spent quality time together.

A pretty tight schedule is what makes this home that has so many family members with so many diverse needs, run so smoothly. No one stepping on anyone’s toes. No one’s space compromised. Like Minu says, “Life is good.”

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