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It is lonely at the top!

Amarnath Sehgal, who died this past month, was more than sculptor-painter-poet. He was an affable human being too, recalls, R.V. SMITH

The death of Amarnath Sehgal sculptor, painter and poet on December 27 nudged one’s memory and the days when he came to see this scribe in the 1990’s once to present his book of poems, “Lonesome Journey”.

A tall, stately man with an imposing personality, greatly enhanced by his greying temples, one instinctively felt drawn to him. Once he spent a whole afternoon talking about sculpture, painting and poetry.

Relevant to time

“The sculptor always reflects the times he lives in. One wouldn’t now make sculptures like those of the medieval masters”, he said, slowly sipping his tea. “Those were the times when artists portrayed not only their own times but also those of the ancients or we wouldn’t have had such masterpieces as those of the young David in all his masculine beauty displayed in an Italian setting. That was because of the intense hold of the Renaissance on people’s minds. Asked about Michaelangelo, he thought for some time and said, “Angelo had seen the creation of man in his mind’s eye or he wouldn’t have painted ‘Adam’. He also visualised the end of the world as evidenced by the ‘Last Judgment’. It seems as though the artist was in a trance, like a prophet or soothsayer. The heavens virtually opened for him to see the glory of the Almighty”.

Coming to poetry, Sehgal felt the charm of the Pre-Raphaelites overbearing. Dante Gabriel Rossetti and his sister, Christina, Georgina, he found irresistible. The former’s “The Blessed Damozel”, who leaned out from Heaven with three lilies in her hand and seven stars in her hair, made him intoxicated and like Rossetti, he too heard the tears when she wept.

That was the kind of man Amarnath Sehgal was and about whose sculptures Mulk Raj Anand said, “A part of the legend of the confused time in our own country, appeased only by the understanding, however partial, of a certain kind of compassion”. As the flap of his book stated, “this was equally true of Sehgal’s poems, which not only complement his creations in bronze and marble but stand on their own as another vibrant medium of the artist’s expression – alternately lyrical and down-to- earth”.

Joyful moments

Thumbing through ‘Lonesome Journey’, one sees him as a lover, a searcher, an admirer of Nature, and as a man lonesome at times, hurt to the quick by the ingratitude of friends, and yet this man did have joyful moments, when he wished for the ecstasy of a quiet night in her (beloved’s) company"”.

Sehgal was born at Campbellpur, Attock (now in Pakistan) in 1922.

He studied industrial chemistry and worked as an Engineer before taking up art studies. After Partition, he came to India from where two years later he went to the US to get his Master’s degree in art education from New York University.

A man of great tenacity, he fought for 13 years to win a battle with the Central Government over his bronze mural which had been removed from Vigyan Bhavan and dumped into a storehouse.

Amarnath Sehgal led a full life in his 85 years.

One would like to end this piece with this quotation from one of his poems: “While tears came/ And went their way/I looked and softly whispered/ Goodbye!

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