“MITTI DA BAWA”: Drawings and Paintings by Manjit Bawa

Time heals wounds it is said, and that may well be true. It is also true that such traumas exact a high price from a human soul, even more so when the soul belongs to an artist, writer or poet. The sight of a man being burnt alive, the pile of human bodies being unloaded from a truck, the rising scream in the dark night do not go away; they haunt and they torment. The world is fortunate when this anguish transforms itself into an artistic masterpiece. Such is the case of Manjit Bawa’s 1984, a dramatic charcoal on canvas which will be on public exhibition for the first time from January 12 at Triveni Kala Sangam, Delhi.

In the immediate aftermath of the killings, Bawa — himself a Sikh — walked through the smouldering remains of Sikh homes in north and western Delhi. When he knocked on doors, he made a bizarre offer: May I help you cremate a body? In house after house, the survivors sat with the charred or stabbed bodies of husbands and sons, too shocked and too frightened to go out to even perform the last rites. To them, Bawa and his companions would have appeared like angels.

Bawa lived with what he had seen for a decade before he picked up his charcoal and produced 19841. Departing from his preference for the abstract, he has put the horror squarely on canvas. He himself lies among the victims, being ripped apart.

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  • 1. November 1984 will remain one of the darkest chapters in the history of free India. More than 3,000 innocent Sikhs were murdered on the streets of Delhi and several hundred more across India. Rampaging mobs, often instigated by political ringleaders, pulled Sikh men by their long hair out of their homes, garlanded them with burning tyres, chopped off ears and noses and clapped in glee. Homes, taxi stands, shops went up in smoke spirals that rose high into the winter sky to the accompaniment of ghoulish howls. The state machinery stood silently by: two Sikh guards had assassinated then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi for desecrating the hallowed Golden Temple by sending in army tanks; the carnage in Delhi was seen as a vicious act of revenge, the anger was to be allowed to spend itself.