Shankar Palshikar

In 1968, Shankar Balwant Palsikar was appointed the new dean of Sir J.J. School of Art. I went to visit him; he had wanted to see me. He lay quiet on his cot, his daughter Niyati merely said, “Aba's orders have come." I was speechless, overjoyed. Eyes brimming with emotion, I congratulated the man I called ‘Sir’.

The tour de force that had nurtured so much art was finally getting his due recognition. At over 50 years of age, Palsikar was still going strong - struggling to keep his work going. His troubles were far from over, yet he had no regrets. "A man's mettle is tested through his struggles," he often said.

Palsikar loved his students, but he had a sense of rigour that was daunting. He felt that for students the study of art was paramount; everything else came second. It upset him to see a student sitting idle, any offender would face his ire. Palsikar Sir was known for his outspokenness. While writing, he would measure the distance between two written words with the precision of a scientist. He didn't mince his words. His criticism was harsh, sincere and honest - even if such censure came at the cost of severing ties with the people on its receiving end.

I still recall my own experience of this. The first term of the academic year was coming to an end and Palsikar caught me sitting idle. I can't remember why, but my mind was distracted. Seeing him, my heart started pounding audibly. But there was nothing I could do except count the beats. He walked straight in my direction. I couldn't look him in the eye. The thought of getting up and walking out of the class crossed my mind, but I remained frozen where I was. Another day in class, all of us students were whiling away our time — a usual malaise. Unexpectedly, Sir entered the room. He affectionately put his arm around a student's shoulders and engaged him in an earnest talk. In the first few minutes, everyone was curious about what his next step would be. And he indeed took a step — out of the class, taking the student with him. We were baffled. But before we could solve this sudden mystery, the student reappeared, carrying a blank canvas in his hands. Curious, we all crowded around him, dying to know what had happened. We asked him whether Sir had bought the canvas for him. He nodded in the affirmative, and the wiser among us got the message.

The next day, I was a little late for class. I had a new canvas with me. I stepped in to discover that everyone else too had brought a new canvas. I went in and stole a glance at Palsikar - who wore a nonchalant face, as though nothing had happened, staking no moral claim on those canvases. There was a tone of triumph and happiness among all the students. My enthusiasm found a new zenith. Since that day, no one gave him a cause to buy canvases for any of us. He had awakened something in us. The flame he had lit was burning bright and clear - a spark that would never dim.

Books were an inseparable part of Sir's life. He had a room for all kinds of books in his house – right from the Dasbodha of Samarth Ramdas to Kant's aesthetic theories. Palsikar was always happy to lend books to deserving readers as he thought it was his duty to recommend a good book to anyone who came in his contact.

Sir had a great liking for the works of Kahlil Gibran. One day he read a passage from his Son of Man. It told the story of Jesus' crucifixion. As he went on, one could feel Jesus' pain in each word. His voice gave words a dramatic quality - one could feel the pathos. He was so involved in the narration that it seemed as though he were relating something he witnessed himself. Gradually, one could visualize the hill with Jesus' cross in the darkness outside the window. Sir was no longer reading. He was speaking. He had become Kahlil Gibran. The darkness outside began to bleed.

When he spoke, the listener didn't merely hear, but actually saw the words magically become something well beyond their original form.

Palsikar was a veritable mine of experience. Those students who had him as their teacher consider themselves fortunate, and those who didn't regret it greatly. Is painting a real need in such times? Why does today's artist paint? Does he paint a picture or something else altogether, through the medium of painting? Or is he busy with doing something different from others? He would provoke students by asking such questions and also clarify their confusions by giving some answers himself. We were his saplings. Introducing his students to diverse concepts, Palsikar was the germ of many a talent. He firmly anchored us in the fertile soil of universal ideas and we went on to bloom into trees - each still growing, reaching for the ultimate truth in the large world out there.

It was sheer magic to watch Sir paint. At his demonstration for the Indo-American Society - his model was Gaikwad, a peon at the school. Sir left a blank space to represent his protruding white tooth. Gaikwad was in tears, as if he had found access to a rare soul, a culmination of an arduous pilgrimage. We later learned that, 20 years ago, Palsikar had promised make Gaikwad’s portrait. That promise emerged today - finding birth in the brush of a great painter.

Palsikar often said: "Learn to see the light!". In his hands, mud turned to paint, and paint to light. He would quote a verse: "A painter may paint the sun very well, but he cannot fill it with light". He introduced me and a number of others to the “act of seeing”. He encouraged students to concentrate on how and what to see, rather than what to paint.

Sir had an intimidating aura; all students were in awe of him. Even after attaining my diploma, I had to gather my wits to face his formidable persona. This trepidation rose not from hatred, but from respect - it is what drew students to his class.

Palsikar was deeply attached to Sir J.J. School of Art. As a student, he would come to class two hours early to start his work. After class hours, the peon often had to remind him it was time to go home. After his five years as a student, he spent twenty-seven years as a teacher. His punctuality could put a clock to shame. Even after retirement, the teacher within him continued to work. The very stones of the school walls have soaked his passion for the institution.

Palsikar was always well dressed; he had a liking for fine clothes. Agile as a graceful panther - when dressed in a suit, his slim body could even compliment a simple dhoti. A thin frame supported his firm, distinct personality. He possessed  a keen, penetrating gaze. His eyes held an innate and noble charisma. I used to have the urge to look at myself through those eyes. To read a book, view a painting, see the sun, the moon, animals, birds — the entire universe — in those eyes held a bottomless depth, unquestionable affection and a non-negotiable rigour. They was no negativity in his eyes; they were devoid of disgust, murk or fear.

He once recalled an episode of his student days. He did not have money to pay his admission fees for the third year of his course. His friends found out and realized that he would lose a year. They collected the money for his fees and so Palsikar could attain admission that year. There were times when he  ran out of paint, the box was empty. Someone would secretly fill it with new tubes of paint. Such was the love he commanded.

Palsikar was like a delicate leaf gently swaying at the very top of a mammoth tree. To those who saw from below, the lines on the leaf  look mystical. He grew in a space where gravity had no effect. This is why he never grew old or haggard; he did not wither or crumple. He is still where he was at the beginning - mystic, immortal, a force until forever.

His book Panchjanya (that he finished just before his death) relates his spiritual beliefs and manifests his love for the life-force of which he was a devotee. He has defined the qualities that characterize the art of painting and clarified many difficult artistic concepts with the help of Indian philosophy. He explained, with interesting examples, the sensitive relationship between a painting and a viewer's mind - one's emotional and intellectual responses to a painting.

Palsikar became a passionate student of yoga. Perhaps, this was his first step in experiencing Einstein's theory - E = mc2. In his later paintings, E = mc2 becomes  proof of the depth and maturity of his creativity. The ethereal spaces in these paintings sparkle with velocity. The colours vibrate delicately, radiating as one becomes acutely aware of the spiritual concept: ‘light is made up of light itself.’

The mystical shapes raised over the surface of the painting, the crisp texture, the chant-like words — ‘klim’, ‘rhim’, ‘shrim’— all these indicate what Palsikar wanted to show rather than say. He sought to make sound visible. This came from his spiritual experiments; he concluded that ‘sound has colour’ and pursued this through the medium of painting. Palsikar's paintings cannot be read as text simply because they comprise shapes forming words. Even if one tries to see them, one cannot. They are to be heard with the eye.

The experiences I had in his company have now grown into a language of an invisible script. I learned from him how to transport myself into an unknown world - light as a feather – and how to bring myself back. This association has been pure magic. I experienced a celestial gift – and I owe all of it to Shankar Palsikar.

As I write this article, memories crowd my mind. I do not know which ones to write about and which ones to leave out. I still see him before me, talking in his typical lingo, heavy with Sanskrit words, explaining his perceptions of shape and colour, colour and sound, sound and content, content and space, space and inner strength. But this is only an image in front of my eyes. The joyous sage who chased new horizons in art has now gone away to look further and deeper, becoming smaller than an atom and larger than the universe - all at once.

Prabhakar Kolte; From Art to Art, Bodhana Arts and Research Foundation


Shankar Palshikar

  • Majhe Kala Jivan
    'Majhe Kala Jivan'
  • Chitranubhuti
  • Nothing Exists Without Faith
    'Nothing Exists Without Faith'
  • Tantric Image Of My Painting
    'Tantric Image Of My Painting'
  • Ek Asamanya Vyaktimatva
    'Ek Asamanya Vyaktimatva'
  • Ek Dhagdhagnari Jidd
    'Ek Dhagdhagnari Jidd'
  • Indian Painting Today
    'Indian Painting Today'
  • Contemporary Art Movement In Bombay
    'Contemporary Art Movement In Bombay'
  • Society
    'Society's Gold Medal To Palsikar, Is Most Happy Choice'
  • Art Society
    'Art Society's Annual Exhibition - Real Historical Records'
  • Contemporary Indian Artist
    'Contemporary Indian Artist'
  • Trends In Modern Indian Art
    'Trends In Modern Indian Art'
  • We Are Not Looking At Art...
    'We Are Not Looking At Art...'
  • Bombay Art Societiche Sumar Pradarshan
    'Bombay Art Societiche Sumar Pradarshan'
  • Ek Tapasvi Kalakar
    'Ek Tapasvi Kalakar'
  • Lokmanya Tilakachya Bhavya Yailachitracha Itihas
    'Lokmanya Tilakachya Bhavya Yailachitracha Itihas'
  • Pratibheshi Pramanikrahanara Kalavant
    'Pratibheshi Pramanikrahanara Kalavant'
  • Bharatiya Kalashailiche Khande Puraskarte
    'Bharatiya Kalashailiche Khande Puraskarte'
  • Adhunmadhun
  • Shantatechya Shodhatil Anandayatri
    'Shantatechya Shodhatil Anandayatri'
  • Bhavbhavnache Samarthya Sslelyasajiv Rekha
    'Bhavbhavnache Samarthya Sslelyasajiv Rekha'
  • Shankar Palsikaranchya Saha Chitranche Durmil Pradarshan
    'Shankar Palsikaranchya Saha Chitranche Durmil Pradarshan'
  • Adhunik Chitrkalela Bhartiya Valan Denara Chitrakar
    'Adhunik Chitrkalela Bhartiya Valan Denara Chitrakar'
  • Chitrakar Palsikar Hyanchya Chitrasangrah Prakashit
    'Chitrakar Palsikar Hyanchya Chitrasangrah Prakashit'
  • Tumache Amche Hitaguj
    'Tumache Amche Hitaguj'
  • Shankar Palsikar - Madhav Phadke
    'Shankar Palsikar - Madhav Phadke'