What It Was Like

Ramanjit Singh

Grief has no voice, Courtesy of S.L. Parasher Gallery http://prajnaparasher.com/SLP/Ambala.html


The pain of the victims, in the aftermath of Partition, was felt most by those who were managing the refugee camps in the east and west Punjab. One such individual who saw their pain first hand was Sardari Lal Parasher. Born in 1904 in Gujranwala, Sardari Lal Parasher was the Vice-Principal of the Mayo School of Art, Lahore. After Partition, Parasher left Lahore and briefly worked as a supervisor at the Baldev Nagar Refugee Camp in Ambala (1947-49). He later went on to establish the Punjab School of Arts in Shimla.


At Ambala, Parasher spent sleepless evenings walking amongst the refugees and often stopping to draw the visible evidence of all that was lost. His own loss of leaving Lahore was intertwined by the loss of thousands that were in the camp. Partition had an emotional toll on his life and that experience was expressed in his work. His remarkable sketches became snapshots of what it was like in the camps, they were snapshots of those who had lost everything and were looking at an unknown future in a country that was just beginning to take its new shape. Each line in these sketches provide an emotional connection to what the refugees were going through, their emptiness, anguish and grief. Generations of life ruptured in a brief moment of madness.


The lines drawn by Radcliff partitioned the country, the lines drawn by Parasher showed its aftermath, its immeasurable human cost.


Parasher's sketches and photographs can be seen in this art gallery: http://prajnaparasher.com/SLP/Ambala.html


I would suggest when you see these sketches, pause for a moment, try to see its depth, understand the scale of grief that people were going through in those moments. There is one sketch "Cheekh" (Scream) that is hard to look at when you contextualize its backdrop in terms of the violence that refugees faced during migration.


In this 2019 article, Anju Bala, a Senior Research Fellow (SRF) at the Department of Art History and Visual Arts, Punjab University, Chandigarh, writes this about Parasher's education and career.


"He completed his Masters degree in English Literature from Forman Christen College, Lahore, in 1929. He met M. Abdul Aziz, a renowned painter of his time and later the Principal of the Government School of Arts at Kabul, and was deeply influenced by him. Under the guidance of Aziz, Parasher trained as an artist, and went on to achieve proficiency in landscape painting, portraiture and clay modelling. Talking about the beginnings of his career as an artist Parasher once said: ‘When I say I joined the profession in Lahore, it was that I met my master M.A. Aziz. I had also met Roop Krishna, Chugtai and other artists of Lahore. It was a great change for me to be associated with these great artists and to have training from my master. My interests were literary before I had joined this profession’ (Mago 2004)."

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