The Festival of Life – Prem Singh
It was early morning on 15 April, 1943 that I was born to my mother Mohinder Kaur and father Arjan Singh at Patiala. The city also served as the Capital of Pepsu – a short lived State within East Punjab carved out after 1947.
The area was known as Kutcha Patiala. I was the fourth child. I was brought in a Sikh Family with my great grandfather Kaur Singh, two of his elder sons ( Mohan Singh & Chhajju Singh ), Mohan Singh’s son Jhanda Singh & Arjan Singh, Chhajju Singh’s son Sarwan Singh, and their sons and daughters who all lived together… A great learning experience!
On the top of our villa was a small temple with Sri Guru Granth Sahib. My grandfather Mohan Singh, used to recite gurbani from Sri Guru Granth Sahib in the early morning every day. Sitting in his lap and listening to the recitation made me a happy child. In between when my father, mother or elder sister Harkrishen get time during the day also read gurbani from Sri Guru Granth Sahib. All the fairs and festivals, customs and ceremonies were observed with religious fervor & devotion by all the members of the family together.
Men, women and children from different classes and castes lived in our street… and had great feeling and concern for each other. Children were free to visit and play in any house. Sitting with elders and listening to their views was educative. It is in the company of elders that I learnt many things… most importantly, about how to be a good human being & live in harmony.
Unity and diversity is what symbolized the living then. The culture of the street was composite. Festivals and Fairs were a common heritage and celebrated together. Sanjhi Mai, Dassehra, Diwali. Lohri and Holi were a source of great delight for us the children. In them we found art, music, dance and drama… the values… And the opportunity to express one’s faith and joy through myriad colours.
The pace of life was gentle and natural unlike the present-day living. Elders were a contended lot. I grew up in such a culture where there was no certainity, no fear. I slep with hopes, dreams and aspirations and woke up with the same feelings every morning. There was love in the air. I could feel it, and reciprocated the feeling rather generously. Probably that is why my parents named me “Prem”. I don’t remember if I have ever lost a friend in my life. Azad, Raj and Chet are some of my friends with whom I grew up.
At the end of the street there was a house belonged to Inder Singh & his wife Guddo. The open courtyard – Guddo da vehra in this house – was a favorite place for us to play Khadda, Peecho, Barabitti, Ludo were some of our favourite games… Gulli-Danda, MaarDharhi, NeeliGochi, LukanMitti were some other games. At times the sports activities moved on to either Sardaran di Bagichi or Arya Samaj Park. Kite-making and flying, playing with marbles, shells and apricots were other games we excelled in. The passion for all such recreational activities was unparalleled.
As I was growing up in the streets of Patiala in the late 1940s and early 1950s, my friends had started telling me that there was an artist in me! Whenever, and wherever, we played Barabitti, Khadda and Peecho etc, my friends would invariably ask me to draw the diagrams for the games. We used to draw with coal or chalk the objects and figures of our choice on the walls and the floors of our playfield. These images reflected our hopes, dreams and aspirations. The word about my drawing skills spread among the neighbours. During fairs and festivals I was often asked to Hoi or other decorations. Though my parents were happy at my new found celebrity status, in private they always scolded me that this was at the cost of my studies.
Masons and carpenters often approached me to draw religious symbols or floral or wall motifs. Every house-owner then had some symbol ( Om, EkOnkar or such words ) painted or made in relief on the front wall of their house. I would do this by mixing colours with cement. I wish I had documented those designs. Anyway these designs are permanently etched in my memory. Fairs and festivals were the days we really look forward to. The life in India is in itself a festival. This is truly reflected in daily life. I was indeed lucky to have experienced the then culture. I now share those wonderful times with my wife, children and grand-children.
The festivals and celebrations stimulated me enough to express myself through the language of line, form and colour. It was a collective activity in which one learnt a lot from each other irrespective of age, sex or religion. Such activities were in a way quietly reinforcing the artist in me the presence of an artist.
Then came the incredible moment… the contemplative awareness awakened… the realization of creativity.
As a child I was quite fascinated by the image of lion. The lion is also a favourite cultural motif. I saw the lion in clay toys, woven durries, embroidered sheets, paintings on the wall, paintings by Western artists in the palaces of Maharaja of Patiala. None of these lions were similar, and yet they were all lions. This gave me the impetus to create my own lion. Since then I have in the quest for ‘my own lion’.
Nature seems like an inexhaustible resource. It remains a major source of inspiration for humanity, and whose divine and celestial chorus is ever rejuvenating.
Lyrical design and patterns weaved in space and on earth create a magical spell on the human mind attuned to the beauty and purpose of nature. My paintings reflect on such playful, and prayerful, moments that I experience through my dialogue with the manifest and the unmanifest in Nature. I am now like a bird that can fly free through line, form and colour.
What I seek in my artistic expressions is silent activity not easily discernible to the eye but can be experienced in contemplation. In such moments of creativity my whole being is transformed into a plant that grows every minute by remaining firmly rooted to the soil.
This feel of eternity and silent activity gives wings to imagination. And that inspires me to tune the rhythmic visual voice and its subtle nuances in consonance with my heartbeat.
It is my humble attempt at ‘grasping’ joy and life as they fly.