The silent painter: Shakir Ali
Intellectuals, writers and artists try to make their mark with their words but Shakir sahib did it in silence.
To Lahoris today the building across the street from the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan is a familiar sight. When it was first built, however, the passers by tended to stop and wonder what the structure was meant to be.
The outer walls had over-burnt bricks laid apparently by poor craftsmen. Those who ventured inside were further amazed that a home could be so different. But then so was the man who built it for his residence.
The place was Shakir Ali’s home. Earlier, he had treated the National College of Arts as his home and been content amidst its students as if they were his children. When he retired, he picked up his stuff from the Principal’s House and landed here.
But he was never quite at home here. Before the house could grow familiar, he passed away. Today, the house serves as Shakir Ali Museum, maintained by the Pakistan National Council of the Arts.
Even when not much else is happening his birthday is celebrated regularly. This year, he would have been 95. The birthday coincided with the inauguration of an exhibition by Nauman Ghauri, a young artist who, befittingly, has been a recipient of Shakir Ali Award.
The courtyard was full of guests, many of them his students who have since become teachers themselves. The rest were motley admirers.
Nayyer Ali Dada was there, as were Naeem Tahir, Ajaz Anwer and Muhammad Javed. Khurshid Shahid, the renowned drama artist, reminisced about the times. His students, too, fondly remembered the guru and left me wondering about how I belonged at the celebration, if at all. But then there were so many writers and poets Shakir sahib had grown so close to as if he was one of them. In his early days, let it be said, he had written some short stories.
When Shakir sahib arrived in the city the section of The Mall along which educational institutions and restaurants were located was really prospering. There was Mayo School of Arts on one side and the Punjab University on the other. A little further, there was a cluster of restaurants – Coffee House, Cheney’s Lunch Home, Pak Tea House and across the road, the Dean’s.
Luminaries from the university and the professors from the colleges aside, the Coffee House patrons included prominent journalists, lawyers, budding painters as well as mere intellectuals. The Tea House was always laden with poets and writers. They mingled well. Several young artists had one foot in Coffee House and the other in Tea House; unable equally to give up on the company of painters and the literati. Anwer Jalal Shamza, to name but one, was as much a poet as he was a painter. He also wrote a novel.
Soon Shakir sahib was seen at the Tea House in the company of people like Muzaffar Ali Syed who loved both literature and modern paintings. For his part, Shakir sahib had a thing for literature.
I have seen many intellectuals, writers and artists trying to make their mark with their words, I have seen some of them succeed; Shakir sahib did it with a cultivated silence. Once people started frequenting his home they discovered another silent creature. It was his dog, which silently greeted all visitors and escorted them to Shakir sahib’s bedroom before withdrawing.
Nayyer Ali Dada mentioned that a talkative friend once remarked, “Shakir sahib you have a strange dog. I have never seen it bark.” Shakir sahib simply said, “Those you ever see barking in this house will be visitors.”
*Translated from Urdu