Artists: Notes on Art Making

About 1910 or 1911, I met for the first time H. H. The Maharaja Jitendra Narain of Cooch Behar at a dinner party at the Calcutta Club. Prince Victor, the brother of the Maharaja as one who painted their father’s portrait, the portrait of the late Maharaja Sir Nripendra Narain Bhoop which hung at the reception hall at the reception hall at the Calcutta Club alongside the portrait of Lord Minto.

Mahendra Jitendra Narain expressed his admiration of my picture and complimented me on my achievement. He gave me to understand that many more commissions for the Cooch Behar palace will follow soon. He would let me know when to come to Cooch Behar for further particulars. I was delighted with the compliments and the happy news for further orders of paintings.

The following morning I related all that had happened at the Club to my people at home and they too were all happy over it.

Months after months passed and no news came from Cooch Behar. I thought perhaps Maharaja must have forgotten all about it. But one day Prince Victor called at my place and said that the Maharaja wished me to come to Cooch Behar and requested me to fix my date of arrival. On the fixed date, I arrived and found an A.D.C. of His Highness waiting for me at the station. During the drive to the Guest house, he suggested that if anybody asked where I was coming from, I was to say that I am an electrician from Osler & Co., Calcutta. I was rather surprised at this puzzle and could not guess why such a request was made and what was in store for me.

On the following morning Maharaja came to me at the Guest house and took me over to the Cooch Behar Quash Court and there divulged why he wanted me to represent as an Osler electrician.

The electric wiring in the Quash Court was in a bad state and Maharani often reminded him about it and insisted on having it put right. Maharaja’s real intention was to have a life size portrait of him painted by me for a surprise birthday gift to the Maharani. Sittings for this portrait were to be taken here in the quash court where Maharani hardly came. Even if she did enquire as to what was going on in the quash court she would not suspect what I was really doing there. People of the palace were curious as to what was going on in the quash court for hours together. Prince Victor and the A.D.C. were the only two persons who knew about this secret. After I had finished the sketch, I was told to run back to Calcutta as soon as possible. I decided to slip out that very evening.

Just before leaving Cooch Behar I heard from someone at the palace that my attendance as an electrician was further required by the Maharani for some work in her apartments in the palace. This upset me as I did not know how to get out of it. But the Maharaja came to my rescue and gave out to all that I was not at all to be relied upon. In Maharaja’s opinion I was an idiot. He took Oslers severely to task for sending over such an unqualified man. He said he would ask the Private Secretary to write a strong letter to Oslers over this matter. This report got abroad and came to my ears. I understood the situation and left for home. Privately I was told by the Maharaja to bring the painting just two days before the Maharani’s birthday to be unveiled by herself; until then this matter must be kept a secret and until then I must remain an idiot from Oslers.

On my return home I related the whole affair to my father who was much amused. I worked on the picture for nearly two months and luckily it turned out to be a first-class work of mine.

On the appointed day I arrived in Cooch Behar with the painting packed in a large box. There was lots of enquiry as to what it contained. But Maharaja again came to my rescue and gave out to all that a large electrical apparatus has come from Oslers but why that same idiot again?

Next morning the heavy box was carried to the billiard room of the palace, unpacked by the carpenters and put on the table with as little noise as possible. The billiard room was kept locked up.

The following morning was a great day of festivities as it was the Maharani Indira Devi’s birthday. The palace looked gay with a festive aspect all around. I was invited to attend all the festivities. After some items of the ceremonies Maharani was invited to the billiard room to receive a birthday present from the Maharaja. According to previous directions I was made to wait next to the picture which was covered with a veil. On entering the billiard room with a host of friends, the Maharani asked the Maharaja quietly who was the stranger waiting here. He said the Oslers have sent him again. This time he pretended to fully know what to do. She came forward and unveiled the picture and was delighted with it. Maharaja then introduced me as the artist of the picture who was a few months ago known as an electrician from Oslers. The Maharani shook hands and realised the joke with perfect good humour.

I enjoyed all the festivities and before returning home I was given further commissions to paint life-length portraits of H.H. The late Maharaja Rajendra Narain, H.H. The Maharani and also another one of H.H. The Maharaja in his Raj dress for the Darbar Hall of Cooch Behar palace.

Now in my old age when I think of my early days and the warm reception I received at Cooch Behar, how happy and proud I feel today in 1949!

Published in the Academy Annual, Indian Museum Calcutta, 1950
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