Story

1900 - The Western-educated Mani Ram returned to India at the turn of the century

After Mani Ram (c. 1881-1942) had qualified as a dental surgeon in Berlin, he returned to Amritsar to start his own practice, training his wife, Bhagwati, to assist him with surgical procedures and patients. From family recollection, Bhagwati (d.1938) soon became as proficient a dentist as her husband.

1902 - Mani Ram had been offered the first-ever license to distribute liquor in the state of Punjab

Mani Ram refused to allow income from the liquor business to be used in his home or by any member of his family, insisting that all proceeds be directed and used towards the support of the nationalist movement, particularly the Congress Party and subsequently the revolutionaries to whom he transferred allegiance after the Jallianwala Bagh incident.

1919 - Events at Jallian Wala Bagh

Mohan (1907–1919), son of Dr. Mani Ram Anand and the brother of Brij Mohan who was not born at that time, “was shot in the head: the bullet fractured his skull".In a letter to the Health Officer, Mani Ram wrote: I with eight or nine others had to search for about half an hour till I could pick up his corpse.....This is how my innocent child of innocent age was murdered by those who allege they acted in the name of justice, law and order.

1928 I - Brij Mohan Anand was born

Brij Mohan was amongst the youngest of nine siblings comprising seven brothers and two sisters, born on the 10th of December 1928. There was a substantial age difference between the older and youngest children and Brij Mohan’s two eldest brothers, Des Raj (b.1901) and Dhani Ram (1903–1956), had left home and moved abroad before he was born.

1928 II – Brij Mohan Anand was born

Madan Mohan’s tragic death had resulted in dramatic consequences for the family and the outlook of many of its members — altering political beliefs, attitudes and perceptions. These in turn both determined future fortunes and served to separate family members from each other. In all probability, the events of his early childhood and the circumstances which preceded his birth had a profound effect on the young Brij Mohan and were to have a lasting impact on his life, thought and work.

1934 – Brij Mohan’s childhood

Brij Mohan began painting at the age of about nine. He was a gifted draughtsman and a keen observer, interested in learning new things. It amazed his family how easily Brij Mohan could draw something that he had seen or that had been described to him. Mani Ram was also highly supportive of his son’s artistic talents, going so far as to allow him the liberty of drawing on the walls with charcoal. He refused to punish him for it, saying that the walls were better for the embellishment and no longer just blank spaces.

1935 – Mani Ram’s fight against the British Colonial Government

The agents of colonial police allegedly smuggled and concealed a crate of English liquor within Mani Ram's home, claiming that they had received information that Mani Ram was misusing his liquor license. The authorities ordered a raid on his premises. Mani Ram allowed the search and walked into the trap. The authorities offered Mani Ram a choice to either apologise and in return they would award him a Rai Bahadurship or to suffer the consequences. Mani Ram refused to yield. As a result, he was subsequently forced to give up his lavish residences in Amritsar and sixteen murabbas of land in Multan.

1937 I – Years in Nagar

Disillusioned and stripped of his possessions, Mani Ram decided to move to Nagar in the remote Kullu Valley. Mani Ram was accompanied to Kullu by his wife and younger sons including Brij Mohan, who was then nine years old. Unlike the life he had led in Amritsar, in Kullu, Mani Ram adopted a somewhat reclusive existence.

1937 II – Years in Nagar

The landscape of Kullu, where Brij Mohan spent several formative years, was one of the earliest influences on his work. While in Kullu, Brij Mohan was greatly influenced by the aesthetic of the Russian émigré artist and anthropologist, Nicholas Roerich also resident in Nagar between 1925 and 1947.

1938– An example and inspiration to Brij Mohan

Brij Mohan’s greatest support, however, was his mother; she remained a source of inspiration to him throughout his life. Although Bhagwati suffered ill health and died young (Brij Mohan lost his mother soon after they moved to Kullu in 1938), she took a keen interest in his art, carefully storing his paintings, sending them to be framed and using her meagre funds (for medicines) to buy him art supplies when he ran out of them. After Bhagwati’s death and in accordance with her express wishes, it became the responsibility of Brij Mohan’s elder brother, Krishan Mohan, to pass on the young Brij Mohan’s paintings to Jeevan Singh in Amritsar where they could be framed and carefully stored. His mother’s sacrifice and support had a significant impact on Brij Mohan, instilling in him an innate respect for all women, especially in their socially assigned and conventional roles as mothers and providers within conservative Indian society.

1940 – Back in Amritsar

In recognition of a parental responsibility towards his younger children, whose education had been disrupted by the move to Kullu, Mani Ram moved the family back to Amritsar in 1940. Brij Mohan was orphaned at the age of fourteen, a young boy without parents at a volatile time in the country’s history. As protests grew more heated and turmoil increased in India’s cities in the lead up to Independence, Brij Mohan’s studies were interrupted once again, this time marking the end of his formal education. Instead, he began to spend more and more time on his painting. There seems to have been no stable adult influence in his life in these years and he drifted from place to place between various brothers and sisters. He also never received any formal instruction in art, although on the basis of his earlier work and the recollection of his family, Brij Mohan would have made an exceptionally gifted and able student.

1942 to 1947 – Brij Mohan on the move

The years between 1942 and 1947 found Brij Mohan restless and constantly on the move between Lahore, Amritsar, Kullu and Kashmir. He found it difficult to stay in one city for too long, travelling from one place to another and using the opportunity to discover new sights and subjects for his paintings and sketches. The hills were perhaps a welcome retreat, a chance to get closer to nature and an escape from the realities that were a constant reminder of his past and his parents.

1947 I – Brij Mohan in Kashmir

Anand is invited to Kashmir by Sheikh Abdullah to contribute to the National Cultural Front along with S.H. Raza, Amar Singh, Ghulam Hassan Beg Arif, and others. Here Anand gets into trouble for displaying nude artworks. Sensitive to what he perceived as disparagement of his work, the young Anand reacted adversely. A physical altercation ensued between him and Sheikh Abdullah, resulting in the subsequent removal of his paintings and sketches from the exhibition.

1947 II – Brij Mohan in Kashmir

Shortly after the incident, Anand was told that an arrest warrant had been issued in his name. It was also suggested that he leave Kashmir immediately to avoid prosecution. It was only once he had left Kashmir and was well on his way to Delhi that Anand heard from acquaintances in Srinagar that the arrest warrant in question had in fact been issued in response to the altercation at the exhibition. It appeared that the incident had become newsworthy in Srinagar and was being widely reported by the Kashmiri press. Anand was typically amused at the uproar he had created but also relieved that he had managed to leave unscathed with his paintings

1948– Brij Mohan in Delhi

After travelling extensively throughout the Indian subcontinent, Brij Mohan decided in September 1948 to make Delhi city his permanent home. In Delhi, Anand took up residence in a small room on the top floor of the Moti Mahal restaurant in Daryaganj. It was on his ability to render quick and accurate drawings that Anand decided to base his career in Delhi. Anand soon found that he had more work than he could handle. Anand quickly established a reputation as an accomplished illustrator and was soon sought after by many of the major publishers of the time.

1950 I– Brij Mohan’s first illustrated published work

Anand’s first major illustrated published work was a book of Indian history in pictures, titled Bharat Ka Chitramay Itihaas (The Illustrated History of India Written by Mahavir Adhikari) the book was the first of its kind in India with more illustrations than text. Family members recall that Anand illustrated the book without any research or reference to historical sources, creating sketches that were not only vivid and compelling but also historically accurate. India’s first President, Rajendra Prasad, released the book and signed a copy for Anand as a mark of appreciation for the work he had done.

1950 II– Introduction to the scratch or scraperboards

In the early 1950s, Anand was first introduced to the scratch or scraperboard — an illustrative technique associated with newspapers and technical manuals. Anand experimented with it extensively, creating his own scraping tools from bits of wood, metal and wire and, in later years, a stand on which to rest his hand while he scraped. For his coloured scratchboards Anand experimented with making his own paints from flowers he grew in his garden. His favourite was the dopahar khidi, an indigenous plant with small flowers that crumbled to the touch, yielding a soft powdery tint.

1953 – Brij Mohan’s first recorded scratchboard

Anand completed his first recorded scratchboard, Renaissance Navchetna marking the foundation of what was to become a highly unusual and distinctive aesthetic.

1955 I – Brij Mohan’s marriage

Anand married Sunil Kapoor on 25th February 1955. After the wedding, Sunil gave up her job teaching tailoring and embroidery, as was customary for married women of the time, and went to live with Anand. They moved to their final home in Delhi’s New Rajinder Nagar.

1955 II – Presenting a painting to Khrushchev and Bulganin

Anand presents a painting each to the First Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, Nikita Khrushchev, and Nikolai Bulganin, who was then the Chairman of the Soviet Council of Ministers.Nehru appreciated neither the gesture nor the subversive content of the paintings. As a result the presentation was never reported by the press and no mention of Anand or his work was ever made in any press report that subsequently appeared concerning the Soviet diplomatic visit. As a consequence of the incident, Anand’s passport was blocked for travel to China and subsequently withdrawn by security authorities, apparently concerned by the seditious nature of Anand’s political views.

1956-1971- Infirmity did not hinder Brij Mohan from his art

Between the years of 1956 and 1965, Anand battled a chronic, long-standing ailment, which forced him to cut back on his work. Family members record, however, that Anand’s infirmity did not deter him from spending every available hour at the easel. Gradually, as his health improved, Anand began taking on work once more and the family’s financial situation improved. However, Anand’s health remained indifferent for most of his adult life. A motorcycle accident in 1965 during the India–Pakistan War in which he suffered a head injury and subsequent surgery in 1969 rendered him bedridden for the better part of two years.

1958 I – Commercial illustrations as base of consistent employment

Notwithstanding a continuous and extensive studio practice spanning nearly fifty years, Anand’s work remained largely unrecognized and its exposure limited to family, friends and acquaintances. By contrast, Anand’s commercial illustrations found wide acceptance and demand among a range of writers, playwrights, publishers and government agencies. Perhaps Anand’s longest-standing professional association was with the publishing house of Banwari Lal Kaka & Sons. Banwari Lal Kaka, its eponymous founder and owner, recalls that when he asked around, nearly everyone he knew recommended Anand and said he was the best illustrator and artist in Delhi.

1958 II – Brij Mohan as a teacher

In addition to his commercial practice, Anand regularly took on art students to supplement his income. His students came from different walks of life. Anand was usually willing to help his students and other illustrators who needed assistance with their own assignments. ‘Anand was sufficiently quick with his work that often he had completed a sketch even before a client could finish telling him what he wanted. His illustrations and anatomical compositions, often executed without reference to textbooks or live models, were so accomplished that they were often mistaken for prints or photographs’. – Ajit Singh, students and assistant from 1958 - 1961

1963 I – Professional associations

Anand was commissioned to illustrate a series of children’s books for the Hemkunt Press. Although the books, each written by a different author, were well received by the reading public, Anand’s illustrations for one of the publications, The Story of Guru Nanak, written by Mala Singh, sparked a heated controversy within the Sikh community.

1963 II – Professional associations

Another of Anand’s enduring professional associations was with the graphic news agency, KBK, with which he worked extensively. Anand was adapt at creating unconventional but interesting visual communication that was simpler for the reader to relate to and understand. Such was Anand’s profound imagination and the swiftness and dexterity with which he drew that his work rarely needed correction.

1960s – 1970s

Among his other assignments, Anand received regular commissions to design jackets for the immensely popular genre of Hindi pulp fiction usually described as the “pocket book”. The writer with whom Anand worked most extensively, however, was popular novelist and screenwriter Gulshan Nanda. From family recollection, Nanda was insistent that Anand design the jackets of all his novels. He firmly believed that every book of his that Anand illustrated would go on to become successful. During the 1960s and 1970s, Anand designed posters and stage settings for local theatre productions at the Shriram Bharatiya Kala Kendra and the Fine Arts Theatre in Delhi.

1971– Gurbani, a painting of great significance

Rooplal (b.1943), one of Anand’s students, began working with him in 1971. A painting that Rooplal often admired was Anand’s work on the Gurbani. The painting held great significance for Anand, and Rooplal recalls that he returned to it frequently over the years, reworking it and making stylistic changes. ‘Rooplal records that although Anand never talked about his political beliefs and affiliations, his paintings were a powerful expression of his thoughts and world-view’.

1971-1972– Stop Burning Asia, The Death Is Shadowing You

Rooplal (b.1943), one of Anand’s students, began working with him in 1971 fortunate to have been working with Anand while he created one of his most significant scratchboards, Stop Burning Asia, The Death Is Shadowing You. The work was to become the subject of a provocative political statement, a protest the excesses of the Vietnam War, sent out as greeting cards to foreign embassies in Delhi. It was Rooplal who helped Anand make prints of the scratchboard and to send out the cards in the latter part of 1972.

1979 – Punjabi painting exhibition in Amritsar

In 1979, Anand exhibited several of his Punjabi paintings at the Guru Nanak Dev University in Amritsar. The exhibition, inaugurated by well-regarded Punjabi academic and writer Dr Karnail Singh. Accompanied by his eldest son Rohit, Anand travelled to Amritsar for the exhibition, which family members state was well received by the viewing public and members of the university.

1985– Arjuna award

Anand heard that the Ministry of Human Resource Development was looking for an illustrator to design the certificate for the prestigious Arjuna Award, India’s highest honour for outstanding achievements in sports. Anand put in a bid to design the certificate. He was summoned to the Ministry and given a brief by the officials concerned. Anand’s illustration of the mythological archer and warrior, Arjuna, was approved at the first instance and remained on the certificate of the Arjuna Award for several years.

1990 – Brij Mohan’s legacy

Anand died of cardiovascular complications on 15th January 1986. In an unpublished essay, titled “An Unparalleled Scraper Artist”, written four years after Anand’s death, G.S. Muhay notes: “He (Anand) never sold his paintings because he knew that the rich can pay well to decorate the walls of their drawing rooms but without appreciating what the artist wanted to communicate. He wished that (his) art works should find a place befitting their stature in a national or an international art gallery where the lovers of art could watch in posterity and know the human values the artist represented through his brush and pencils.”