and Many Literatures
Looking at the topography of culture in Gujarat, the presence of
Gulammohammed Sheikh has deep and diverse implications: an avant-garde
on the literary scene; one amongst the few writers on art who had to
perform a twofold task: one of educating and other more participatory
in nature, which was aimed to create an environment to probe and
discuss different issues in the field of art. Another aspect of
surmounting importance is that his works bear witness to the
socio-political life around him.
he has published only one book of creative writing, that is a
collection of poems in Gujarati titled, Athava, he has
translated, edited, designed a number of books and has produced
several essays in different categories: personal, travelogues and
profoundly reflective essays on art. Understanding Gulammohammed
Sheikh as a creative person asserts the need to trace his evolution as
an artist and poet; his departures and conjunctions, and his
multi-aspectual contribution in the literary and visual world alike.
At the same time one needs to understand how he viewed and later
re-viewed his immediate surroundings as he moved locales; from
Surendranagar, a provincial town of Saurashtra,
to Vadodara, and then to the Royal College of Art London and back
home. Each of these places pointed at novel thought to ponder on,
these explorations into the newer ways, varied reading and writing
worked as an impetus for him to explore and interpret them in his own
in the late 50's, early 60's, that Sheikh began working either in
collaboration with his peers or singularly in conceiving publications
of literary works. In the early 60's Sheikh got associated with a
literary journal, Kshitij (1959-67), which functioned under the
editorship of Suresh Joshi¹. The same journal published a special
issue in May 1963, on Visual Art, which was edited by then 26 year old
Sheikh. This two hundred page issue carried translations of Paul Klee,
K. G. Subramanyan and many more prominent and aspiring artists and
writers. Later Sheikh worked as a Sub-editor for Sayujya
time period surely cannot be considered as just a beginning period of
Sheikh's literary contribution, as he had had a substantial presence
in the literary field. But it surely highlights the instrumental role
which Sheikh played in setting up a publication which would address
wider and deeper concerns of the society. Not being shackled by the
earlier traditions, he realized that the need of the moment was to be
there in the 'present' and to live it, not by discarding the past but
by taking a cue from it and understanding the role as an individual in
the existing time. Therefore Sheikh along with Bhupen Kakkar and a
group of enthusiasts, published Vrischik (1969-73). All efforts
to run Vrischik – from writing, getting visuals to posting the
issues, came from a group of friends. And the magazine got its name
because majority of the members in the group shared the same star
sign- Vrischik, scorpion. In the beginning, working with all
the budgetary constraints, it was printed on brown paper, and then
slowly moved to a better quality white paper, with good visuals -
litho prints as folio, which comprised of works of Jeram Patel, Jyoti
Bhatt, Bhupen Khakkar, Sheikh himself and few others.
magazine was primarily started to strike a dialogue amongst artists,
and it did not focus solely on visual arts. Taking a macroscopic view
of the time in which it was being printed, Sheikh felt the need to
include significant issues of social importance. From - letters by
American soldiers in Vietnam, to translations of poetry of saints, the
magazine looked at a wide spectrum of topics and stood as a reflection
of the contemporary world, and invariably rather succinctly forced the
readers to think. Apart from this, the magazine strongly challenged
the Lalit Kala Academy, over its undemocratic practices and also spoke
against the Triennale, and at the same time proposed feasible changes.
It is important to note that though the magazine was brought out only
for a short time span, one of the many things it did was that it
proved how responsible and thoughtful minds could oppose and bring
about changes in well established and powerful institutions in an
absolutely rational manner.
difficult to bracket Sheikh in any one rigid category, his numerous
essays on art: on Indian art, on the history of art in Gujarat, on
debatable issues of contemporary art, or, the obituary he penned on
the demise of Nasreen Mohammedi and also the letter in appreciation of
Murals of Shekhavati reveals his profundity in envisaging and
addressing the histories, arguments and admiration. His only
collection of poems, Athwa (1974), carries poems of ephemeral
images and dark symbolism; also the varied registers of dialects make
them polyphonic and vital. These poems on - self, people and places
are engraved deep in the collective memory of the region. For example,
the series of poems entitled, Jaiselmer,* are not just poems on
that famous city of Rajasthan but are also a fine example of how an
artist could render the visual memory of a city into a verbal language
of images, or the series of poems on the works of visual artists: in
the series of poems entitled, on The Drawings of Jeram Patel,
the poet deciphers gruesome and macabre visions of an eluding artist.
Meanwhile, his translations of Lorca, Neruda and some of the
contemporary poets of Europe, speak of his affinities and reaches as
an anxious poet.
years now, Sheikh has been appearing as a finest prose writer of
Gujarati language. His masterful and meticulous craft of writing has
become a class of its own. The rendering of the people and places in
the series of essays on Returning Home, The Reminisces of
Civitella or Pages from a Notebook portray an acute
sensibility of perception and memory. His indefatigable urge to bring
forth essence of the matter, in minute descriptions leads to
fabricating varied and vivid textures of language. And yet, these
prose pieces elude from being an inventory of the past which is lost.
Courtesy : Piyush Thakkar
Cover page of Kshitij
Cover page of Sayujya 1983
Cover page of Athwa - 2
Jaisalmer – 1*
a desert land this pearl-studded city
Peacocks perch on brackets and elephants
ramble over walls.
Every balcony lace-embroidered in stone,
every window festooned with gashes of blunt swords.
the twilight walls flare like orange orhdnis²
Eight generations of hands have smoothened
door's iron ring.
Black goats loiter in the courtyard and beyond
yard door the dutiful camel bleats.
garments dry over the middle wall.
limp flame flickers
a room's moldy darkness.
the hearth's red flush, in the
chundadi's³ glow, a golden girl
kneads a loaf-shaped city.
Gulammohammed Sheikh, 1963
by Saleem Peeradina and the poet, from Gujarati).
of a series of six poems written on visiting the then deserted old
fortified town in Rajasthan, surrounded by desert)
Suresh Joshi (1921-86): Has an influential presence in the literary
scenario of Gujarat. He worked as a teacher of Gujarati literature in
many universities. One finds a number of poetry collections, personal
essay collections, short story collections, books of literary
criticism on his name. To initiate and disseminate the new
perspectives of literature, he edited, co-edited and published several
little magazines during his life time. To name a few: Vani
(1947-49), Manisha(1954-55), Kshitij (1959-61),
Samput (1969), Uhapoh (1969-74),Aetad (1977-83),
Sayujya (1983,1985), Setu (1984-86).
and 3: Free-flowing drapes of women
is a freelance writer, poet and artist based in Miyagam Karjan a town
Photo credit - Vrushali Dhage