Family of artists & legacy of ‘most talented’ Sunder Singh, 17 - Mandi Gobindgarh News

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Monday, April 8, 2019

Family of artists & legacy of ‘most talented’ Sunder Singh, 17

Family of artists & legacy of ‘most talented’ Sunder Singh, 17

Vishav Bharti

Tribune News Service

Amritsar, April 7

Just before his death in the early 1950s, fresco painter Gian Singh ‘Naqqash’ handed over two elegantly-framed, stunningly sharp pencil sketches to his youngest son and told him to take care of the only “nishaani” of his departed son. One depicted a Sikh performing ‘ardaas’ and the other a fresco painting.

The sketches are the only testimony to the great talent of Sunder Singh, who fell to bullets aged 17 at Jallianwala Bagh. These now hang from a wall at the family’s studio outside Golden Temple.

Sunder Singh was the elder son of Gian Singh, the famous fresco painter who had worked at Darbar Sahib for 33 years. He had great hopes from his talented son, who had started drawing at  a very young age.

Sunder was very fond of attending mass gatherings. So, on the fateful day of April 13, 1919, Gian Singh took him as well as his younger son Jagat Singh along to Jallianwala Bagh, which was a stone’s throw away from their house.

When the firing started, Gian Singh managed to escape but got separated from his sons. Jagat Singh, who later became a renowned ayurvedic expert, was found injured among the dead. Sunder wasn’t as lucky. His body was found with one bullet piercing through his neck and another, his stomach.

Gian Singh’s grandson Surinder Singh, who in his eighties is struggling to save the family legacy, says the family had to take a loan of Rs 150 at heavy interest to perform Sunder’s last rites. Besides interest, as per the agreement, Gian Singh’s youngest son Sohan (the famous painter GS Sohan Singh) would port a pitcher of water morning and evening at the moneylender’s shop.

Later, the money swelled into a debt and was paid off when the British government gave a compensation of Rs 3,716 to the family for Sunder’s killing.

But the bigger pain for Gian Singh was losing his talented son. Even in his last days, Gian Singh regretted why he had taken him along that fateful day. “My most talented son didn’t deserve to go that way,” he would often say.

It was a few years after Sunder’s death that he again saw hope when he noticed Sohan Singh drawing sharp lines. He had started making beautiful sketches, just like his brother. He rose to become an iconic painter and was known as the last master of fresco in the Sikh school of painting.

From generation to generation, Sunder’s tale has been passed on in this family of artists. A few years after his death, Gian Singh stumbled upon Sunder’s photograph in an international magazine.

Everybody was surprised how it figured there. The mystery was solved when the family came to know that the photographer was documenting various styles of turbans and had clicked Sunder while he was playing at the stairs of Darbar Sahib.

The two sketches and the photograph have become an important treasure for the family. Four decades back, Sohan Singh had immortalised that only photograph of Sunder with his magical hands: with a young, smiling Sunder in the centre and people falling to bullets around him, he created a sketch of Jallianwala Bagh.

As you walk out of the studio, a question repeatedly haunts you: how many Sunder Singhs fell to the bullets that afternoon?

The family where newlyweds first bow before Jallianwala Bagh

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