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Elizabeth Brunner







Fairy Tales around

16th May 1996 

Elizabeth with bad weather and storms at Delhi 



Thursday, the 16th of May 1996

'The dancing poppies painted by Elizabeth in Kashmir in 1940

            It was 'Christ's Ascension' and a day off from work for me. So, I took refuge from the heat in Elizabeth's lovely cool rooms at Rabindra Nagar. Normally, it is wonderfully quiet with her and a gamut of birds songs can be heard all around her house. I found her alone this time. Mary looked in and announced coffee for us. The event of the day was Mr. Atal Behari Vajpayee's election as Prime Minister of India and the swearing-in ceremony at Rashtrapati Bhavan.

            Elizabeth told Dagmar, "nowadays I get a kind of numbness here (pointing at her ears), because of this wretched ..." Dagmar asked, "the medicine you are taking, or the noise of the television?" "The medicine, yes. But I want to, if I can, discontinue with it," said Elizabeth, "only sometimes there is too much pain ... oh look at the beautiful roses!" Dagmar had brought the customary flowers along, "they are not roses, darling Elizabeth, they are some kind of poppies, cultured poppies, I think." "Lovely poppies", dreams Elizabeth, "yes, I remember times in Kashmir ..."

Mary bringing coffee, and Elizabeth

            Elizabeth carried on, "a lot of things have happened the last few days. The storms. In the storm last Saturday, my men said, there were this size (showing her fist) hailstones coming down." "Yes", confirmed Dagmar, "I was sitting in my flat on the 5th floor engrossed in reading a book, when suddenly I heard the 'bang bang bang' against the windows, it sounded as if the panes would break."

            In conspiracy with Elizabeth, Dagmar asked Mary (who brought the coffee) to bring a tiny piece of bread. The little mouse was scurrying around not finding anything to eat. Mary brought it along, surprised about it all but not getting an explanation. Dagmar mimicked as if she was eating it and (when Mary had left the room) she dropped it on the floor for the mouse. They giggled like little five-year-olds. Elizabeth said laughing, "no wonder your husband married you." "Why? I divorced him," Dagmar. "That is another story." Elizabeth carried on, "such a charming ... 'Hoozzlili' ... with such a devil in the neck." And Dagmar smiled, "its such pleasure to see you laugh dearest Elizabeth." "Yes, but to do the right thing at the right time, that's it," answered Elizabeth.

            She carried on, "and then during storm two nights ago, the dog had gone crazy. The poor thing. The electricity went off, of course, and the dog was banging at the door. (That is the dog chained in the small little entrance which Dagmar fears.) Mary had to go and she dared to open the door. But I did not let the dog loose, because I was not sure that it might not have gone crazy and not know either of us. Poor thing, so scared" Dagmar exclaimed, "gosh the dog was scared, Mary was scared and you were scared." "I was scared that the dog does not know what it is doing", said Elizabeth, "but then when the door was open, the storm also calmed down and it became 'shanti' (peace) again.

            The Dutch lady friend visiting me, said, where they live in the 'Jinnah House', from the trunk of a very old tree in their garden the crown was just cut off and thrown to the ground." Dagmar remembered, "yes, I was in the middle of that storm in Kalkaji (South Delhi) and the evening traffic and kept thinking, either a tree, or an electrical pole or one of those many hoardings can just fall into the traffic, on top of my car and me. I was really scared, inching home as fast as the weather allowed me."  

A Rajasthani couple painted by Elizabeth in 'Rajputana' (Rajasthan) in 1932

            Lutoria Sahib came and brought lovely freshly ground coffee from the Coffee Board. The subject was changed. Mr. Lutoria mentioned, "the President of India, Mr. Shankar Dayal Sharma, is from Bhopal and the new Prime Minister of India, Mr. Atal Behari Vajpayee, is from Gwalior, both towns in the middle country (Madhya Pradesh - M.P.)." "Have you been in these towns Elizabeth?" Asked Dagmar. "Unfortunately not," replied Elizabeth, "so I cannot visualize them. We might have travelled through M.P. but we never stayed. I am sorry. Moving in these villages and cities, one does know the nature of these people much more. I used to always choose a very characteristic person in a new place where we went. I can talk much more about Rajasthan, but just now the topic is Madhya Pradesh. So I wish  - although I can't afford it because of my illness, and leaving here at my place everything unprepared -  otherwise I would run and spend a month in M.P. And then I could understand much better the nature of the people over there. Automatically, even when they become 'bara sahib' (distinguished gentleman), the characteristic nature remains."

            "In Bengal you have, of course, been," put in Dagmar. "Hm, and that also in a very special place," Elizabeth.  

'Lillies - favourite blooms Gurudev' (Tagore) painted by Elizabeth in Santiniketan in 1931

"Santiniketan," piped Dagmar. And Elizabeth sang too: "Santiniketan. Where those people went and sent their children who were already influenced and agreed to the ideas of Gurudev (Tagore) and hoped that their children would pick up these thoughts and develop on those lines." "My ex-husband was there as a child," said Dagmar. "How could you leave him?" Asked Elizabeth. "Well, I did not see much of Gurudev's thoughts displayed," Dagmar. "You are a doer," said Elizabeth. "I am a doer, I am an action woman," laughed Dagmar. "Action woman," smiled Elizabeth, "that I appreciate because I am just on this bed." "But only since a few years, dearest Elizabeth, before that you were also an action woman." "Not very much," Elizabeth. "But in painting," put Dagmar forward. "In painting yes!" Said Elizabeth, "what I choose as my subject, I stood for. Somebody liked it or not liked it did not hinder me." Dagmar said, "yes, one sees that in your paintings."

            "Yes," Elizabeth, "just as I started talking, I remembered Rajasthan. But I would have liked to go to Madhya Pradesh! Soon I would follow the mental process of those people. Mental and then it follows in the physical. And then this world becomes a theatre in front of you. And then it would remain like a good play that you had seen twenty-thirty years ago. And you liked it. So even when you think of it now, it refreshes you."

            "The other day I received an invitation to a Gwalior marriage." Said Elizabeth. "Whose marriage?" Asked Dagmar. "Gwalior married to Baroda", Elizabeth, "because of Baroda I was invited. I would have seen, I mean a marriage is also a theatre. An extraordinary perfect theatre at that".

            But there is another point I want to make." Elizabeth continued. "Maybe illness and all these things make me sit down. So to gather things in my head and measure them also." "Weigh the pros and cons," put in Dagmar. "Yes," Elizabeth, "so it is not an empty sitting! It forces me to look at my life, to look at my health. It makes me point to and question things. And makes me go through everything carefully. ... It neither leaves me sorry, or over-happy! It is very important and a very interesting internment." "A what?" Asked Dagmar. "This," laughs Elizabeth, "is an internment camp for me." She means her incapability of moving.

            "But at least I have my paintings around me, they talk and teach me! ... Who knows whom they will teach if they survive. The next hundred years. If they are carefully kept ... this is my worry that they should be carefully kept ... then automatically who communicates with them will find them ... because there is the magic that draws you ... You don't know why you go somewhere, someplace ..." We went silent for a long time. 

Elizabeth and her 'children'  

Local Woman

            "Do you know", Elizabeth remembered and carrying on, "mother's techniques of painting were innumerable. Sometimes she would use only a fine brush and produce a lace-like, dainty effect. At other times she would have a strong sweep with broad brushes, producing a rugged landscape. As I learned from her, I used the same techniques. Whichever technique we used, we invariably drew the outlines with charcoal before beginning to paint. Then we would begin with the lightest colour and proceed to the darker ones.

            Very often during the hot weather, we had much difficulties with certain colours. They melted on the palette but dried too quickly on the canvas. The result of this was that we were compelled to finish our paintings in a single day, very often."



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Copyright Dagmar Barua 1997 Sass Brunner East West Trust, 75, Rabindra Nagar, New Delhi - 110 003