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Elizabeth Brunner







Fairy Tales around

27th July 1996

Elizabeth's talk about her stay at 'Western Court' and 'Constitution House'



Saturday, the 27th July 1996  

            There are six seasons in this sub-continent, I was told when first coming here to India and, I believe, this really is so. On and off, a few days, or sometimes continuous a few weeks are absolutely beautiful. They fall between the monsoon and the Indian autumn (which is quite different from the European autumn). When it is not overcast or raining the world around is dipped into such brilliant light that it is hard to behold.  

A way to Elizabeth's residence

            The crystal clearness and brilliance of the sky above has the most incredible cloud formations. One can sit and watch the wonderful ever changing white, the solid blue and the various shades of yellow of the sun. The earth beneath lies in delightful green lushness and soothing browns. Even the most shabby dwelling looks picturesque. The green, in particular, all around is so comforting that one almost forgets that the next day might be sticky and hot again.

            The heavy and moist warmth had also crept into Elizabeth's rooms and it was no longer cool there. But the fan moved the air and it was bearable. Elizabeth was very lightly clad. This time the '96 Olympics' were presented on the T.V. and Bahadur and Mary were watching. Fortunately, they were kind enough to disappear into their quarters to watch T.V. So the little tape-recorder went into action again.  

'Western Court' on Janpath today

            Elizabeth wanted to tell Dagmar more about her stay at 'Western Court': "My next-door neighbour was Leelamani Naidu. She was the youngest daughter of Sarojini Naidu (whom I had met long before in Hyderabad, and whom I had also painted) and a very very dear friend of mine. She gave me some ideas about how I could go on without my mother, all alone. (Remember, I came to Delhi after the death of my mother.) I must admit that at that time I thought that Leelamani's recommendations were just some imaginations of her. But now, after years, I realised that she was giving me very sound, very sincere and very sensible advice for my future.

            I used to go for morning walks. It was so different then around Janpath and India Gate! On one of these walks I saw a snake-charmer across the Janpath Road and I kindly requested him to come to the compound of 'Western Court' so that I could paint him and his animals. He agreed.  

...'I requested a snake charmer to come to 'Western Court' so that I could paint him and his animals'

            In the middle of my painting the snake-charmer, unfortunately, it started to rain. So we all moved to the veranda of 'Western Court' to be under cover. Leelamani came back for her lunch from office just then and saw us. She was very upset to see snakes at the 'Western Court'. Also, unfortunately, she did'nt tell me about it but made directly a written complaint to the care-takers of 'Western Court'. And an official letter came to me that I should promise not to bring any such people and animals ever to the compound of 'Western Court' again. But how could I promise this? These were the themes and subjects that excited my creativity and made me able to paint again.

            So it was decided that 'Constitution House' was perhaps a better place for me to be accommodated in. I shifted with all my things to that place and life started for me in 'Constitution House'. I remember even now, it was such a very pleasant time. Again I had a wonderful neighbour. A French lady, Mrs. Morand. We shared the bathroom and the veranda. She was a very cultured lady. She was the head of the French Broadcasting Service at the All India Radio. She liked animals, I mean there was no problem. I enjoyed staying there. And she loved the arts.  

            So I could start painting again in earnest. Again 'funny people'." (Elizabeth was referring to the snake-charmer ...)

            "For British officers on leave 'Constitution House' (also called hutments) was built. So you had long buildings with each two big rooms, very nicely furnished, as well as a bathroom and a veranda. (In the rooms different people lived but they shared the bathroom and the veranda.) And in-between these, shall we call them refined barracks, there was a stretch of lawn. So I started to use that open ground to paint." After Dagmar had quite understood the situation around 'Constitution House' and asked: "Anyway, whom did you find in the roads and bring in then? You called them 'funny people', remember?"  

            Elizabeth answered, "for instance , you know, those people who let the puppets dance." Dagmar, "puppeteers, puppet-players." Elizabeth, "yes, yes. And I painted that very long painting of only puppets.  

...'I painted, for instance, you know, those people who let the puppets dance'...

            And no neighbour complained. They came and looked at my paintings and they were excited that all those things were happening in 'Constitution House'. I also went out to paint some saintly people. I also painted Indira and Nehru again." Dagmar put in, "the zest to paint had come back to you. Thank God, it helped you to overcome the deep loss you had experienced in your mother's death." And Elizabeth replied, "yes, you could call it that."

            Later on that day Bahadur and Dagmar took out the enormous puppet painting and placed it into Elizabeth's sitting-room. It was a lovely, a delightful painting. Bahadur said it was the only one of puppets Elizabeth had painted.

            Elizabeth carried on about 'Constitution House', "I had my rabbits and parrots there. And when I went out, Mrs. Morand, the French lady, would look after them.


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