Indian artist in Paris makes good!
Sent by Auditi Guha
A Bengali in Bohemia
By Ranvir Nayar in Paris
Struggling artists have long dreamt of making it big in bohemian Paris.
Madhu Mangal Basu was an exception.
Driving a taxi through the streets of Calcutta in India for a living, he
never imagined he would one day be the toast of the Parisian art world.
Today, he is one of the best-known Indian artists working in France. But the
road to recognition has not been an easy one. Madhu’s father went to
Calcutta in 1947, as a refugee from what was then East Pakistan – and is now
“He settled in a refugee colony, and then got a job as a junior clerk with
the government,” Madhu recalls.
The family lived in a bamboo house, and the young Madhu was sent to a small
school in the refugee encampment. Arts and crafts attracted him from an early age. A group of sculptors lived
near his house. After finishing classes, Madhu would sit with them and learn
to sculpt. He started working from a young age to alleviate his family’s
“Sometimes I would distribute newspapers, sometimes I would make cards for
weddings,” he says. Madhu left school before he had finished his studies,
and in 1977, he started driving a taxi. It was not long before he realised
he could not spend his whole life doing that.
Mr Basu began to attend art college in the time he did not spend driving his
taxi. One day a friend asked him if he would take a Frenchwoman on a tour of
Calcutta in his cab. Madhu agreed – and that is how he met Giselle. Love
blossomed between the taxi driver and the Parisian, and before long, they
were married. After the wedding, Giselle went back to France, while Madhu
stayed on in Calcutta to finish his studies.
When he finally graduated in 1988, Giselle asked him to join her in Paris.
Madhu said he would, despite feeling deeply uneasy at the prospect of going
to a foreign city. “I did not know anybody here, and I didn’t know if the
people would appreciate my art over here.”
His doubts left him as he began to spend more time in Paris. He was
introduced to a professor at the Ecole Superieur des Beaux Arts, who took an
immediate liking to his work and invited him to use the studio in the
college. Mr Basu never looked back after this.
He is known in France as a leading Indian artist, and has had his work
exhibited in numerous towns and cities. Having risen up from poverty, Madhu
now plans to give other struggling artists the same chance. There is talk of
an exhibition in Paris next year, to showcase the latest painting talent
from India. And he also hopes to set up a scholarship, which will pay for a
promising Indian artist to spend a year studying in Paris.