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Art Is All I See

At Dr. PradeepChowbey’s four-storey house, there is art in every nook and corner. A laparoscopic surgeon by profession and Chairman of Max Institute of Minimal Access, Metabolic & Bariatric Surgery, Dr. Chowbey says he has a heightened visual awareness. With some of the most significant works of Indian modern masters like M. F. Husain, S. H. Raza and Ram Kumar adorning their walls, I met Dr. Chowbey and his wife Susmita over a cup of coffee at their beautiful South Delhi home

 Photograph by ShantanuPrakash

It has been a long professional journey spanning five decades. I was born in Bilaspur (now in Chattisgarh) and studied in Burhanpur where we lived after my father, a civil surgeon, got transferred. My primary education was in a municipality Hindi medium school. The city is historically known for the presence of the first tomb of MumtazMahal, where she was buried for months till the TajMahal was completed. In 1968, I moved to Jabalpur for my MBBS and MS and then moved to Delhi for my practice. I attended an international surgery conference in the United States where minimally invasive surgical technique was being shown, live. That was probably the turning point in my career and I was determined to bring this technique to India. There has been no looking back ever since. 

My bonding with art.  I used to paint casually with water colours when I was young, but during my MBBS I noticed my inclination towards art was inbuilt and natural because I thoroughly enjoyed drawing the human body anatomy diagrams. And now my surgical team sometimes sends me images on phone during surgery for guidance and I am easily able to tell where to probe by just seeing the image! 

A work of N.S. Bendrewas the first ever art acquisition. I bought my first art work from a gallery in Delhi’s Connaught Place in 1978, a Bendre work framed by the famous Chemould Framers. I had absolutely no knowledge of art then, but I liked the work so much that I bought it for Rs. 500, which was half my monthly salary. Much later we realised that it was the work of a celebrated artist. This work still occupies prime position in our home.

 Photograph by ShantanuPrakash

Buying art requires money, and our collection grew slowly. We earnestly started to buy art only in the past 20 years. But there were times when we were monetarily restricted. The collection did not build up overnight. It has been a slow yet a steady process. Now, we acquire works from galleries, occasionally from artists directly, and often  significant and important works from auctions in India and abroad. 

My visit to Triveni Kala Sangam in Delhi made me sensitive to good art. My wife, Susmita, was trained at Triveni under the able guidance of Rameshwar Broota and K Khosa. I had a two-wheeler then and used to pick her up from her classes after work. Occasionally, I had to wait and that’s when I saw exhibitions at the galleries there. That exposure led to developing my sensibilities to appreciate art and differentiate good from average work. We would go for shows of friends as a gesture of support, but now we travel the world to see museums and private collections.

Photograph by ShantanuPrakash

 Photograph by ShantanuPrakash

Personal relationships have governed our love for Husain and Raza. We relate to the works of artists more when we have an emotional connect with them. We were very close to Razasaab and, in fact, were instrumental in bringing him back to India. We became friends with him through a common acquaintance 20 years ago. As we got to know him, we grew deeply fond of him. We used to visit his home in Paris at least once a year. Listening to him was like listening to a spiritual speaker. It was most refreshing and energising. Similarly, we met Husain saab at his home in Dubai. A morning breakfast meeting continued till lunch. He signed a copy of the Tehelka magazine with him on the cover and gave it to us. The issue has the lead feature analysing the controversy of his art that led to his exile. It is a precious memorabilia in our family now.

To read more of such stories

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