I would go to the womby Chemould Art Gallery when it was perched on top of the Jehangir Art Gallery to be in the presence of art. Often it was to review the show, often to interview the artist. But as often as not, I would get dragged into discussions about the city and politics by Kekoo Gandhy, its mercurial founder. And then Khorshed Gandhy, who died on 6 September 2013, would remind me, “Do you want to talk to the artist too?”
Khorshed was the backbone of the gallery; Kekoo its wings. Their life together was the stuff of which legends are made; only they were the legends themselves. She loved him and hated him and anchored him. He loved her and hated her and grabbed her hand and whisked her into the blue yonder, taking risks no one else would dare at the time.
As official biographer to Chemould Art Gallery, I was privileged to get to know her well. Khorshed had been decimated by the departure of the man she had worked alongside for the last sixty-eight years but she was still deeply interested in my work.
“What are you doing?” she would ask.
“Writing a book on you,” I would answer.
“Who would read such a book?” she would sniff.
“It’s about how you and Kekoo built Chemould…”
“What Kekoo? I did all the work,” she snapped. And then we would talk about this and that, about artists and archives. But the moment I turned back to my files, to the piles of paper and letters and catalogues, she would get up and leave. She was no needy old lady who wanted to talk. She had spent her life being an independent tough-minded woman, an institution builder and a feminist; age was not going to wither that.
But even after she left the room, her spirit would linger in the letters I would be reading. Here she was organizing a visit for an artist to Switzerland; there Kekoo and she would be toiling up the stairs of the Governor’s Bungalow to set up an impromptu exhibition of contemporary Indian art for the Shahbanu of Iran (she bought two paintings), here she is again writing to another artist about how the general public responds to his work.
And her chequebooks reveal a giving heart. Almost all of them are made out to people she was supporting in one way or the other. Some of these were artists who needed help in their early days. Others were people she had met and befriended after the riots of 1992-93, when Kekoo and she worked tirelessly in Behrampada, one of the Muslim settlements worst affected by the conflagrations that followed the demolition of the Babri Masjid.
At her funeral, her son Adi Gandhy read out her last requests. She wanted no memorial service and no solemn faces. She wanted laughter and stories. She wanted a celebration of her life, in life.
“’Don’t cry for me Argentina’, may be sung,” she wrote.
Jerry Pinto is a National Award winning author and journalist. His noted works include, Helen: The Life and Times of an H-Bomb (2006) which won the Best Book on Cinema Award at the 54th National Film Awards). His first novel Em and The Big Hoom was published in 2012.