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In Artist Pran Nath Mago’s Own Words : A Love Letter From His Daughter Chandrika

CHANDRIKA MAGO / An Awaaz South Asia SPECIAL | 18/10/2023

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(A note about the author: Chandrika Mago, who started her long career in journalism at the Times of India, passed away on November 28 after a tough battle with  cancer. As she fought the disease bravely, she also raced to complete a life project -- putting together a website to bring together all the art and other works of her father, the late Pran Nath Mago. Some of his works are displayed at the National Gallery of Modern Art in New Delhi. Chandrika and her niece, Taruni Mathur, finished setting up the site two months ago, in mid-September. When we asked her to write about it for AwaazSouthAsia,  Chandrika, a dear friend and colleague, was happy to oblige. It was published on October 18. We are republishing the piece today as a tribute to her. - Editors)

When we decided to create a website on my father, the late artist, art educationist and author Pran Nath Mago, the objective was twofold. One, to honour his life and work in his birth centenary year – he was born on 22 August 1923. Two, to provide accurate information and a selection of images of his artwork, to correct some of the well-intentioned but wrong information floating on the internet. He didn’t really write about himself; a well-wisher recently described him as “rather self-effacing” and “elusive”. He wrote extensively on art and craft, and the evolving art scene, but never promoted himself. He hardly ever sold commercially.  

Yet, as I began slowly sorting through his books, papers and art in the years since his passing in July 2006, I had to regularly field queries about the Partition era and his work, particularly some paintings that continue to find their way into books and articles. That’s when I realised I needed to collate information, rather than scrambling for it when someone approached me. I began by putting together information on different, even stray, segments in separate files and then got some of these scanned and photographed.  

Putting together the website from scratch wasn’t easy. We had no experience; it was a steep learning curve. Some of the information for the text still had to be collated from different sources in the files. I knew the details of his career, for instance, but some of the exact dates and personal details came from his CVs, forms he had filled over the years and kept, scraps of paper on which he had scribbled... I even got information from a corrigendum he had sent to a newspaper after an article that got quite a few facts wrong.  

As I started working on the website, with the invaluable help of my niece Taruni Mathur, I was also keen to put as much of the information as possible in his own words. I came across a letter in which he explained the genesis of the 1945 painting Farewell. A freewheeling conversation with the poet and writer Amrita Pritam, first published in The Patriot newspaper in 1993, gave us his own take on the Jallianwala Bagh sketches that were meant for a mural at Parliament House. We also got limited information on a third work, Rumours, that conveyed some of the atmosphere leading up to Partition. We made sure we put those in a separate section.  

Putting together a selection of his artwork brought its own challenges. Some paintings are, of course, with museums and institutions. But some of his early works were left behind when he had to leave Lahore. Others were with art connoisseurs, difficult to trace after so many decades. In some instances, we had just black and white images of work, some of better quality than others. In some, we couldn’t make out the signature in the image, though we knew the work was his, and correlated authenticity through catalogues and articles on his work in the early years. On the other hand, we also came across some works we had not seen before. One disturbing image in particular gave us a sense of the violence he lived through.  

 There continue to be gaps in his life in the years immediately after Partition too. He never spoke of why the family couldn’t come together under one roof again. He rarely spoke of the trauma of losing his mother at 24, his father a couple of years later, the fact that one elder brother could never make it to India – or, for that matter, about landing penniless in Delhi. It was only a few years ago that an elder cousin told me our grandfather’s bank had burnt down; he lost all his money and was too old to start over.  

We did record a conversation with my father in the early 2000s about his early life and his journey, in an army convoy, to a reshaped, independent India. We decided to put an edited transcript of that on the website – again, staying with his own words.  

As the website came together, we were touched by the warmth with which many seemed to remember him. Several agreed readily to contribute; we hope to get a few more write-ups. An artist friend put us in touch with a website creator.  

As I think back on this journey, something my father once said comes to mind. Referring to his own parents, he said the passage of time sometimes made you wonder if they were ever there; at other times, the memories would be so fresh you felt they were still there. For us, as my niece puts it, creating the website helped erase the passage of time. It made us feel he is still here with us.

Read more about Pran Nath Mago and view his work at


2023-12-03 13:09:14