Shirin Sabavala (1924-2017): A spiritual lady of the world

Geetha Mehra, gallerist and committee member of the Jehangir Sabavala Foundation, remembers art patron Shirin Sabavala, who passed away last afternoon

Artist Jehangir and Shirin Sabavala while hanging his works for a show in 1955. Pic/Jehangir Sabavala Foundation
Artist Jehangir and Shirin Sabavala while hanging his works for a show in 1955. Pic/Jehangir Sabavala Foundation

Jehangir was the focus of Shirin's life when he was alive and, later, when he had passed away.

They were inseparable. After they met in their student days, they travelled across Europe and spent a lot of time in Paris, becoming a part of the bohemian artist community there. Jehangir often discussed his work with her and Shirin titled nearly all his paintings. She was fond of his early works and the Pilgrim series.

Geetha Mehra
Geetha Mehra

After Jehangir passed away in 2011, Shirin set up the Jehangir Sabavala Foundation, entrusting trustees and committee members with the mission of maintaining his legacy. Her efforts eventually culminated in securing a gallery at the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya, where six of his late canvases have found a home. I am happy that she got to see her efforts fructify in the course of her lifetime.

Shirin Sabavala, wife of a late leading member of India’s first generation of post-Independence painters, Jehangir Sabavala, succumbed to cancer at the age of 92, last afternoon. Shirin, known to be a patron among the artistic and literary circles, founded the Jehangir Sabavala Foundation, which holds an annual memorial lecture and supports upcoming poets
Shirin Sabavala, wife of a late leading member of India’s first generation of post-Independence painters, Jehangir Sabavala, succumbed to cancer at the age of 92, last afternoon. Shirin, known to be a patron among the artistic and literary circles, founded the Jehangir Sabavala Foundation, which holds an annual memorial lecture and supports upcoming poets

Jehangir was also a well-known archivist. The couple had filed snippets from various periods of their lives. It was not just media coverage and their photographs but also paper clippings of exhibition openings of his peers, which bore jottings of his impressions on them. Shirin knew that these archives had to be preserved for posterity. You'd think it was beyond her scope, but that wasn't the case. She took a keen interest and spent hours every day with the archivist looking into the digitisation. It took a couple of years overall, but finally, she achieved what she had set out to do.

Shirin and Jehangir shared similar outlooks on life and were very encouraging of the young. It is rare to find veterans mix so well with people far younger than them. But, this couple kept themselves young. Many a young poet and painter has benefitted from the soirees they hosted regularly at their home at Altamont Road. Young artists could show them their portfolios.

We benefitted from their generosity of time. Friends would often call on Shirin socially for a cup of tea and a sandwich. It was only in recent days, when she was frail due to old age, that she ventured out lesser. But, when we met her, she would still keenly ask for news from the art world and watched art auctions with great interest, putting aside her own troubles. And, if you showed her images of Jehangir's works, she would remember when and where it was painted. Her memory was remarkable and she could recall works right from the 1950s.

She was not just an elegant lady of world but also had a strong spiritual side. She was regular with yoga and was involved in bhajans and kirtans. At the funeral, we saw not just friends from the art world but also her friends from these interests in her life. Just before getting admitted at the BD Petit Parsee General Hospital, she continued to speak of the future, planning for the next Jehangir Sabavala Memorial Lecture.

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