the 16th of May 1996
dancing poppies painted by Elizabeth in Kashmir in 1940
It was 'Christ's Ascension' and a day off from work for me. So, I took
refuge from the heat in Elizabeth's lovely cool rooms at
Rabindra Nagar. Normally, it is wonderfully quiet with her
and a gamut of birds songs can be heard all around her
house. I found her alone this time. Mary looked in and
announced coffee for us. The event of the day was Mr. Atal
Behari Vajpayee's election as Prime Minister of India and
the swearing-in ceremony at Rashtrapati Bhavan.
Elizabeth told Dagmar, "nowadays I get a kind of
numbness here (pointing at her ears), because of this
wretched ..." Dagmar asked, "the medicine you are
taking, or the noise of the television?" "The
medicine, yes. But I want to, if I can, discontinue with
it," said Elizabeth, "only sometimes there is too
much pain ... oh look at the beautiful roses!" Dagmar
had brought the customary flowers along, "they are not
roses, darling Elizabeth, they are some kind of poppies,
cultured poppies, I think." "Lovely poppies",
dreams Elizabeth, "yes, I remember times in Kashmir
bringing coffee, and Elizabeth
Elizabeth carried on, "a lot of things have
happened the last few days. The storms. In the storm last
Saturday, my men said, there were this size (showing her
fist) hailstones coming down." "Yes",
confirmed Dagmar, "I was sitting in my flat on the 5th
floor engrossed in reading a book, when suddenly I heard the
'bang bang bang' against the windows, it sounded as if the
panes would break."
In conspiracy with Elizabeth, Dagmar asked Mary (who
brought the coffee) to bring a tiny piece of bread. The
little mouse was scurrying around not finding anything to
eat. Mary brought it along, surprised about it all but not
getting an explanation. Dagmar mimicked as if she was eating
it and (when Mary had left the room) she dropped it on the
floor for the mouse. They giggled like little
five-year-olds. Elizabeth said laughing, "no wonder
your husband married you." "Why? I divorced
him," Dagmar. "That is another story."
Elizabeth carried on, "such a charming ... 'Hoozzlili'
... with such a devil in the neck." And Dagmar smiled,
"its such pleasure to see you laugh dearest
Elizabeth." "Yes, but to do the right thing at the
right time, that's it," answered Elizabeth.
She carried on, "and then during storm two
nights ago, the dog had gone crazy. The poor thing. The
electricity went off, of course, and the dog was banging at
the door. (That is the dog chained in the small little
entrance which Dagmar fears.) Mary had to go and she dared
to open the door. But I did not let the dog loose, because I
was not sure that it might not have gone crazy and not know
either of us. Poor thing, so scared" Dagmar exclaimed,
"gosh the dog was scared, Mary was scared and you were
scared." "I was scared that the dog does not know
what it is doing", said Elizabeth, "but then when
the door was open, the storm also calmed down and it became
'shanti' (peace) again.
The Dutch lady friend visiting me, said, where they
live in the 'Jinnah House', from the trunk of a very old
tree in their garden the crown was just cut off and thrown
to the ground." Dagmar remembered, "yes, I was in
the middle of that storm in Kalkaji (South Delhi) and the
evening traffic and kept thinking, either a tree, or an
electrical pole or one of those many hoardings can just fall
into the traffic, on top of my car and me. I was really
scared, inching home as fast as the weather allowed
A Rajasthani couple painted by Elizabeth in 'Rajputana'
(Rajasthan) in 1932
Lutoria Sahib came and brought lovely freshly ground
coffee from the Coffee Board. The subject was changed. Mr.
Lutoria mentioned, "the President of India, Mr. Shankar
Dayal Sharma, is from Bhopal and the new Prime Minister of
India, Mr. Atal Behari Vajpayee, is from Gwalior, both towns
in the middle country (Madhya Pradesh - M.P.)."
"Have you been in these towns Elizabeth?" Asked
Dagmar. "Unfortunately not," replied Elizabeth,
"so I cannot visualize them. We might have travelled
through M.P. but we never stayed. I am sorry. Moving in
these villages and cities, one does know the nature of these
people much more. I used to always choose a very
characteristic person in a new place where we went. I can
talk much more about Rajasthan, but just now the topic is
Madhya Pradesh. So I wish
- although I can't afford it because of my illness,
and leaving here at my place everything unprepared -
otherwise I would run and spend a month in M.P. And
then I could understand much better the nature of the people
over there. Automatically, even when they become 'bara
sahib' (distinguished gentleman), the characteristic nature
"In Bengal you have, of course, been," put
in Dagmar. "Hm, and that also in a very special
- favourite blooms Gurudev' (Tagore) painted by Elizabeth
in Santiniketan in 1931
piped Dagmar. And Elizabeth sang too: "Santiniketan.
Where those people went and sent their children who were
already influenced and agreed to the ideas of Gurudev (Tagore)
and hoped that their children would pick up these thoughts
and develop on those lines." "My ex-husband was
there as a child," said Dagmar. "How could you
leave him?" Asked Elizabeth. "Well, I did not see
much of Gurudev's thoughts displayed," Dagmar.
"You are a doer," said Elizabeth. "I am a
doer, I am an action woman," laughed Dagmar.
"Action woman," smiled Elizabeth, "that I
appreciate because I am just on this bed." "But
only since a few years, dearest Elizabeth, before that you
were also an action woman." "Not very much,"
Elizabeth. "But in painting," put Dagmar forward.
"In painting yes!" Said Elizabeth, "what I
choose as my subject, I stood for. Somebody liked it or not
liked it did not hinder me." Dagmar said, "yes,
one sees that in your paintings."
"Yes," Elizabeth, "just as I started
talking, I remembered Rajasthan. But I would have liked to
go to Madhya Pradesh! Soon I would follow the mental process
of those people. Mental and then it follows in the physical.
And then this world becomes a theatre in front of you. And
then it would remain like a good
play that you had seen twenty-thirty years ago. And you
liked it. So even when you think of it now, it refreshes
"The other day I received an invitation to a
Gwalior marriage." Said Elizabeth. "Whose
marriage?" Asked Dagmar. "Gwalior married to
Baroda", Elizabeth, "because of Baroda I was
invited. I would have seen, I mean a marriage is also a
theatre. An extraordinary perfect theatre at that".
But there is another point I want to make."
Elizabeth continued. "Maybe illness and all these
things make me sit down. So to gather things in my head and
measure them also." "Weigh the pros and
cons," put in Dagmar. "Yes," Elizabeth,
"so it is not an empty sitting! It forces me to look at
my life, to look at my health. It makes me point to and
question things. And makes me go through everything
carefully. ... It neither leaves me sorry, or over-happy! It
is very important and a very interesting internment."
"A what?" Asked Dagmar. "This," laughs
Elizabeth, "is an internment camp for me." She
means her incapability of moving.
"But at least I have my paintings around me,
and teach me! ... Who knows whom they will teach if they
survive. The next hundred years. If they are carefully kept
... this is my worry that they should be carefully kept ...
then automatically who communicates with them will find them
... because there is the magic that draws you ... You don't
know why you go somewhere, someplace ..." We went
silent for a long time.
and her 'children'
"Do you know", Elizabeth remembered and
carrying on, "mother's techniques of painting were
innumerable. Sometimes she would use only a fine brush and
produce a lace-like, dainty effect. At other times she would
have a strong sweep with broad brushes, producing a rugged
landscape. As I learned from her, I used the same
techniques. Whichever technique we used, we invariably drew
the outlines with charcoal before beginning to paint. Then
we would begin with the lightest colour and proceed to the
Very often during the hot weather, we had much
difficulties with certain colours. They melted on the
palette but dried too quickly on the canvas. The result of
this was that we were compelled to finish our paintings in a
single day, very often."