the 19th of May 1996
looked and felt well when I came that Sunday to spend, for
once, the entire day with her. She wanted not even a siesta.
So we had a whole day session of talking about the past.
Mother and daughter stayed for two years in Santiniketan,
a small university town in West Bengal. They had been
invited by Tagore. The mother mostly meditated and painted
those beautiful visionary paintings. Elizabeth was more
fascinated by the people and sites of the surroundings. She
painted Tagore many a times. Also the various students and
people in and around Santiniketan.
After those two years, Tagore advised mother and
daughter to travel in India, which they did between 1932 and
1935. They travelled the length and the breadth of India,
visited most of the holy places. They discovered and painted
enchanting natural beauty which is India, and the many
varied people of the land.
It was the time when the 'Gulmohar' was blooming...
started off that morning, "I don't know what we should
talk about. The early times, the middle times, the later
times?" "Any time, any time", smiled Dagmar,
"but I love to hear about your past, dear Elizabeth.
Where were you and your mother after the Second World
War?" "In Nainital, we were prisoners of war.
see, well, you have seen the Japanese paintings?"
Elizabeth asked. "Yes," Dagmar answered.
"That was before the war. Was it before the war?"
Elizabeth asked herself, "wait, I will work it
out." Dagmar confirmed silently that, yes of course,
Japan was before the Second World War.
Elizabeth started off again, "should I start a
bit earlier? We were travelling in the South of India and we
wanted to paint. What was the name of the town? Seringapatan
perhabs. Anyway, a beautiful place. It was the time when the
'Gulmohar' was blooming. My mother painted. There were too
many mosquitoes, though. I got malaria. During my first bout
of malaria at a place called Sravana-Belgola I was given
quinine injections. By the end of about a month I was
sufficiently recovered to accompany my mother to Belur and
Halebid. So because of my illness we went to Bangalore and
there we met Gandhiji."
Dagmar made sure: "Where did you meet Gandhiji?"
Elizabeth said, "in Bangalore. But the South Indian
trip was also very beautiful, picturesque, and my mother was
in full ..." Dagmar, "action".
"Yes," said Elizabeth. "But I had become ill
with malaria. I had another bout of malaria in Pondicherry,
and another one each in Chidambaram and Mysore. So mother
decided with a sick girl it may be difficult to go
anywhere. And we stopped in Bangalore where we had already
some recommendation. The Theosophical Society got us a very
beautiful bungalow to stay in, with a huge garden. So my
mother decided to take this house and she said, 'you can
rest and recuperate'. In Bangalore I had once again malaria.
Three days and nights fever, the nastiest malaria I had.
Then mother first organized me and she organized
herself. Locked herself in. She thought she can start
painting from memory and from her sketches. Make her
painting as she would like to have done," Elizabeth
continued. "As if she were in
nature," put in Dagmar. "Yes," Elizabeth,
"she was always sketching. And she got into a
meditative phase also. She locked the doors, nobody was
allowed in. Only that one person from the Theosophical
Society looked in and saw that we were alright, whether we
need anything. Mother also got a person who taught me
English, so that was my work. I also painted a little. But
she locked herself into her room where nobody was permitted
to go. And I did not know what she was doing.
One day the news came that Gandhiji was released from
jail and was making a tour of the South. So we became very
excited, as his programme included Bangalore. People were
permitted to receive him in a Girls School. The Girl's
Schools and compounds in those days where surrounded by
extremely high walls, because girls where not yet open to
books. So we also went there. There was also a band to play,
the same we have now in marriage times. There were some
pillars outside the front veranda. So my mother said it
would be better to go to the very end of this veranda and
wait there and see what happens. She settled herself halfway
visible halfway covered by a pillar. But I was standing
outside. And, as time went by, more and more people came and
the crowd grew. At
the entrance of the veranda the dignitaries and officials
were waiting. But the people were coming like a flood. So
mother was half covering herself and I am standing in the
middle of it all. Because I also wanted to see. And those
coming people washed me ahead, pushed me towards the
entrance. Only a little bit of space was there for the cars
The government had arranged for Gandhiji and his
party to stay in that beautiful government guesthouse in a
park in Bangalore. But here was the public reception."
Dagmar asked, "in the girls school." "Yes,
continued Elizabeth, "suddenly I am being pushed, but I
could not fall down because of all the people. Otherwise my
nose would have been on the ground. Everybody was blindly
pushing forward. Stepping on my feet, they did not see.
Finally the car arrived and, lo and behold, Gandhiji was
sitting up on a chair in the car. So that the people could
see him. He looked our way and got down, the band was
playing. The dignitaries were walking to receive him.
But he looked at nobody and, very intensely, was only
trying to push through the incredible crowd. He reached me
and I was trying with outstretched arms to protect him, he
was so ...
The crowd had not quite realised that he was in the middle
of them. But somehow he managed to pass and reached my
mother. He walked up to her and embraced her. Never seen
before. And he said, 'I know you!' By the time I reached
them, the multitude was still going, pushing to see him at
the entrance of the veranda. The reception committee was not
knowing what to do. On top of the veranda no public was
So, Gandhiji and my mother looked at each other for a
few minutes. Then he turned and he gave me a huge lovable
slap. And then he took each of us on one side and walked to
the entrance." "Towards the reception
committee," smiled Dagmar. "Yes," Elizabeth.
"We all went, of course all the protocol and
dignitaries, went inside. By the way, that English lady was
also in his party." "Annie Besant?" asked
Dagmar. "No," Elizabeth and Dagmar asked Mr.
Lutoria, "who was that English lady working with
Gandhiji?" He mused, "Annie Besant, Mira Behn?"
Elizabeth continued, "Mira Behn! (British Admiral
Slade's daughter) I painted her also ... We went into inner
courtyard. There was a dais for Gandhiji. The meeting was
for women only and hundreds of them were seated in the
compound. At the end
of his speech (which we could not understand as it was in
Hindi) he seemed to be making some kind of appeal, in
response to which the women got up, taking off their
ornaments and bringing them to him."
"At that time you got your opportunity to paint
him Elizabeth, we all know it because we have seen the
beautiful paintings," Dagmar started again. "O
yes," continued Elizabeth, "a very special
opportunity. Now for me the real Gandhiji comes. When he
finished his talk, he came down from the dais and invited my
mother and me to come to his prayer meeting that evening,
which was held on the lawns of the government guesthouse. So
we went. And, as my mother would always do it, we would sit
at the very end of the multitude so that she could do her
quick sketches. Gandhiji was sitting under a huge tree in
that garden, on both sides three girls were sitting, who
sang. He spoke in Hindi, then prayers and then singing. When
it was all finished and people were dispersing, I all of a
sudden realized that this was my opportunity.
He was going back with two escorts to the building.
Suddenly I realized that this is the moment when I can
him. So I rushed through the crowd and just reached him when
he was going through the door upstairs. Then I said, 'Bapuji,
Bapuji?' He stopped and looked at me. I said, 'I have a
request. I would like to paint you, please give me time.' He
looked at me strangely smiling and said, 'why do you want to
paint an ugly man like me?' I replied, 'but Bapuji, I want
to paint your soul.' He said, 'how much time do you want?' I
replied, 'half an hour.' He look at me doubtfully and said,
'do you little chick of a girl beg to say that you can paint
my soul in half an hour?' I said, 'but Bapuji, can you prove
that I can't?' So he looked at me quizzically and said, 'you
will have that half an hour tomorrow afternoon'.
This conversation was overheard by a group of eager
newspaper men who were accompanying Gandhiji during the
whole tour. Seeing the expression on their faces, I realised
what a challenge I had undertaken. They declared that they
would all be there at the end of the half hour to see the
result. For a moment I felt very nervous, but then my
overwhelming joy at being able to undertake the portrait
gave me fresh courage.
My mother accompanied me and when we arrived at
about three o'clock we were told that this was Gandhiji's
silent day. It was a Monday, the eight of January 1934. I
was shown in and found him sitting on a veranda, sorting out
some papers. Giving me a glance, he took out his watch and
placed it in front of him. Then he returned to his papers.
It was a damp, cold, grey afternoon and he was wearing a
Kashmiri shawl, only. I felt chilly on the veranda and the
thought of the thirty newspaper men waiting below did not
make me feel any warmer. The possibilities of a good
position were limited and every moment was precious. I must
begin at once. As Gandhiji looked down at his papers, his
face was hardly visible. Perhaps he sensed my dilemma, for
he looked over his glasses at me as if to suggest that I
should go ahead.
portrait of the Mahatma, Elizabeth and her mother in 1934
This glance encouraged me and I began to work
feverishly. At the end of the half hour, he wrote on a slip
of paper, 'the thirty minutes are over!' I explained to him
that I was due to paint another ten minutes, as the first
ten minutes had been taken up with necessary preparations
(the setting up of my easel, etc.). So he nodded in agreement
and I continued to paint. When after the ten minutes the
portrait was finished and I handed it over to him, his face
lit up with approval, and he
willingly wrote his signature. I was grateful beyond words
and went down to face the newspaper men with confidence. So
all over India the news was flashed, 'Hungarian artist
paints the Mahatma in half an hour'."
was one of those uniquely special men of our century. He was
born on 02.10.1869 in Kathiawar as Mohandas Karamchand
Gandhi and killed on 30.01.1948 in New Delhi as The Mahatma
As a lawyer in South Africa, he called for the
resistance of discrimination against black men. 1914 he came
back to India and went, at the top of the National Congress
Party, against the British rule in India.
He was an extremely religious and ascetic man, who,
all his life, went by the ideas of 'ahimsa' (no killing) and
'satjagraha' (fight without weapons). He succeeded in the
abolition of the so-called 'untouchables' cast. In defiance
against the British
textile industry he advocated spinning and home spun
textiles in India. He broke the British monopoly on salt
production and walked through India on his famous 'salt
He died in the attempt to leave a united motherland
(which is now Pakistan, Bangladesh and India).
continued with her story, "We met Gandhiji again the
next day. And then he invited us to stay with him when he
should be in Koonoor, as he would be staying there for two
weeks and the change would be good for me. By the time we
arrived in Koonoor, I was in the throes of another spell of
malaria, which the chilly hills seemed to have aggravated.
He himself came to our room to see whether we had all we
needed, and was very concerned to see how ill I was. At his
request, we were describing the course of the illness to
him. Then suddenly he turned to one of his attendants and
asked for a glass of hot milk. When this came, he took it in
his hand and held it to my mouth. With feverish eyes I
looked at him and asked to be excused from drinking it, as
for eight years my mother and I had not partaken on any food
or drink derived from animal sources.
my face between his hands he said, 'please drink it for my
sake', and I could not refuse. Within less than an hour my
fever had left me. When he visited me later, he pressed me
to continue drinking milk while I was in India, as he
believed it was a necessity for my health.
Our fortnight at Koonoor with Gandhiji was extremely
pleasant. We spent the days taking part in his daily routine
and painting. Gandhiji worked practically all day, writing,
reading, interviewing, and attending meetings. The morning
and evening prayer meetings were attended by large crowds of
people. Besides the singing of simple hymns, he would
arrange for readings to be given from the Gita, the Bible,
the Koran, and other holy books of different
After Mary's lunch,
which Lutoria Sahib, Elizabeth and her animals and I
enjoyed, we talked about the name Brunner and she told me
that, as it was a German name, her father changed it into
started, "you see it was not fashionable in Hungary to
call yourself Brunner at that time because of the
negative German influence all over Europe. So he took up an
artist name. That was quite common at the time. He loved the
birds in the sky that are 'sas', but he put the name with a
double 's' Sass." Dagmar asked, "which bird?"
And Elizabeth answered, "the eagle". "O, 'sas'
means eagle in Hungarian?" Dagmar repeated. "Hm,"
Elizabeth, "and he became Ferenc Sass. But not by law.
It was an artist name. And they called me 'Shash Baba'
[Elizabeth's pronounciation]. Even when I grew up I was 'Shash
We kept quiet for some time. But then Elizabeth
carried on: "And at a party, or the place were mother
learned conventional dancing, one of her friends mentioned,
now you need not go to Budapest, there is a school of
painting opened in Nagykanizsa [Elizabeth pronounced it
Nochkonisha] and this is the artists' name and address.
My mother could not wait two minutes and registered
herself in the school. Her family was debating and debating,
and finally allowed her to join my father's studio. And she
was so excited," Elizabeth's voice was quivering more