Amrita was the elder of two daughters of a part-Jewish Hungarian mother, Marie Antoniette Gottesmann, and a Sikh father, Umrao Singh Sher-Gil, a widower with children from his first wife. He came from a distinguished, aristocratic family owning farmland, many houses and a large sugar mill at Saraya (UP). But Marie, a hard-headed, eccentric woman interested in the fine arts and music, went wrong in her calculations. She readily espoused the long-bearded and beturbaned sardar under the impression that he was a very wealthy landowner, only to find that he in fact drew a measly pension from his family and was deeply involved in studying ancient Sanskrit and Persian texts and spent long hours watching stars at night. It was a misalliance from the start: she cheated on him, having affairs that came her way. It remained so till she shot herself in the head with his shotgun in their Simla home on July 31, 1948.
Both Amrita and her sister Indira were born in Budapest, were baptised as Roman Catholics and spent the first years of their lives there. At a very early age, Amrita took to drawing pictures, and Indira to playing the piano. The family moved to Paris where the sisters pursued their studies, one in painting, the other in music. Amrita won recognition at Ecole des Beaux Arts. She grew conscious of her good looks. Marie encouraged her daughter using her charms to snare well-to-do men with a view to matrimony. An early suitor was Yusuf Ali Khan, son of the Nawab of Akbarpur. He made her pregnant and infected her with venereal disease as well. She turned to her cousin Victor Egan, a medical student, to get rid of the unwanted foetus and the disease. Amrita remained reckless in her affairs with men and women throughout her short life. One of her lovers, Malcolm Muggeridge, wrote "that she was really a virgin because she'd never experienced the spiritual equivalent of copulation: she had many lovers but they'd left no scar. I'll leave a scar". He failed to leave any scar but noted Amrita's obsession with herself and boasting about her lovers.
Back home in India, Amrita was eager to win recognition. She found two champions: Karl Khandalavala, a noted art critic in Bombay, and fellow Hungarian Charles Fabri, who lived in Lahore. Both acclaimed her as perhaps the greatest painter of the century. Despite the build-up, she found few buyers. She travelled across India with her canvases. Nawab Salar Jung of Hyderabad kept her paintings for a few days but returned them. She tried the Maharaja of Mysore but he preferred Ravi Varma's calendar art to hers.
Amrita was not as beautiful as she fancied herself and depicted in her self-portraits. She was fair, petite, with large, searching eyes and full-lipped. She wore bright-coloured saris and large beaded jewellery. She was liberal in the use of cosmetics and lipstick and doused herself in perfume. She attracted attention by her flamboyance wherever she went. Amongst her admirers was Pandit Nehru. She had countless lovers: her ravenous appetite for sex was legendary. She did not waste time in preliminaries. If her lover took too long to make the first move, she simply stripped and lay down on the carpet, naked. Badruddin Tyabjee gave a vivid description of his encounter with her one winter's night in Simla.
Controversy pursued Amrita to her last and continues to this day. When she was taken ill, she put it down to food poisoning. The other and more reliable version is that she was pregnant and her cousin-husband Victor botched up the abortion. After her death, her mother accused Victor of having murdered her. He was lucky as the day after Amrita died England declared war on Hungary and Victor was put in jail as an enemy national.
Amrita's life was more colourful than the bright colours she used in her paintings—this is a good look at it.
We at Outlookindia.com welcome feedback and your comments, including scathing criticism
1. Scathing, passionate, even angry critiques are welcome, but please do not indulge in abuse and invective. Our Primary concern is to keep the debate civil. We urge our users to try and express their disagreements without being disagreeable. Personal attacks are not welcome. No ad hominem please.
2. Please do not post the same message again and again in the same or different threads
3. Please keep your responses confined to the subject matter of the article you are responding to. Please note that our comments section is not a general free-for-all but for feedback to articles/blogs posted on the site
4. Our endeavour is to keep these forums unmoderated and unexpurgated. But if any of the above three conditions are violated, we reserve the right to delete any comment that we deem objectionable and also to withdraw posting privileges from the abuser. Please also note that hate-speech is punishable by law and in extreme circumstances, we may be forced to take legal action by tracing the IP addresses of the poster.
5. If someone is being abusive or personal, or generally being a troll or a flame-baiter, please do not descend to their level. The best response to such posters is to ignore them and send us a message at Mail AT outlookindia DOT com with the subject header COMPLAINT
6. Please do not copy and paste copyrighted material. If you do think that an article elsewhere has relevance to the point you wish to make, please only quote what is considered fair-use and provide a link to the article under question.
7. There is no particular outlookindia.com line on any subject. The views expressed in our opinion section are those of the author concerned and not that of all of outlookindia.com or all its authors.
8. Please also note that you are solely responsible for the comments posted by you on the site. The comments could be deleted or edited entirely at our discretion if we find them objectionable. However, the mere fact of their existence on our site does not mean that we necessarily approve of their contents. In short, the onus of responsibility for the comments remains solely with the authors thereof. Outlookindia.com or any of its group publications, may, however, retains the right to publish any of these comments, with or without editing, in any medium whatsoever. It is therefore in your own interest to be careful before posting.
9.Outlookindia.com is not responsible in any manner whatsoever for how any search engine -- such as Google, Bing etc -- caches or displays these comments. Please note that you are solely responsible for posting these comments and it is a privilege being granted to our registered users which can be withdrawn in case of abuse. To reiterate:
a. Comments once posted can only be deleted at the discretion of outlookindia.com
b. The comments reflect the views of the authors and not of outlookindia.com
c. outlookindia.com is not responsible in any manner whatsoever for the way search engines cache or display these comments
d. Please therefore take due caution before you post any comments as your words could potentially be used against you
10. We have an online thread for our comments policy:
You are welcome to post your suggestions here or in case you have a specific issue, to directly email us at Mail AT outlookindia DOT com with the subject header COMPLAINT