Keisuke Inano's Recollection of Mukul Dey

— Keisuke Inano

Mujul Dey at the south verandah of Chitralekha house, early 1980s photograph
Photo: Keisuke Inano
About twenty-two years ago young student Mr Keisuke Inano was Mukul Dey’s last Japanese friend. Dey’s relationship with Japan, which started with his association with Yokoyama Taikan, Tomitaro Hara, Shimomura Kanzan, Kampo Arai, Yukio Yashiro, Okiyo-san, Sentaro Sawamura, Tetsuro Sugimoto, Kiitsu Sakakibara and Kosetsu Nosu, had continued till his very last with his friendship with Keisuke Inano.

During the 80’s of last century, Keisuke Inano was “very old” Mukul Dey’s last and “very young” Japanese friend, with whom the aged artist was intimate. We, all of us at Chitralekha deeply appreciate Mr Inano’s love towards Mukul Dey when he was old and, probably, lonely. We are happy to reproduce below Keisuke Inano’s recollection of Mukul Dey along with a superb photograph of the  artist by him. It is interesting to note in the following article, the author Keisuke Inano mentions “R. Tagore”, instead of Rabindranath Tagore whenever any controversial references were made. - Satyasri Ukil, January 2004.

September 16, 2003

How I came to know Mukul Dey.

I first met Mukul Dey in the middle of August in 1982 when I joined M.A. in Philosophy Dept. of Visva-Bharati Univ. in Santiniketan under Indo-Japan Mixed Cultural Exchange Scheme. Just after I finished the admission procedure, Prof. Makino who was teaching Japanese Language at Visva-Bharati told me that there was an artist who might keep a Japanese sword at his house. Since I had been exercising Japanese martial art called “Iai-do” in which Japanese sword is used, I thought I should see it. This is the very simple reason why I visited Mukul Dey.

When I first saw him, he was sitting on a bench in the front yard of Chitralekha house and concentrating on engraving a copper plate. From outside of the gate I introduced myself to him. Then he stopped his work and happily invited me into his house with full smile. Mukul ordered Maya to bring tea and biscuit and started talking about Yokoyama Taikan and his experience in Japan.

Though I was a little bit disappointed because there was no Japanese sword at the house, I was strongly astonished by the way how Mukul, who was then already 87 years old, energetically talked to me. Till then I did not know he had accompanied Rabindranath Tagore’s travel to Japan and America in 1916. What he told me was nothing but his real experience with extremely famous Japanese artists about 66 years ago.

Since then, I started visiting Mukul almost everyday. I visited him in late morning, that is, after my classes were over and visited him again in the evening when in Santiniketan usually there was no light due to load shedding. When I visited in the morning he was always working either at his studio engraving copper plates or at his study writing letters to his friends in many foreign countries. In the evening he was taking rest sitting on his bed, not lying.

In the dusk or darkness at Chitralekha, with smoke from burning coconut husks for mosquito repelling, he used to tell his past experiences to me. And I used to sing a song or played the bamboo flute for him.

Often Bina offered me dinner after Mukul finished his dining. After Puja holiday in 1982, I started eating dinner everyday at Chitralekha paying about 200 Rs every month to Bina. Her cooking was excellent. Then in August 1984, I shifted my room from International Guest House to the upstairs of Mukul’s studio. I stayed there till I left Santiniketan, that is in December 1985. 

What Mukul Dey told me

Mukul Dey was an unconventional type of man in Santiniketan. Many people in Santiniketan are not openly communicating with each other, it is my impression, they are living in a kind of exclusive and stereotyped society. I did not meet so many attracting people there, except some professors and some friends. However Mukul and Bina were different. 

Mukul was criticizing Rabindranath Tagore’s Painting although he admired very much his poetry and songs. He often told me that “Tagore had no sense of painting.” Mukul Dey, being such a straightforward person, attracted me and I never got tired of staying with him.

His stories fascinated me. Now I regret that I did not note down what he told me. If I had been a student of art or history, I would have done it.Followings are what I remember now:

The reason why R. Tagore wanted to shift to Tomitaro Hara’s house in Yokohama from Taikan’s house in Ueno in Tokyo while in Japan in 1916 was, Mukul told me, that Tagore had piles and needed western style toilet. I think there must have been the western style toilet at the big house of Hara in Sannotani, Yokohama.

While they stayed at Kinokuniya-Hotel in Hakone Mukul saw Taikan’s wife bathing in a hot-spring bath. She was totally naked.

Taikan occasionally sipped ink made from charcoal with a small cup while making drawing.

The motif of one of Mukul’s works, “Midnight Cry,” he explained to me, was his loneliness not due to his father’s death but due to the independence from R. Tagore.

R. Tagore tried to make Bina his own, though I do not know before or after her marriage with Mukul, and he leveled his gun at R. Tagore. (Bina told me that before she said yes to Mukul’s proposal to her, he advertised on newspaper about his marriage with her. This was done within a few days from his proposal when Bina was still wondering what to answer. I think by making the news public, Mukul wanted to let R.Tagore give her up.)

About the reason Tagore objected Mukul’s study in Japan, he was telling to me that Tagore was jealous with him. The jealousy is not only from Tagore’s inferiority to Mukul in painting but also from the relationship between Mukul and Kiyo-san. He said Tagore also loved her.

People attending Tagore were memorizing Tagore’s hums that later became Rabindra Sangeeta.

Why he did not visit Japan again after 1916 (my guess)

The reason why he did not return to Japan despite he had received admiration from Taikan and Hara is, I guess, that after he studied methods of etching in U.S.A. his interest turned toward the field of that kind of art. And Pearson played an important role to introduce Mukul to artistic circles of London. Also, considering the problem of language, it is understandable that Mukul chose not Japan but England.

He might have planned to visit Japan later while he was principal of Govt. of Art School. But the diplomatic relation between Japan and England in the mid 1930s was already unhealthy and it might have disturbed the plan. It is reasonable to imagine that he thought to visit Japan after his retirement, however from 1941 to 1945 Japan was at war and the country was occupied till 1952 by U.S.A. and in confusion for some years even after independence from U.S.A.

Taikan died in 1958. Tomitaro Hara had already died in August 16th 1939. So Mukul might have missed the chance or lost interest in visiting Japan.

My days with Mukul Dey in Santiniketan
 I had an impression that both Mukul and Bina were feeling lonely when I met them first, in 1982. One day just after Bukuma (Manjari Ukil, Mukul Dey’s daughter) arrived suddenly at Chitralekha, I went to Mukul working at his studio to tell him about her arrival. Then hearing the news, he was so pleased and started dancing.

I think everybody who met Bina admits that she was loved from all the people of Santiniketan. However, contrary to Bina, I think, Mukul Dey was kept away from most people of the Santiniketan society. But this did not affect him at all, I think, for he did not need to communicate with them. He was living within his own world of memory. As far as I feel, he was living in his world of before 1967. I do not know his illness in 1967 affected him mentally or not. But even if so, his sense of art and creativity was not affected at all.

My memory at random of Mukul Dey

In January 1983, my brother & sister in law visited Santiniketan. Before they started from Japan, Mukul asked me to tell them to bring a bottle of Scotch Whiskey. They brought a bottle called “Dimple” which was a good one. He started drinking very small quantity (may be 3 to 5 cc) every day. It was already becoming summer when he finished the bottle. Then he asked me to buy some Indian whiskey and I brought it from Bolpur.

Everyday in evening Mukul and I sat on the chair in the front yard of Chitralekha and had whiskey. This is very unusual behavior in Santiniketan. Some people saw us drinking from outside of the entrance. However Mukul never minded. There was no worry in him about their eyes. The period of his drinking lasted about 3 months. I believe this is the last drink in his life.

One day Mukul suddenly wanted to see the town of Bolpur. I accompanied Mukul on a rickshaw pulled by Ganesh. We started together without any purpose. He found a dead pig lying on the road and said with a sigh, “If that pig died in an accident, it is eatable.” I still cannot forget this word.

When he found pakora shops, he was fascinated by the smell and could not restrain himself from buying one. He bought and ate it. When Mukul told about pakora to Bina after returning to Chitralekha, Bina furiously scolded Mukul and me and explained how dangerous it was to eat fried food from an unknown shop. Luckily Mukul did not get ill.

One day when I was riding on my cycle near the canal side, I found a small deer lying on the road. Most probably the deer was hit by car. Then I saw a Santal woman who found it took it with her. In the evening when I told Mukul about what I had seen, he heard the story with so much regret that he said, “Why didn’t you bring that? You should have brought it for me”.

I do not remember now the reason why, one day, I paid 50 Rs. and Mukul ordered Santal men to bring one pig. I think at that time Babla (Satyasri Ukil) and Pintu (Shivashri Ukil) were staying in Santiniketan. The Santal men made fire and roasted the pig in the garden. I very much remember the taste of that roast pork. That was really tasty. Mukul was a real gourmet.

Once Mukul and Bina took Ganesh’s rickshaw and I accompanied them by cycle. We went to the canal-side. When Mukul found Santal girls walking by the canal, he stopped the rickshaw and started talking with them asking many questions. It was apparent that he loved Santal people more than professors and bureaucrats of Visva-Bharati.

Mukul used to sing a line or two, which he told me he heard Taikan had been often singing. It sounds “Chukk…”

I remember once he said to me, “You should keep yourself quietly like a dog. And once you find a big chance, you must jump at it.” I think this word came from his experience of getting chance to become the Principal of Govt. Art School in 1928.

Mukul used to say, “God did not give me money.” One night when Roger was there, Mukul said the same word, then Roger replied to him, “But God gave you sense of art.”

Without energetic and creative presence of Mukul and kindness of Bina, probably my days in Santiniketan for three years and a half were not so wonderful. As you know I stayed again in Santiniketan from 1995 to 96 as a lecturer at Japanese Dept. That time, though Bina was there, I clearly realized how the existence of Mukul was valuable for me.

One evening Mukul said sitting on his bed with a candle light in dusk, “Art and Religion are the same.” I, being a young student of Religion, thoughtlessly said to him, “No, I think they were different.” He brushed aside my adolescent opinion, saying in a sharp tone, “You don’t know, you are too young.” I could not say anything more. This short conversation with him was good lesson for me. What he said has been and will always be a warning to me to be discreet and not to be arrogant.


Keisuke Inano

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