City Portraits – Abdul Hayee – Painter, Kaala Pani

The Karachi walla met Abdul Hayee, the veteran painter under the shadow of an under construction fishing boat in Kaala Paani neighborhood of Karachi. There was a wooden platform below the base of an unfinished deck under which I found Abdul Hayee deep in conversation with his students. I greeted them and settled beside one of his students. He asked me if I was an art critic. I said I was not. It made the atmosphere more casual.

Abdul Hayee, who turns 70 next year has been active in local art scene for several decades. He has countless shows and accolades to his credit. Critics have showered him with praise and dozens of painters have benefited from his training and advice. Did it bring money too?

“There is a saying in Bengali, one who has a house, is married and mobile is the one who is happy. I don’t have any of these”, he said

Aur ishq ko kaam samajhna ya kaam se ishq karna?” I inquired

He smiled back. It spoke of an accomplished career, as a straightforward person who has strong belief in his values. He is known for painting out around the city. Over the years many of artists have accompanied him to his meanderings across the city and country. Some of them take pride in calling themselves his students and some don’t. He did not complaint much.

“We shall wait for humidity level to rise”, he told his students.

He told me that he has been coming to Kaala Panni for decades and seen people grow old and landscape getting changed. He asked me to follow him as he walked towards the shore. We walked through partially built boats, machinery and garbage. The high levels of pollution and oil has turned water black near the shore, perhaps the reason the area is called ‘Kaala Paani’. He told me that he taught a lot of students at his studio/residence near Tariq road too, free of cost as was the case here. A lot of them could not afford expensive materials and he has been giving away his own paints. He said that he wanted to teach as many as he could before he called it a day. There was a conviction in his voice. People greeted him as we walked around the shore.

We walked back to the platform where his students were busy taking out painting material. He opened his kit and setup paper on a board. He told his students that building up confidence was necessary before starting a painting. He let his brush flow on an empty paper getting into rhythm. After few minutes he put the paper aside and fixed an unfinished painting from the last week. Slowly he disappeared into it. There were less of instructions and he just nodded in reply to his students’questions. People passing by stopped for a bit to have a look at old man painting. One of them was owner of nearby restaurant who told me that he has been seeing him paint for past 25 years, since the day he setup his restaurant. He left after a bit and I joined Abdul Hayee’s students on the bench.

We did not speak as he continued to paint, as if it would destroy sanctity of an old ritual. A beautiful painting emerged out on the paper after an hour or so. Not many people would have found beauty and inspiration in that setting in Kaala Paani neighborhood of Karachi. It was his gift.

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Categories: City Portraits

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