Talented artist who created celebrity portraits, Dial Sagoo, dies in London

Letter from New Delhi

A former resident Nairobi, Dial Singh Sagoo, an artist who drew Jomo Kenyatta in 1961 while the Kenyan leader was held in detention in Maralal by the British colonial government, has died in London aged 95.

Mr Sagoo was a well known personality in the local Sikh community in pre-independence Kenya. With his father, Labh Singh, and brother Kirpal Singh, who was a member of the Legislative Council, they owned the British Furniture House.

However, art was in Dial Sagoo’s blood after he received formal training in Italy. He made portraits of many leading dignitaries in Kenya at the time, including the author Robert Ruark, as well as visiting dignitaries, including Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, India’s second president. His portrait of Mzee Kenyatta was reproduced, with proceeds from sales supporting overseas scholarships for Kenyans.

A year before Kenya’s independence, the Sagoo family left Kenya in 1962, for London, where Sagoo continued as a portrait artist, the highlight of his career being an exhibition at the Royal Academy. This led to commissions from well-known celebrities, including Lord Mountbatten, Lord Beeching and his friend, Nairobi-born Sir Mota Singh, who became Britain’s first Asian judge and who himself died earlier this month.

Sagoo leaves a wife, Rajinder, two daughters, four grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren. His son-in-law Jasminder Singh Warah, better known as Shandy, who died in 2007, was a prominent Kenyan cricketer and motor sportsman. His other son-in-law, Philip Powell, worked as a public relations consultant in Nairobi in the 1970s.

His funeral took place at the Sikh gurdwara, Southall, London, on Friday, 25 November.

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Rumi’s Way of the Heart enchants young crowd

Over fifty young men and women gathered under a circular bamboo structure on a Sunday afternoon recently in New Delhi to learn about the Sufi emperor, Jalaluddin Rumi. The venue was Zorba The Buddha, perhaps one of the largest open faith spiritual centres located in the green suburb of South Delhi: a serene resort with tranquil gardens, reflective ponds, exotic birds and rustic dwellings.

Educated, sophisticated, eager, open and thirsty, what attracted the young crowd to this mystic poet who died more than eight hundred years ago? In short, the joy and love oozing out of his poetry. Rumi’s couplets are very simple yet very profound. In the simplest words, Rumi shares the deepest feelings that can be interpreted at three levels of romance, love and prayer. The same words at different levels mean different things. His poems appeal to all ages even after eight centuries because he talks about longing, romance that can transform into love and ultimately become prayer in such simple terms that touch the heart today.

The enlightened master Osho says, “Rumi is one of the most significant poets who are also mystics. That is a rare combination; there are millions of poets in the world and there are a few mystics, but a man who is both is very rare to find. Rumi is a very rare flower. He is as great a poet as he is a mystic. Hence, his poetry is not just poetry, not just a beautiful arrangement of words. It contains immense meaning and points towards the ultimate truth. It is not entertainment, it is enlightenment.” (The Hidden Splendour).

Starting this two-hour Learnshop, the eager listeners were introduced to Rumi’s tempestuous life that started off as a respected scholar, author and mentor morphing into a lovelorn seeker and poet and whirler. The narrative is entrancing but his poetry is even more so. Reading aloud a couplet, it is easy to see how it describes the physical attraction or romance that transforms into passion. But the next step is challenging when the same couplet is interpreted as pure love beyond physical boundaries. And in the final analysis, the very same words bring you to God. That is Rumi’s magic!

It is this mystique that allures millions even today around the globe. Rumi’s poetry is recited, chanted, set to music and used as inspiration for novels, poems, music, films, You Tube videos, Facebook posts and Tweets. Recordings of Rumi poems have made it to the USA’s Billboard’s Top 20 list. In 2007, Rumi was described as the most popular poet in America.

His monumental work, Mathnawi (couplets), remains one of the purest literary glories of ancient Persia. Where a book of poetry rarely sells more than 10,000 copies, the English interpretations of Rumi’s poetry by Coleman Barks have sold more than half a million copies worldwide. Rumi’s love poems have been performed by Hollywood celebrities like Madonna, Goldie Hawn, Philip Glass and Demi Moore.

So what was Rumi’s ecstasy that triggered this deeply sensitive poetry of loving and yearning? Whirling. After a brief demonstration of the correct postures and styles, everyone stood still to slide into whirling to eclectic Sufi music that starts very slowly and gathers momentum as it reaches a crescendo.

Going round and round on one spot, whirling, makes you a young child again. The eyes are wide open; the back ramrod straight and as the music hots up, everything becomes a blur as you go round. Your mind become empty of all thoughts, as you connect with your inner self. When the music stops, you lie down, face downwards, connecting your navel to mother earth. Then you are back in the womb. Alone. Thoughtless. Just inner space. This experience has to be lived, not described.

When the young group came back from this inner journey, they were speechless. That’s what connected them to Rumi. From his words to wordless.

Kul Bhushan worked as a newspaper Editor in Nairobi for over three decades and now lives in New Delhi

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