They say science owes a huge debt to imagination. In my case, my imagination owes a lot to science. I like to experiment because I studied science. And one of these experiments has changed my life completely, transforming me from a professor of physics into an artist.
The metamorphosis didn't happen overnight though. I have been drawing and painting since I was a boy. That was just a pastime. To earn bread and butter, I studied science and joined Aligarh Muslim University as a physics lecturer in 1971.
But the artist in me never really went away. I continued painting and experimenting with mediums whenever I found time from teaching. One of these experiments was collage work. I stuck small pieces of coloured paper to create images of buildings and urban landscapes. The result was astoundingly beautiful.
My friends egged me on to exhibit my paintings. When my works were first put up at a show in Delhi in 2001, I had butterflies in my stomach. But my work was appreciated by everyone. Sharan Apparao of Apparao Galleries liked my collages very much. She organised another exhibition at the Triveni Kala Akademi in 2003.
The response was overwhelming. On the first day itself, all 24 works were sold for an eye-popping Rs 7.5 lakh. It was not the money alone. The recognition in art circles and the acclaim gave me a sense of satisfaction.
My friends and other artists urged me to forget college and take up collage. It was a delicious thought. Do something you enjoy and get paid for it too. Since my wife Fauzia was still teaching at AMU, I decided in 2004 to quit my job and take up art full-time. Of course, at 59, I was very close to retirement anyway.
The past three years have been hugely satisfying — financially and personally. I held another show at Mumbai and got widespread acclaim. And the money? Your income usually dips after you turn 60. All I can say is that I now make more money from one painting than what I used to earn in a year.
-As told to Babar Zaidi
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