I have been exceptionally blessed to have been the Muse and closest friend of Souza for ten amazing, unbelievable years.
On January 19, 1993, I was a painfully-young art critic for the TIMES OF INDIA in New Delhi. The reclusive and enigmatic Souza had just flown-in from New York, and was opening an exhibition at Dhoomimal Gallery that evening.
I had known Souza's art and writing for all my formative years, but had never seen this man, who was the ultimate legend of contemporary Indian art. His words and lines rivetted me: his scientific and philosophical essays, 'SEARCH FOR AN INFINITE UNIVERSE' and 'REDMONISM: THE NEW UNIVERSE' were always kept on top of my clippings-file, for years.
I was in search of my Guru, and Souza's ideas were like mantras for me. I knew, instinctively and immediately, that we were kindred souls: that the age-difference of forty years was irrelevant, and that these were ideas ahead of their time, untapped by any other mind.
This is why I had to be present on that fateful evening in Connaught Place.... I was to come face-to-face with my Guru. It was ordained!
Souza was fashionably late: but the moment he entered --- a slight, fey, other-worldly, radiant figure, with his delicate, pale right hand raised gently, as if in benediction --- I noticed that he took me in. He recognised me fully, with his blazing painter's gaze.
Souza was to initiate a dialogue with me on that mysteriously-fateful evening, that was to continue and last for a magical decade -- from India to New York to London and Paris. I became this great artist's chosen muse; and for that entire decade, my face and figure appeared in all of Souza's depictions of young womanhood.
Souza asked me to be his muse. He went down on his knees before me, and, as if at an altar, he offered me a red rose.
I asked him --- why me? I considered myself ordinary!
From January 19, 1993, until his passing into Eternity on the eve of Good Friday on March 28, 2002 in my presence in Bombay, Souza took hundreds of amazing photographs of me, all over the world, on which he based hundreds of his most powerful and beautifully-romantic paintings.
Souza began photographing me from the very first day he set eyes on me. He said that he had found, in my face and stance, a classical ideal: a face that transcended race and nationality. Most people do not know that Souza's vision as a photographer was as profound as his images on canvas. He connected his work deeply with photographs; he always kept hundreds of his cherished photographs close to him, wherever he went.
I have selected, below, some of Souza's favourite photo-portraits of me for this website. These were the images that he always kept close to him; they were either kept carefully in his red bedside-drawer in New York, or carried by him, carefully and lovingly, in envelopes beautifully labelled by him in his pure handwriting: 'PHOTOS OF S': wherever he would travel, on this beautiful earth which he so loved.
Souza was of the opinion ( -- much to my amusement! -- ) that I looked exactly like his favourite actress, June Duprez, who was the heroine of one of the first-ever colour movies made, 'THE THIEF OF BAGHDAD'. He would watch this movie with deep joy very often in New York.
Souza said to me, "Such beauty is so rare and precious that it must be kept concealed from the raw gaze... Srimati, my lovely, believe me! -- I know what true Beauty is ... You look exactly like that exquisite Princess, who must keep a curtain drawn between herself and the Sun."
Souza called me his "Heavenly Flower": a name that, he said, came to his mind the very moment he set eyes on me. All this was heady praise indeed, for a young girl who adulated this genius!
May these images speak their own Truth. They were all taken by Souza; except those that depict him, which were taken by me.
It is only now, when this saint of an artist and other-worldly genius Souza is with his Heavenly Father Christ, playing forever with his blazing colours in his Infinite Universe, that I realise that I have been the luckiest girl on Earth to have basked in his exceptionally-dazzling light for ten mystical years.
--- Srimati Lal,
Calcutta, May 2002.
01. SRIMATI IN HER GARDEN
(Chemical, 1999, New York)
Collection of GALERIE 88, Calcutta.
02. 'Palkhi' Balcony, Colaba, Bombay, March 2002.
03. Neemrana Fort Palace, Rajasthan, 1998.
04. One of Souza's favourite images of me; London, April 1997.
05. Picadilly Profile; London, April 1997.
06. Goa Carnival, January 2002.
07. New York, West 67th Street, outside Souza's apartment; Spring 2001.
08. Bombay, March 2002.
09. Goa, January 2002.
10. Bombay, March 2002.
11. Paris, Jardin de Luxembourg, Spring 1995.
12. L'Odeon Theatre, Paris, Spring 1995.
13. Le Quartier Latin, Paris, Spring 1995.
14. Resorte Marinha-Dourada, Arpora, Goa, January 2002.
15. Bombay, March 2002; this is the last photo Souza took of me.
16. Jardin de Luxembourg, Paris, Spring 1995.
17. Boulevard St.-Michel, Paris, Spring 1995.
18. L'Orientale, L'Odeon, Paris, Spring 1995.
19. Le Quartier Latin, Paris, Spring 1995.
20. Goa, January 2002.
21. Goa, January 2002.
22. New Delhi, February 2001.
23. Palkhi Balcony, Bombay, March 2002.
24. Bombay, February 2002.
25. In an Indian outfit that was Souza's favourite; Bombay, March 2002.
26. At Belsize Park London; 1997 (photo by Anya Souza).
27. With Julian Hartnoll at a garden-party in honour of Souza and me at London's Chelsea Arts Club; Spring 1995; photo by Souza.
28. Chelsea Arts Club, London; Julian, Helena Kaasik, Srimati Lal and James Huntington-Whiteley; Spring 1995; photo by Souza.
29. Souza photographing me (his image is in the mirror); Belsize Park, London, Spring 1995.
30. Julian Hartnoll showing me his collection of Souzas, at Hartnoll's Gallery in Mason's Yard, St. James's, London; Spring 1995.
31. Hartnoll displays a Yogic head-stand or 'Shirshasana,' to a startled Souza; Chelsea Arts Club, London; Spring 1995; photo by Srimati.
32. Marine Drive, Bombay; February 2001.
33. With Rowena, Julian, and Mrs. and Mr. David Crewe-Reade, my patrons and supporters, at my opening-party at Julian Hartnoll's Gallery in London; March 1997.
34. With my friend and cousin Rajashree and her husband Kiran Khalap, at the Christmas Party for Souza we organised at Sagar Sangeet, Bombay; December 25, 2001.
35. With artist and friend Baiju Parthan in Bombay, on the day Souza arrived from New York; December 2001.
36. At Souza's favourite Delhi restaurant, 'Chor Bizarre', soon after we first met; January 1993. At the back of this photo, Souza has written, "Souza with the most beautiful girl in the world!"
37. At the Christmas party in Souza's honour, with friends, at Kiran Khalap's Bombay apartment; Dec. 25, 2001.
38. One of my favourite (and last) images of Souza; on his favourite balcony in Goa, reading from the red notebook I gave him; January 2002.
39. A favourite photo of Souza's, taken the first time he took me as his Muse to Paris; in front of L'Odeon; November 1993.
40. This was the first photo Souza took of me. I interviewed him for the Times of India on this Hauz Khas rooftop in Delhi, on Jan. 22, 1993. He gave me a red rose and knelt before me on that day; and from then on, he referred to me as "Heavenly Flower" and "Goddess".
41. SRIMATI THE QUEEN
(Oils & Acrylics on Canvas, 1998, New York)
Collection of GALERIE 88, Calcutta.