People will always remember G.C. Laha when they talk about the history of art in India and its story goes back a hundred years. Nowadays we see so many shops selling goods to artists. Their relation with the artists is limited to only buying and selling. But in the case of G.C. Laha this was a relationship that was much more intimate. And it has still endured in spite of the many changes over the past hundred years. We have also changed in order to keep pace with the changing times. According to the law of nature, we too have reached a crucial age in our lives. In order to survive, some have travelled far and wide on work, others have•chosen Kolkata for providing the inspiration for their work. But wherever we have gone, we haven’t been able to forget the enthusiasm of Pashupatibabu of G.C. Laha. Moreover, in many corners of India, whenever we have sat down to discuss art among our contemporaries or seniors, the name of G.C. Laha has always been mentioned.
Though I’ve spent a number of years outside Kolkata on work, whenever I remember my student years, I think about a wonderful relationship with this shop. In the Fifties we were the students of the Government Art College. As soon as the bell signalling the end of classes rang, we would set out in groups for G.C. Laha’s art and crafts shop. In those days the pavements were not this crowded with vociferous buyers and sellers. We would walk down the even pavements, taking in the beautiful greenery, and passing the delectable aroma wafting out of Firpo’s, past the Indian Museum, we would finally reach the tram tracks crossing on Dharamtalla Street. In front of us would be the shop. Behind a huge, majestic table sat Pashupati Laha, our Pashupatida. On top could be seen the shining railings that signified tradition. Even now I can remember the lovely relationship that we shared with the great man. We would purchase various paints, brushes, paper and other arts materials and being regaled by Pashupatibabu’s charming words, we would set off for our homes. After finishing college, I started teaching at the Indian Art College in 1957. That again was a different experience. I had the pleasure of working with famous teachers like Somnath Hore, Gopal Sanyal, Arun Bose, Sukanta Bose, Satya Sevak Mukherjee, Sudhir Maitra, Suhas Ray and others. After classes got over we would congregate at the Kamalalay stores for our round of evening discussions. Then we would walk down to our old haunt of G.C. Laha and after purchasing the required goods, we would set off for home.
In those days, we know only Winsor & Newton as the manufacturer of good paints and brushes. And G.C. Laha was the only distributor of this famous company. Many artists were not very well-off and they would have to paint and sculpt with the spectre of poverty looming large over them. They didn’t even have any patrons and in general, there was complete indifference towards artists. In those lean years, it was G.C. Laha that came forward to help them. Many artists have remained devoted to their work with such unconditional help from this organisation and have become established in the world of Indian art later on
G.C. Laha has stepped into its hundredth year and I wish them all-round. well-being.