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     Volume 8 Issue 79 | July 24, 2009 |

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In Retrospect

Ruiz Pipo
a Friend Refound

Sayeed Ahmad

Ruiz Pipo

My return to Paris took place after many years, first in 1969 when I stopped over during an official visit when Mr Najmuddin Hashim was Cultural Counsellor of the Pakistan Embassy and Syed Waliullah was in UNESCO. I lectured at Musee Guimet on Pakistani art and artists. I made a brief enquiry about my old friend Ruiz Pipo but could not locate him. I found out he was in Italy. I spent a pleasant evening with Hashim Bhai as we were both Dhakaiyas, it was an amiable experience. The food, the anecdotes and the lively laughter of youth enlivened the time. Syed Waliullah was a friend of Nazir Ahmed, my elder brother, and therefore, I made it a point to visit him. He was the epitome of a gentleman and was living with his French wife Anne in Saint Michelle, a lovely residential area. In my over enthusiasm to be punctual for the 6 pm appointment, I went in the morning to see the location. In the evening, however, despite all my effort, I was late in arriving at the appointed time. When Waliullah Bhai opened the door, I blurted out a lame excuse saying that I had lost my way as the surroundings were changed and I had trouble in finding the apartment. Waliullah looked at me hard and said "This locality has not changed in two hundred years. Nothing is different". I was greatly embarrassed and mumbled some more apologies.

We settled down in the drawing room and his graceful wife served us red wine and cheese. Waliullah Bhai was deeply interested in my new play "Trishnay" (Survival) which had been recently published in Dhaka and Karachi. He was curious to know how I had picked upon a folk tale to create a drama which reflected a current situation. He said it was unique in Bengali literature to use the animal characters to depict human behavior for adult audiences.

As it was approaching dinner time and his wife had retired as she had office in the morning, Waliullah Bhai offered me soup and bread with more cheese. We talked till almost midnight after which he dropped me off at my hotel on champs-Elysses.

I visited Paris again in October, 1991 in connection with the translation of my play "The Thing" (Kalbela). The French Ministry of Culture was hosting my visit and it was arranged that I meet Francoise Cervantes, a playwright and upcoming director. He knew English well and so we communicated easily. It was agreed that he would come to Dhaka and conduct a workshop at the Shilpakala Academy Drama Department where my play would be staged.

Femmes Fleurs Fruits.

One morning as I was going to the Metro Station in Paris, my eyes descended on a large poster with the name of Ruiz Pipo. I stood frozen gazing at the billboard and rushed forward to read the slogans and in the process bumped into several passersby as I hastened to get close. My interpreter was quite amazed and asked what had happened. I told her that Ruiz Pipo was my dear friend but I lost track of him. She was astonished to know that I knew such a famous painter. She could not believe that a person from Bangladesh would be a friend of this outstanding artist. I told her excitedly that we knew each other since 1954 and I had lived in his studio flat. I told her many stories of our friendship and she was convinced that I was not making it up. She agreed to make an appointment for me with the Andre and Charles Bailly Gallery where Pipo was holding an exhibition of his paintings. I myself could not believe that after a gap of thirty five or more years, I was to meet Pipo, my friend.

My interpreter did a great job in convincing the Gallery organizers to fix up a meeting for me with Pipo. They were hesitant not knowing if the painter would recall who I was. However Pipo came to the phone and after I informed him of our good old days, he was overwhelmed with joy and said that he would love to see me. We agreed to meet at his Studio that afternoon. I was thrilled to see him and Pipo met me with open arms. He told me his wife Anne was in their country house outside Paris with the children and that I should visit there. As I did not have much time he said we should dine that evening together. Both of us loved eating and we spent hours over a late night Spanish dinner. I enjoyed Paella (rice dish) and the sumptuous meat cuts, dressed salads and desserts. Back in his studio, Pipo presented me with a fabulous book of his works published by Charles and Andre Bailly which I proudly own to this day. He also gave me three of his exhibition lithograph prints which hang in my house. The book "Ruiz Pipo" is autographed by him with the words in French, "My most cordial wishes to a friend who has returned, Ruiz Pipo, October 1991, Paris". Two thousand copies of the book were printed in French, one thousand copies in English, one thousand copies in Spanish and one thousand five hundred copies in Japanese. Of these, 150 copies were numbered in each language and included one of four original lithographs signed and numbered by the artist. I own one of these special publications in English.

Manolo Ruiz Pipo is among the greatest contemporary Spanish painters. His dream of going to Paris was fulfilled when he won a competition in Barcelona to continue his studies at the Ecole des Beauk-Arts in Paris. It was a hard life as a newspaper vendor and loader at the Halles super market. He was undernourished and cold. He decided to visit Picasso with an introductory letter.

After some hesitation all went well as Picasso recognised a fellow countryman. One day Picasso said "You look like death. Bring along some of your work and show me". Pipo showed his gouaches and drawings. After scrutinizing them he closed the portfolio saying "Thank you very much". Then turning to his assistant Sabartes said "Telephone la petite Jeanne Castel on my behalf and ask her to see him". This was the turning point in Pipo's life.

During my last visit to Paris in 2000 where I had been commissioned to lecture at the School of Oriental and African studies, I looked for Pipo, but he was out of France. Better luck next time!


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