Mandla in Madhya Pradesh (PTI): An ancient tree, a dilapidated school building and its sepia tinted admission record circa 1931, are perhaps the only tactile remnants of Syed Haider Raza’s early childhood that was spent in the thinly populated village of Kakaiya here.
While the staff of Shaskiya Madhyamik Shala hasn’t forgotten the iconic modernist painter, the visible sense of dejection on their faces is hard to miss.
As Mandla remembers Raza on his first death anniversary, the government school, where he studied for less than a year in 4th standard, now lies in shambles.
Pointing at the locked door of a defunct classroom, school incharge Narendra Kumar Patel recalls his meeting with the ‘bindu’ artist in 1986.
Raza was visiting for the first time since he left school.
“It was February 6, 1986 and I was teaching on this verandah when a man in a suit lay down flat on ground at the school’s entrance. Then, he got up and picked some sand and rubbed it on his forehead.
“I was, of course, confused and asked him who he was, and he said, ‘Sir ji, consider me a mad man for a few minutes.
Then, I will explain everything.’ He just sat here quietly looking at the walls and the entire school,” Patel said.
It was only later when Raza nostalgically told him about his school days, and how he had become a renowned name in the world of art, that Patel and others realised they had a celebrity of sorts among them.
It was perhaps the nature of his forest ranger father’s job that Raza and his elder brother Yusuf only managed to attend classes intermittently till December of that year.
The primary section, where Raza was admitted was closed down five years ago, and a makeshift kitchen to prepare mid- day meals is all that is there.
Presently the classes take place in a new building.
An amount of Rs 14 lakh was promised by former MP and now minister of state Faggan Singh Kulaste for restoration, but lack of delivery has forced the administration to contemplate demolishment of the abandoned school building.
“The building is becoming riskier by the day. We know it is part of a legendary person’s history, worthy of preservation, but what else can we do in such a scenario,” Patel said.
Another dilapidated building behind the school, Patel said, was Raza’s father’s office back in the day.
The three-room structure stands devoid of a roof, overwhelmed with unkempt vegetation.
Close friend and managing trustee of Raza Foundation Ashok Vajpeyi expressed grief at the poor condition of the structures.
“We are deeply distressed at the condition of these places. We can only hope that the state government and the local community would take urgent steps to restore the two spaces to their original, stable condition,” he said.
Unless immediate steps are taken, it is likely that all that will remain of Raza’s roots would be a fast decaying admission record and a collection of photographs preserved by the staff from all his visits to the school over the years.