Nasreen Mohamedi was a unique friend and an artist who chose to work with lines and create images I had never seen before. I vaguely remember that I met her first at Gaitonde's studio one afternoon at the Bhulabhai Desai Institute in Bombay. I had just started painting, a self-taught artist with my first show in 1961, whereas Gaitonde and Nasreen were known names. Despite this, we became friends.
Much later, after I graduated and started teaching art at the Convent, Nasreen and I continued to correspond. Her letters were warm; always short, in block letters on a page from an exercise book. She asked me to come to Baroda to see the M.S. University and to stay with her. In the late 1960s or early 1970s, I took two days off and a weekend during the Holi holidays and travelled by train to Baroda to spend some time with Nasreen. Her home was neat and clean with very little furniture and nothing on the white walls, except for a large low square table, where she sat on the floor and worked her lines on paper with precision in black and white inks; she lived a simple life like a Sufi.
In the evenings, she would take a mop and a broom and clean the floors although the helper had already done it in the morning. I was amazed at her simplicity and asked her why. She replied, "Lalitha, we must respect the floor."
The first afternoon she took me by a rickshaw to see someone special she said. It was the artist Jeram Patel. He was seated on a white divan on the floor with white bolsters and cushions surrounded by some young artists, talking in Gujarati. Both Nasreen and Jeram taught at the Faculty of Fine Arts at M.S. University in the early morning, and she was in charge of the first year students. The same evening she took me to meet Bhupen Khakhar, Vivan Sundaram and Geeta Kapoor in Bhupen's studio. The next morning was the Holi festival. Vivan, Shrilekha [Sikander] and many young painters came knocking at Nasreen's window, asking us to come out and play Holi with colours. But we had already had our morning baths and we crouched in a corner of the room refusing to come out to play. I still remember the ruckus they created before going away.
Nasreen gifted me this painting on my first visit to her home and I admired her generosity. Whenever she came to Bombay she would visit our home, one of those huge British quarters with wooden floors, for her much-loved meal of fried fish and rice. She would sit on our balcony overlooking the sea and the harbour for hours.
I visited her home again when I had a Fellowship from the Ministry of Education and Culture and I wanted to buy an etching press. Nasreen took me to Jyoti Bhatt who was in charge of the Graphic Department at the University, and he designed my small press. By then, she had developed Parkinson's disease and her hands were shaking.
The last time she came to Bombay, she could not meet me and was already in the advanced stages of her illness. However, she rang me up saying "Lalitha, work is the only important part in our lives." Leaving me with those words, she departed and we never met again.
- Lalitha Lajmi