I am so saddened to say that we lost a true creative voice today. I was very fortunate to have had the opportunity to get to know Champa, her family, and her vast body of work. The year I opened AMP Gallery my friend and Champa's daughter, Urvashi Vaid, got in touch with me to let me know about her mother's paintings. When we finally met, I was completely knocked out by her bold, energetic, abstract style, and by the shear breadth of her visual vocabulary. That year, AMP proudly hosted a small retrospective of her work. She had a unique visual language that was, in many ways, informed by her writing, and love of poetry. Champa began writing at the age of 60, and painting at 76. Her genius was that she trusted her own voice, and found naturally innovative ways to channel it, while warmly inviting you in to share it. She will be truly missed. My deepest condolences to her family. RIP, Champa. - Debbie Nadolney, AMP Gallery director, 7.22.2017
In Champa's words from 2012: "I started writing poetry at the age of 60, at a time when most people stop. I could tell you that I started writing late because an Indian woman of my generation with kids raised them until they were done with their studies, and had no time. That is a convenient explanation. But the fact is that creativity has its own clock. It does not see age, or being overworked, or not getting enough time to be with oneself. When it comes, it comes.
Thus I came to painting very late in life, at the age of 76. The reason was, ironically, my declining health. I could not think or write, so I started drawing on paper. In our family, nobody was a painter. But I had the urge to create, so I took to colors and paper, and then to canvas. Though I had no formal training, I spent a lifetime seeing art and artists. My husband is also a writer and our passions have always involved art, music, literature, dance and the world of ideas. Our closest friends are poets, writers, artists, dancers and playwrights. I think that context of friendships, exhibitions, museums, readings, concerts and support informs my work.
Today, I am still painting, I breathe through them, continuing to produce a lot of work. There is something that pushes me through to keep going regardless of age. I call it a dialogue with myself. First, it was with words, and now, it is with colors. Colors are my best friends. I talk to them in their language before they become one with me during the time I am working. They remain with me in my dreams also. And I want to share my enthusiasm and the language of colors with others. Whenever I get waves of energy, I immediately transfer them to my painting. The choice of the colors becomes automatic. They surprise me in the end. I do not want to say much about my own work except that it gives me a reason to live and happiness."
Champa Vaid is an abstract painter and poet who lives and works in Texas. Born in 1930 in India, she started painting in 2006, at the age of 76. Her bold and confident acrylic based paintings are characterized by energetic strokes, experimental style, and a unique blend of color, texture and emotion. Vaid’s paintings were featured in three group shows held in New Delhi in 2007. She has had four solo exhibitions in India, two in Delhi—at India International Centre and Ekatra 2008; one at the Alliance Francais in Bhopal 2009, one at Indore sponsored by Sanskriti Prashad, also in 2009. The Art Market Provincetown exhibition was her first solo show in the United States in July 2012.
Champa Vaid is the author of five books, including four collections of poetry in Hindi and one collection in English titled, The Music of Bones (New Delhi: Vani Prakashan 2011). Educated in India (M.A. in Hindi from Panjab University) and the U.S. (M.Ed. from Boston University), she is a mother and grandmother, and married to the Hindi writer Krishna Baldev Vaid.
A note to Champa from Krishna Baldev Vaid
My dear,very dear, Champa,
Even though I am not sure that my message from the mundane world you've left behind will reach you in the Eternity you are in now, the only way I can think of assuaging my anguish is to imagine I have reached you. You should have taken me with you, for how can I manage without you, my soul-mate, my love and my life! The moment I close my eyes and think of you, tears overflow my closed eyes and the absurd futility of being without you overwhelms me. But then the presence of our three beautiful and wonderful daughters and four brilliant and beautiful grandchildren and the indelible sweet memories of you come to my rescue and save me from utter despair and I begin automatically to chant the mantra of Beckett: I can't go on but I will go on!
Your utterly lonely KB
Champa Blooming | A Daughter’s Tribute from Rachna Vaid
My mother was 57 when her father died. Her grief took her on a pilgrimage in India; then to an unexpected place – she who had never written creatively before began to write poems. My father Krishna Baldev Vaid was the writer, of stories, novels, plays, all forms except poetry. My mother published four collections of poetry in Hindi and one book in English translation, to critical acclaim. Reading the quietly intense feminist poems, those who knew the name Vaid from my father assumed they were written by one of the three Vaid daughters.
Educated in India and with an M.A. in Education from Boston University, she had taught school in Delhi and Chandigarh, and upon coming to America again in 1966, to Potsdam, NY, had worked in the university library and as a substitute teacher in the local schools. She was told that she would have to give up wearing her sari if she wanted a permanent teaching job, and she refused.
She eventually decided to stay home and devoted herself for the nearly two decades she lived in Potsdam to being an active, energetic homemaker. A world-class cook, she threw choreographed parties for their faculty friends, Indians and Americans, in that small wintry town, parties that became legendary for the food and intimate world they created-- no dish repeated twice or prepared the same way, not less than 2 20 items, spectacular presentations, cheese and hors d’oeuvres, dinner, deserts, followed in the early hours of the next morning by fruit. It was the 60’s, ours was only the second Indian family to come to that small University town and every Indian who came mattered and every American friend became in some way Indian as we became in many ways American.
My mother was 77 and in India when my father had to come to America for an emergency surgery. Her anxiety took her to an unexpected place – she who had never painted before began to paint. No one in the family was a painter. Among my parents’ close circle of friends were many painters who went on to become renowned artists. She had developed a keen eye for collecting art and started buying art, often three works by the same painter for her three daughters, always meticulous about being fair. Untrained, she became a mentor to young artists. Working through decades of arthritis that made her walk at a snail’s pace and barely able to stand, she stood to paint and had exhibitions in Delhi, Bhopal, Indore and Provincetown. Those who didn’t know her art assumed it would be daintily water-colored flowers, and pretty landscaped scenes. Those who didn’t know her and saw her free-flowing abstract acrylic art assumed it was the work of a young painter.
Brought up in a traditional Indian household to be a conventional Indian woman, in a culture that seems to demand that one looks, acts and feels old decades before one is factually old, my mother defied sexism and ageism. As she said in the weeks before she passed, my father was critical to lighting the way to the path she found for herself. Had the vagaries of arranged marriage led to a more conventional husband she might likely have not taken the path she took. In a way, my father gave my mother the gift of modernity and she in turn gave him the gift of tradition, not just in the annual performance of rituals around Diwali but every day with an ordered stable household, the ancient glue that kept the family together and allowed creativity to stick.
Years later, she would repeatedly tell her daughters not to follow her example, not to waste time cooking and entertaining lavishly, to order in (advice my sisters Jyotsna and Urvashi have not heeded). She would tell me not to wait till I was 60 to start writing (advice I did not heed). What she didn’t realize though was that even when she was devoting herself to the work of the house and entertaining friends, she, both Mrs. Ramsay and Mrs. Dalloway, was creating, creating a beautiful intimate world for others where their creativity and humanity could flourish. While for many years she was the non-writer among writers, the non-artist among artists, the nonintellectual among intellectuals, she surprised them all by becoming a poet in her sixties and a painter in her seventies and eighties, uniting both Mrs. Ramsay and Lily Briscoe in the blooming of Champa.
We naturally relate first and foremost to our parents, siblings and partners in terms of their relationship to us, not as the complex individuals they are. We would do well to keep in mind, as Virginia Woolf said, that each of us has our own independent, inseparable relationship to the universe, to the mystery that is life. We four all grapple with this mystery, some through faith which demystifies it; some through denial, which refuses to acknowledge it; some through art, which expresses it; all through love, which embraces it. Joy is found in the interstices of sorrow. To go on living after a loss is, as has been said, a form of disloyalty to those who are gone. But there is no choice. Not to go on living is also a form of disloyalty to those who are gone.
Champa, late blooming, her name a sacred flower, my mother, an uncommon beauty, inside and out, was a dramatic interplay of tradition and modernity. My mother, so clean she wouldn’t pet the dog she surprisingly got in India, chanted the Gita to her as the dog lay dying hoping thereby to send her dog on her way to a human rebirth. As my mother passed on July 22, 2017 at 87, chanting in the air, an intimate world created around her in College Station, Texas, India in America, America in India, my mother left word for us all, family, friends and for all she never knew, that you can both believe in karma, rebirth, ritual, destiny and be the mistress of your own destiny.
Champa Vaid from “The Music of Bones,” a collection of poems, translated from the Hindi by Krishna Baldev Vaid and Sagaree Sengupta, Vani Prakashan, New Delhi (2011)
My mother’s sermon
Don’t bathe in the nude
You are a girl remember
Don’t play with boys
You will conceive
If you look into their eyes
Don’t go out alone
Don’t talk to your friend’s brother
Do your homework
When you get home from school
Repeat your prayers every morning
Don’t read anything
Other than your textbooks
Never touch poetry and fiction
Don’t defy your brother Love him
Don’t talk in vain
With your father
With relatives never
You are a girl remember
Do whatever you are told to do
Learn to cook
The list of mother’s do’s and don’ts was long
It hangs In my mind
Like a long black ponytail
I was called
I was called
To go somewhere
To buy time
To plant dreams
To listen to the music of bones
To receive the blessings of sand
To hang my despair on a tree
To let the rats raid the sky
To clip the roar of a lion
To give words to the silence of the jungle
To collect copper coins
From my grandma’s Durga idol
I was called
To go somewhere.