By Manvi Pant
Known for her refusal to fit into labels, Sangeeta Gupta, who this year retired as Chief Commissioner of Income Tax, has had an exceptional life outside of her public role. She is an acclaimed artist, poet, documentary filmmaker, and founder of the Prithvi Fine Arts and Cultural Centre in Delhi.
Born in Gorakhpur, UP, Sangeeta studied in a convent boarding school from a young age. Fiercely determined yet introverted by nature, she fell in love with art and literature in her youth. “I started reading the classics quite early. My love for literature, especially poetry, began there,” recalls Sangeeta.
She studied political science in college, and joined the civil services soon after, quickly earning a name as an outstanding performer and earning a gold medal for Best Probationer in 1986.
Alongside, her world of poetry and art bloomed. Her first book was published in 1988, and her first solo exhibition got a grand opening in Kolkata in 1995. To date, she has 20 books, which have been translated into several languages, and 35 solo exhibitions under her name.
The 62-year-old’s latest art work, based on the theme of Lord Shiva and inspired by Maha Mrityunjaya Mantra and Nirvana Shatkum, is considered the longest in the world. Painted on hand-spun khaddar, Sangeeta used the dabu, a tool traditionally used by block painters of Rajasthan, along with a muddy paste with brush.
Later, sawdust was applied, after which the painting was sun-dried, soaked in indigo dye, and then washed and dried again.
Documentary filmmaking happened unexpectedly to Sangeeta. “I wanted to produce a film on my mentor Keshav Malik, the poet and art critic,” she narrates. “Unfortunately, the director didn’t spare any time, and I ended up shooting the entire film. In that process, I also learnt filmmaking,” she beams.
Sangeeta has so far shot, scripted and directed seven films, six of which are with the US Library of Congress, and have been screened in many other parts of the world.
In 2011, Sangeeta founded the Prithvi Centre to promote India’s art, literature and music. It helps young artists pursue their education in fine arts, and has produced several documentary films and books.
But accomplishments don’t shield us from adversity. In March 2019, Sangeeta met with an accident that smashed her wrist. It led to an implant, over 150 physiotherapy sessions and nagging pain, but she didn’t put a brake on her art project.
“Doing a 100-metre painting was my ultimate test. I kept challenging my physical and mental faculties. Eventually, the universe conspired, and my faith in Shiva helped me heal,” she says. “If you are connected with the universe, everything spreads out before you, even your strength and resilience.”
First published as part of a three-part series ‘Power and Passion’ on women bureaucrats in eShe’s June 2020 issue
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