Alabaster skinned, fine featured, calm and alert she was the icon figure in Mahender Jain’s family, unwavering in her support of initially continuing the existing Dhoomimal Gallery, and later, of continuing the family name with the Dhoomimal Art Centre (DAC). Never known to raise her voice above a whisper, her quiet persona was yet the governing factor of the DAC, seated firmly amidst its display areas, surrounded by art and artists.
Sushma Jain was born in July 1939 into an influential business family of the posh Churiwallan area of Sita Ram Bazaar, in the Walled City of Old Delhi. Eldest of seven siblings, Sushma schooled at the family owned JK Happy School, which later developed into Happy School as it is known today.
Straight forward, quiet and self-contained, though shy and somewhat scared of the outside world, Sushma was a warm and sociable endearing herself to all who knew her. With an abiding regard for the scriptures, after finishing school she went on for higher studies, finishing with an M.A. in Sanskrit. A talented girl, alongside of studies, she went to Daryaganj to learn painting from Kshma Mehra, and took private lessons in Kathak dancing at home, no common practice for girls in those times. In 1965 Sushma tied the knot with Mahender Jain, third son of Ram Babu, scion of the art gallery scenario in the country.
Ram Babu belonged to an affluent, highly orthodox family of good stature. Deeply religious, he would leave home in dhoti-kurta uphold family traditions and change into a business suit at his work place. Himself a Sunday painter Ram Babu was an art lover. Known as Kagazis, or paper merchants, the family ran a large stationary business with a lot of imported material, very popular with the government and diplomatic circles of the day, in the city’s most up market corporate-commercial area of Connaught Place. Often artists who took art material did not have enough to pay him back, giving him the idea of showing their works in the store, which then also became a gallery. The Late PN Mago and BC Sanyal often remembered Ram Babu’s concern and support of artists, to the extent of accommodating Sailoz Mukherjea in his own home.
In 1966 Sushma left for the US with Mahender, already running the Art Gallery in New York. Together they sought new avenues for Indian art, spending four eventful years of extensive travel. It was arts galore, with the newly weds doing their bit to spread Indian contemporary art throughout the new world. Station wagon loaded, they toured the country carrying Indian art, stopping intermittently, at times in the most innocuous little villages, locating spaces to display art works to create awareness of Indian contemporary art abroad. Thus they covered the entire US, sans any monetary returns. Moral support came from people like Tyeb Mehta, KG Subramanyan, B Prabha, B Vithal, Shanti Dave, MF Hussain and others closely associated with the couple, also in the US from time to time. Hussain Saab showed regularly, his show visited by Dr Zakir Husain as the then President of India.
In the meanwhile, our lady of many talents, Sushma began to make and sell batik work, received well as an indigenous art form, in comparison to Indian contemporary art, their prime concern. With elder daughter Ritu on her way, born in Jaunuary ’68, life was never easy. After three such rigorous years, with Sushma in her seventh month of expecting their second child, life looked too uphill, and the couple sought to be back home with family. Back in Delhi younger daughter Anshu was born in the spring of ’69
Sushma took a long hiatus from active participation in the gallery, still standing firmly behind the scenes with Mahender in all his efforts, even as she played mother, hostess and homemaker, bringing up Ritu, Anshu and Mohit. 1982 saw a sudden change of circumstances. Sushma never lost her calm through the difficult times ahead.
Within a year Mahender Jain was ready to take the plunge of setting up Dhoomimal Art Centre on the same location in 1983, Sushma once more beside him at work as at home, this time officially absorbed into the functioning of the gallery. The couple gave their all to get it going. She threw herself heart and soul into consolidating the gallery, locating artists with promise, liaising, promoting, and building them up bit by bit. It is only appropriate here to make mention of our diehard, invincible loyalist Dharam Sing Ra---who hired with the founding of the gallery, continues to stand solid making it feel quite incomplete without him.
Use to having their mother at home, with her now fully dedicated to the gallery, the children learnt early to be responsible and self sufficient. There were evenings of excited waiting, looking forward to goody bags Mummy and Papa occasionally brought for us on their way back from the gallery.
“As children we were unquestioning, accepting what came our way, no work too small for us. From the beginning we were taught to value money and respect work and creativity. Our parents gently but firmly instilled this into us, which I still abide by in all my activities,” muses Mohit, leafing through some early file photos.
Meanwhile, several of today’s luminaries of the Indian art world were being introduced to Delhi by Mahender and Sushma at the DAC. There were Lalu Prosad Shaw, Dharmanarayan Das Gupta, Suhas Roy, and Kartik Pyne among others from Shantiniketan, who showed for the first time in Delhi. Add to this were the large crop of artists from Rajasthan furthered in recognition by the DAC, who still remain committed to the gallery today.
Between ’83 and ’87 the gallery grew, nurtured by their labour of love, and it was time to open another gallery at Chirag Dilli, exclusively for showcasing Mahender Jain’s personal collections, all strictly marked NFS, with help of friend B Vithal. Life had begun to look rosy with a touch of gold, as success kissed the brook of life, hard work steadily yielding rewards both by way of business and goodwill.
Destiny has a strange way of dealing blows when least expected.1987 saw the sudden demise of Mahender. With three young children and the gallery to run alone, Sushma needed all her forbearance and courage to stand her ground and keep going. She showed her grace and grit, yet needed advice and guidance. This came wholeheartedly from artists GR Santosh, SR Bhushan, KL Kaul, Shanti Dave, Arup Das, B Vithal, B Prabha, Gopal Adivrekar, Choyals and others. After Ritu’s marriage in 1988, it was Anshu who helped her mother with the gallery for nine years after Mahender’s passing away.
Mohit joined the gallery in ’91, first as an Assistant to his mother. “I did everything, from stacking, display, client service, right down to fetching and delivery. Mummy had her hands full with all other matters, always there for newer crop of artists like Rakesh Kumar Gupta and Vandana Rakesh, Santosh Verma, Ravi Mandlik, Jayshree Chakravarty, Abbas Batliwal, Shahid Parvez, Akmal Hussain, and others, who have very fond memories and words of appreciation for her,” says Mohit, of his early stint at the gallery with his mother.
Mohit officially took over in 1994, with Sushma always behind him, like she was for his father. With two renovations, and two floors, the DAC now runs over a much larger space than what it began on, with a pleased Sushma yet there to witness Mohit work over it as hard as they had at its inception. Mohit wed Shivani in 2001. The lissome bride began by attending the gallery regularly with Sushma and Mohit till the call of motherhood began to keep her away for the sake of the children. In the years to follow the young bride quickly rose to share Sushma’s responsibilities in her advancing years, but also played a major role in the countless gallery activities that steer the family.
Having lived a fulfilled and productive life, all her three children happily married and settled, grandchildren playing, and son Mohit running the gallery well with definite expansion plans for the future, leaving a host of well-wishing artists in her wake, Sushma Jain peacefully breathed her last on 16th October 2011, at the age of seventy two.
Memories of an Era is a tribute to Sushma ji from son Mohit, and the art fraternity that has come forward wholeheartedly to make this show possible.