Official Press release
Circumstances leading to the cancellation of the Love Quadrangle: Ghalib and Gulzar exhibition at the Victoria Memorial Hall on 20 February 2016
In October 2015 we were first approached for this possible exhibition by a Kolkata couple – one of them a journalist, and the other a Professor – both of whom knew the artist, Mr Shahid Rassam, from before. Since the exhibition proposal was very interesting, bringing together the themes of love, poetry and the historical connection of Mirza Ghalib with Kolkata, and promised to bring an iconic cultural personality like Shri Gulzar to the VMH, we responded positively to the idea.
Subsequently Mr Shahid Rassam joined in the email conversation from Karachi, and undertook to bear the costs of the transportation of the paintings, as well as for his own and Shri Gulzar’s travel. Accordingly we agreed to host the exhibition for nine days in February 2016 to coincide with the 188th anniversary of Ghalib’s arrival in Kolkata, and to pay for the local accommodation of Shri Gulzar and Mr Rassam, and for stretching and framing the paintings, which our budget permitted.
We subsequently wrote to Shri Gulzar, requesting him to come and read Ghalib’s and his own poetry at the inaugural event. Though we did not receive a written confirmation from Shri Gulzar, Mr Rassam sent an email confirmation on 4.11.2015 that he had a discussion with Shri Gulzar and that he had agreed. After receiving his request to hold the inauguration of the exhibition on 20.2.2016, we sent a formal letter to H.E. the Governor, requesting him to inaugurate the exhibition on 20 February. He so very kindly consented to do this.
From the very outset, it was always very clear that Shri Gulzar was the main attraction of the event and his presence was the overwhelmingly major reason why the VMH undertook to host the exhibition. Since early November 2015, we have all along been led to believe by Mr Rassam – and through him, by his two friends in Kolkata mentioned above – that Shri Gulzar had agreed to attend and that we could make all plans and arrangements for the event on that basis. Based on this trust and good faith, we arranged to take delivery of the paintings sent by courier, to stretch and frame them through a reputed agency, to arrange for the printing of the exhinbition catalogue, to print and send out invitation cards, to arrange for elaborate venue preparations, to put out advertisements in the newspapers, and to arrange for the accommodation, reception, transportation and local hospitality of Shri Gulzar and for the accommodation of Mr Rassam.
On 19 February, a day before the inauguration, Mr Rassam sent me an email with the flight details of Shri Gulzar on 20 February. Although this was not a copy of a properly booked e-ticket but only flight numbers, we acted on this information because it was agreed from the very beginning that Mr Rassam would arrange for Shri Gulzar’s travel.
At early morning of exhibition day, 20 February, I received a phone call from Mr Rassam’s chief contact in Kolkata – who quoted Mr Rassam to say that Shri Gulzar was unwell and unable to travel to Kolkata for the inauguration. This was a bolt from the blue, but we believed him and called Raj Bhavan soon thereafter to submit this information. Thereafter I wrote an email to H.E. the Governor’s Secretariat stating that Shri Gulzar was unable to attend because of illness and that we would be honoured if His Excellency still came and inaugurated the exhibition. A phone conversation with Raj Bhavan subsequently confirmed that His Excellency was still willing to show this act of kindness.
Shortly after this we were visited in my office by Shri Gulzar’s contact person in Kolkata, Shri Mohan Kumar, who helped me to speak over the phone with Shri Gulzar himself. During this phone conversation Shri Gulzar made it very clear that he had not received any flight tickets from Mr Rassam, and that he had all along told him (from October 2015) that he would be unable to attend the inauguration on 20 February. He expressed displeasure that the VMH invitation card included his name, when in fact he had all along refused to do this in his conversations with Mr Rassam. He in fact said in so many words that there had never been any confirmation by him, and therefore the question of booking his flights did not arise. He also said that it was completely untrue that he was ill and that he was clarifying this to several people from Kolkata who had been calling him for yesterday’s programme. To quote him, “Why should I tell one thousand lies to cover up one big lie” (Mr Rassam’s)?
It was at that moment that we realized that Mr Rassam knew all along that Shri Gulzar would not be coming to the exhibition. He deliberately fed us misinformation about Shri Gulzar’s spurious flight itinerary and subsequently about his “illness.” Clearly he tried to trick all of us into a situation where VMH would be forced to hold an exhibition whose very idea had been accepted because of the Gulzar factor in the first place. This was not only a grave betrayal of trust but criminal fraudulence of the worst kind. It was at that moment that we decided that in the interests of the public we should not hold an exhibition that turned out to be premised on lies, trickery and deceit. We wanted to spare H.E. the Governor and all the other invitees the ignominy of unwittingly buying into this falsehood, and thereby effectively legitimizing a scam.
It was immediately afterwards that we sent an email to Mr Rassam, explaining the reasons why we were calling off the exhibition. Subsequently Mr Rassam sent us an email expressing his sorrow and his willingness to pay us for “whatever the damages”, thus effectively admitting his guilt, while making no reference to his fraudulent trickery in giving us Shri’s Gulzar’s (non-existent) flight details and the news of his “illness.”
Accordingly, we posted cancellation notices near the gates to our campus, and on our website and facebook page. We also sent out emails regarding the cancellation to our mailing list, citing “unavoidable reasons” because we wanted to respect Mr Rassam’s privacy and did not want to publicly expose the fraudulent trickery of an artist from a neighbouring country, who may have worked with Gulzar in the past but who clearly faked the scenario of Gulzar’s attendance in the VMH exhibition.
Secretary and Curator
Victoria Memorial Hall and