Like many seasoned artists today, you too started out doing figurative work and then progressed to the abstract. Why did you choose to follow this route
I think it is a part of ones own development. In art school we were first told to draw and paint the human form. I think I first began by doing figurative paintings of landscapes as a result of that teaching process. But after 10-12 years, I realised that the human form (meaning the figurative) is a distraction in my composition of a painting. It became important for me then to create something that was not similar to real life; something that left things unsaid.
Benaras has inspired you to create some of your best works. What is it about that town that keeps you so engaged
I first went with friends to Benaras in 1961 and I think everything about the place left an indelible mark on me whether it was the widows shaving their heads or the dead bodies coming there to be burnt. I kept going back but in the last five years I haven't visited Benaras on purpose. This is because I want my conception of the town to get as abstract as possible so that I can paint it better. Seeing the reality of Benaras now would, I think, detract from what I have in mind.
How is todays art scenario in India different from what it was when you started out
Today, young people are taking to painting as a full-time profession. Many of them are seriously trying to find their own language of expression. But 50 years ago when I started out, it was difficult to sell even a single painting at an exhibition. So painting couldn't be a whole-time profession. That is why I worked in a bank in Shimla which eventually closed down. I also worked as a journalist for a while. Of course once I went to Paris to study art, I focused only on painting.