Sohail: Youngo Sahib, when I think of you I think of that day when I
was visiting India and in Delhi I saw a tall statue of my favourite poet Mirza
Ghalib. I was so impressed that I took pictures of that statue. I wondered who
had created that masterpiece. So when I discovered that you were the artist who
had sculpted that statue, I felt honored to be your friend. Can you share with
me how did you become aware of the creative gift that life has offered you?
Youngo: I was born in a small village in India in a goldsmith family.
When I was a little boy there were no toyshops in our village. So when I saw
other children making toys with the clay I was also inspired to do the same and
then play with them.
When I graduated from high
school I went to Delhi to study. Those days my elder brother was living in
there. In college I started studying economics and commerce but one of my
cousins suggested I apply to the arts college. When I approached the arts
college they told me that there was tough competition to get in there. I
appeared in the competition but I was not accepted the first time. Later on I
found out that there were graduates from small arts schools who had applied and
then there were boys and girls of rich upper class families who were accepted. I
was not accepted but I did not give up. I started to practice my art and got
involved in drawing and painting. When I applied the second time, I was
During my studies in the arts
college, there was a week when we were supposed to make models with clay. When I
touched the clay, I felt a special affinity. Maybe it was because of my
unconscious relationship with clay as a child. I thoroughly enjoyed creating
models and that enjoyment kept on increasing with time. I loved clay modeling. I
was drawing and painting as well but clay modeling was my most favorite. In our
third year of studies we were supposed to choose a subject for specialization
and I chose clay modeling. It was not only my childhood love it was also the
cheapest. I could not afford to buy papers and the college provided paints and
brushes to draw and paint but all the materials for sculpting. They provided me
with stone, wood, clay, plaster and cement, all the materials needed to sculpt.
So in that college I learnt the basics of the art and craft of sculpting. There
was a time I thought of commercial art, which can make money, but then I
realized that I wanted to become a creative artist and not a commercial artist.
I feel that because I was
born in a goldsmith family, the skill and craft of form and design is in my
genes. I have inherited it from my forefathers. I enjoyed sculpting so much and
I became so good in it that other students in the college started feeling
jealous. I used to go to college in the morning and stay there till late at
night. My teachers and professors were very impressed by my work. After my
graduation, I took more courses and specialized in sculpting.
Sohail: Was there anyone in your family who was involved in creative
Youngo: Unfortunately not. But they designed jewelry.
Sohail: That is a form of art also.
Youngo: That is true. I am glad I was born in goldsmith family. It
helped me in my sculpting.
Sohail: When you started
sculpting wonderful pieces of art, what was the reaction of your family?
Youngo: It was
not very positive. They asked me what was I going to do with that.
Sohail: Did they
want you to have a profession to earn lots of money and be financially
Youngo: You are
right. They were thinking in terms of gold and silver and money.
Sohail: So they were
disappointed that you turned out to be a creative artist.
Youngo: That is
right. They offered me no encouragement.
Sohail: Was your
family conservative? Did they object to your artwork from a religious point of
Youngo: They were
followers of Hindu religion and tradition. They were not very dedicated but they
were disappointed in me. They did not want me to be an artist.
Sohail: Were you a
religious person yourself when you were young?
Youngo: Yes, when
I was young, I used to follow Hindu rituals but after coming to Delhi the
religious influence gradually disappeared and I stopped practicing religious
Sohail; when you were a young artist who impressed you
the most as an artist?
Youngo: I studied
a lot of masters and saw many art exhibitions and read a lot of books in the
library, but I was most impressed by Michael Angelo. There was a time I created
statues and figurative portraits very much like Michael Angelo. He was the
biggest inspiration for me at one time.
Sohail: When did you
graduate from Arts College?
Youngo: In July
1964 I graduated from Arts College specializing in sculpture.
Sohail: What was
your dream as an artist at that time?
Youngo: That is a
very interesting question. I had a dream to become a great artist like Michael
Angelo. I was very optimistic that one day I will fulfill that dream. My
professors saw a promise in me. I was offered big projects and I was successful
in executing them. I used to create unique masks and sculptors. I used to have
exhibitions. And then I was asked to make the statue of Mirza Ghalib by the Vice
Chancellor and the President, the statue you saw in front of Jamia Milia.
Sohail: How did
you feel when you were creating that masterpiece?
Youngo: I had a
feeling of great joy but I was a little nervous too. I had never done such a big
project but I had a lot of confidence in me because great teachers trained me.
Sohail: How long
did it take to complete that masterpiece?
Youngo: I took
approximately four months. It is not a long time but I was asked to complete it
in that much time.
Sohail: How did
you feel after you finished it?
Youngo: I felt
good but a little dissatisfied because I could not create a masterpiece I was
hoping to create. If I had more time, I could have done a better job.
everybody else it is a masterpiece. If the Vice Chancellor and the President
asked you to create you must be very well respected in academic and political
Youngo: All I can
say is that I was doing very well creatively as well as financially.
Sohail: Was your
family proud of you when you became successful?
Youngo: They were
less interested in my art and more interested in my marriage.
Sohail: Tell me more
Youngo: My father
got me engaged. But I did not want to get married because I wanted to see the
world and travel. I knew if I got married I would not be able to travel and
explore the world.
Sohail: So you did not
Youngo: I cancelled
Sohail: Was that
another disappointment for the family?
Youngo: A big
Sohail: What kind of
social life you had in India?
Youngo: I had a few
close friends, but a big circle of acquaintances.
Sohail: Were other
artists jealous of your work?
there was an exhibition of five artists. Others were senior to me but I got the
most attention and praise and reviews. I think that made them jealous.
Sohail: That was
in 1960s. What happened in 1970s? What was the next step in your creative
Youngo: I made a
lot of sculptures and created ceramic masks. Then I went to Germany and studied
art there and travelled in Europe.
Sohail: For how long
did you stay in Germany?
Youngo: For ten
Sohail: What part?
Sohail: Can you share
with me some of your experiences of Germany?
Youngo: I went to
Germany as a tourist and as a tourist I was not allowed to work. In the
beginning I did not have any friends. So I became a student and to earn a living
I had to sell my art. It was not easy to survive. I faced great hardships. There
was a time I used to sell T-shirts in the clubs to pay rent and survive.
Sohail: How did
you survive not knowing German?
I made a circle of friends who knew English. I learnt enough German to buy
groceries and get by in my day-to-day life.
Sohail: How was
your social life in Germany?
Youngo: Over a
period of time, I made lots of friends, men as well as women. We used to drink
and party and have fun. I had a nice time.
Sohail: Did any of
the women you met in Germany wanted to married?
Youngo: I had
lots of girl friends in Germany and some of them wanted to marry me. They even
told me that I would get my papers if I married them but I did not want to get
married for the sake of papers. I wanted to get married for the sake of love.
Sohail: What did
you do creatively?
Youngo: I made
portraits; I created sculptures, busts and heads. I created full size
sculptures. I sold my drawings and had exhibitions. I even created erotic
statues that I could not create in India. I was getting well known. I even got a
job offer for 4000 marks but they still would not give me my papers to stay
Sohail; How did you decide to come to Canada?
Youngo: I came to
Canada for the first time in 1981. I had a visa for USA and then came to Canada
to visit a friend in Orillia.
Sohail; was it easy to get a visa to USA?
asked me what is the assurance I will go back to Germany and I told them that my
girlfriend was waiting for me and I was planning to get married. I also told
them I had nearly ten thousand dollars so they gave me the visa.
Sohail: Did you
need a visa for Canada?
Youngo: No, not
those days. When I came to Canada I was well received. There was an exhibition
and I met the Mayor as well as the Member of the Parliament. They all liked my
drawings and paintings. They even published my interviews.
When I went back to Germany I got sick and was admitted
to the hospital. That was when I was diagnosed Diabetic.
Sohail; How did you finally come to Canada?
Youngo: I had to
get married. It was a paper marriage and I appreciated her help. I am in Canada
now since April 1981.
Sohail: What was
your dream when you came to Canada?
Youngo: I thought
Canada was a country of immigrants. I was hoping to be accepted as an artist
here. I knew I was a good artist. But it turned out to be different. It was very
frustrating. I was asked to go to Welcome House and when I went there I was
asked to go back to school for six months to become a teacher in secondary
school. I told them I have been teaching in the universities, I don’t want to go
back to the classroom and then teach secondary school students. I told them I am
a professional artist. I applied to many community colleges and universities to
teach but they did not even invite me for an interview. All the letters I got
were the letters of regret. When I went to art galleries and showed them my art
they told me it was nice but it was not the style of their gallery so my art
work was not accepted. It had been very frustrating, so frustrating that finally
I had to go on welfare. I got so sick that my Diabetes got worse and I had to go
on insulin. Then I had a heart attack. In the end I did not accomplish anything
here. I think it is all because of the discrimination of this culture. Canadians
never accepted me as an artist.
Sohail: So what
has been your routine over the years?
Youngo: Over the
years I have been sitting at home unable to do anything. After my open-heart
surgery my health got worse. I have no studio, no place to sculpt. There was a
time I made a few portraits and sculptures in Canada, even one of the Mayor of
Mississauga. I worked very hard. I created a beautiful sculpture. But it was not
appreciated. Four weeks ago I called her office. She was not there so I left the
message on the answering machine. A week later she called me home at 10pm and
asked me, “What do you want?” I said, “I want to see you. I haven’t met you in a
long time.” She said, “Why don’t we have lunch together.” Then she asked, “ What
do you have in mind?” and I responded, “ Right now I don’t have anything in mind
but I may when I see you.” Then she suggested I call her secretary to set up an
appointment. She added that she was very busy and did not have time even to see
her family. I said I would think about it. I am so frustrated I did not even
call her office to make an appointment. I thought since I had made a wonderful
portrait of hers, she would offer me something.
Sohail: Did you
get any help from the Indian community?
Unfortunately most Indians work very hard as they struggle. They want to save
not spend. The ones that are affluent are impressed by art created by White
Artists. I also think that if I have to depend on Indians for my art then I
should go back to India. In India I am very confident I will flourish. But now
my health does not permit me to travel much so I am stuck.
your stay in Canada for twenty years was there a time you seriously considered
of moving back to India?
seriously thought about it in 1983 when my brother expired. Since we are only
two brothers, I thought I would look after his children that he left behind. I
sold my art and collected some money and when I was ready to go to India, I got
sick and could not go.
Sohail: I see a
statue of Faraz in your studio.
Pakistani Urdu writers asked me and I took that project. But it was very hard,
as Faraz would not sit still. He wandered around with his glass of whisky. It
took me a long time to create it but it was left behind. People who had asked me
to make it, did not come back to take it so it is still with me.
Sohail: I have
seen you mixing with Muslims and people with other faiths. What are your
religious views now.
Youngo: For me
they are not Muslims they are Human Beings. I respect them all and do not
believe in any prejudice or discrimination based on religion.
Sohail: You sound
like a Humanist. What is your relationship with the institution of religion?
Youngo: Now I
have no personal relationship with religion. I am not a follower of any
religion. I respect all religions but they don’t mean anything to me.
Sohail; I see in your studio that you are drawing again.
Youngo: Yes, I
have a new wave of creativity and I am drawing again. I am realizing that I am
65 now and society has not given me anything. I am gradually becoming aware of
some cosmic energy and that cosmic energy is not only helping me deal with my
frustrations but also inspiring me to create again and my new drawings are also
depiction of that cosmic energy, the energy that is part of the whole universe.
Sohail: Is the
creative energy you are feeling now different than the energy you experienced
when you in the university?
Youngo: It is all
together different. When I was young it was physical. Now it is different. I can
call it spiritual since I do not have any other word to describe it. Or maybe I
can call it cosmic energy because it is not related to religion; it is part of
the universe. Now I am developing a better understanding of humanism and moving
away from materialism.
Sohail: Any last
comment you want to make?
Youngo: I want to
share that I was always impressed by your personality as you are a sensitive,
liberal and open human being. I have met many writers and artists who only
boast. You are the one who believe in action rather than talking.
Sohail: Thank you
very much for sharing your experiences and precious thoughts.
appreciate your time and your interest in me and for your inspiration. I am very