Sadequain passed away on February 10, 1987. Born as Syed Sadeqain Ahmed Naqvi in Amroha, India in 1930, Sadeqain rose to became the most accomplished painter and calligrapher Pakistan has ever seen. This article was published in Dawn a day after his demise.
The end came slowly, interrupting his schedule and striking heavily at a source of inspiration for the lovers of art.
His anxiety to complete the greatest undertaking of his life — a mural on the theme of Man and his Universe — was over by 3.30 a.m. on Tuesday when the cruel hands of death snatched him from us. The mural was to decorate the Bagh-i-Jinnah.
He died toiling in the noble cause of art and man and hundreds of times painted himself in the picture of a martyr. Truly it may be said that he died a martyr in the cause of truth and beauty.
Though he died a bachelor at the age of 57, Sadequain left behind several generations of mourners.
He had been working in the Bagh-i-Jinnah Hall since January 1986 and remained there till the end of the last month when he was taken ill. He was then removed to the JPMC with some heart ailment and later to the OMI Clinic in Depot Lines where he expired.
During his stay in the Bagh-iJinnah, he worked tirelessly for 12 hours every day and at times continuously for 36 hours to complete the job as quickly as possible. Most of the time he worked sitting on a small carpet. He faced no difficulty in his work.
Sometimes he ran short of colors and that was his only worry. His work was in the finishing stages when he was hospitalized. His frail body could not keep up with the giant’s spirit which it enshrined.
The words of Ghalib are literally and metaphorically true of him:
“Aabgina tundiay sehba Say pighla jaey hai.”
(The strong spirits are dissolving the decanter which contains them.)
He literally worked himself to death. A Niagara of masterpieces flowed from his brush for 32 years ever since he held his first major show at the residence of H.S. Suhrawardy at Karachi in 1955, and typically of him, left the entire collection there, to seek fresh fields and pastures new.
His largesse was princely. The poor jamadarni of Jinnah Hospital Special Ward received gifts of art from him no less than the high officials of state.
He set up a whole art gallery in Islamabad and gave it away to the nation just as he painted the magnificent ceiling of the entrance hall in the Lahore Museum and much else in Lahore, and presented it to the “wheat-colored beauties of the Punjab.”
He held exhibitions and won wide acclaim in numerous art centers of Asia, Africa, Europe, America and Australia. He had an intense desire to do something novel for the city of Karachi which he loved.
Mayor Abdus Sattar Afghani invited him to do a piece of his Quranic calligraphy for the upper floor of the Frere Hall. As a token of his love for Karachi, he had surrendered a plot of land measuring over 4,800 sq. yds. in Gulshan-i-Iqbal to the KMC for the construction of Rahman Islamic Art Gallery, a hall and an auditorium for holding Islamic art exhibitions and a training institute for calligraphy.
He never accepted any remuneration or money for any work done by him in mosques including the Shah Faisal Mosque in Islamabad.
Sadequain had presented 40 of his works, based on Quranic verses and done on the imported whitestones, to the citizens of Karachi as a gift after declining an offer of Rs 2.5 million for them by a government department.
Thereafter, he came to Karachi to work on the KMC Islamic Art Gallery where the gifted works were also put up. He called these paintings “Ilm-o-Amal” (knowledge and practice) and presented them to the mayor on Feb 15,1986.
He used to say that he did not know the number of his paintings as they would run into miles. His “Surah Yaseen” alone, if pieced together, would be about half a mile long in a row.
Sadequain was also acclaimed for his huge murals which he had erected at a number of places, including the Aligarh Muslim University, Mazar of Tipu Sultan at Seringapatam (Mysore), the venue of the recent Quran conference held in Delhi, the United Nations, Mangla Dam, Abu Dhabi Power House, State Bank of Pakistan building, the National Museum at Lahore, etc.
The Maldives’ president, Mr Gayum Al Mamoon, who himself is an artist, had asked President Ziaul-Haq during his recent visit to the Maldives to send Sadequain to complete the calligraphy of Quranic verses at a portion of a grand mosque left out especially for him.
A similar request had come from Brunei and other places. Sadequain could not oblige them as he wanted to fulfill his commitment to the people of Karachi.
He was suffering from cirrhosis of liver for some weeks. His death was due to cardiac respiratory arrest.
The Namaz-i-Janaza and burial at Sakhi Hasan Graveyard was largely attended.
Prominent among the attendants were Mayor Abdus Sattar Afghani; [Karachi University] Vice Chancellor Dr Jamil Jalibi; Prof Karrar Hussain, Rais Amrohi, Jamiluddin Aali, Mr Mairaj Mohammad Khan, Mr Kamal Azfar, Syed Mohammad Taqi, Mr Ardeshir R. Cowasjee, Mr Abid Ali Shah, Jone Alia, Mr S.S. Jafri, IGP Salman Khaliq, artists Ali Imam, Iqbal Mehdi, Shahid Sajjad, Abdul Wahab Jaffer and Bashir Mirza, and TV artist Kamal Ahmad Rizvi.
His soyem will be held on Thursday at Imam Bargah Rizvia.
His family members said that his body was not allowed to be buried in Bagh-i-Jinnah or at his plot in Gulshan-i-Iqbal.
Some family members first approached the Mayor for permission to bury the noted artist within the precincts of Bagh-i-Jinnah. Later they approached KDA for burial at the Gulshan plot.
The Mayor and the Director General KDA allowed the burial near the main gate of Sakhi Hasan graveyard, North Nazimabad. The relatives also agreed to it.