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Malika Ghosh Garrett: The La Martiniere girl in the US, who paints the real India

Her joie de vivre is infectious as she wows Oprah, promotes Indian art and aims at upping the happiness of the children of a lesser god

Rita Bhimani | Published 01.12.22, 12:05 PM
Malika Ghosh Garrett, and one of her paintings, ‘The Great Indian Scribe’

Malika Ghosh Garrett, and one of her paintings, ‘The Great Indian Scribe’

Photos courtesy: Malika Ghosh Garrett

Malika Ghosh Garrett – Indian in her moorings, Bengali to the core, American by dint of a Visual Arts education at Wesleyan College, Georgia, and also as a wife, mother to talented post-teens Miles and Aalia. And now, a beautiful woman (girl to me, as I have seen her since toddlerhood), who has made waves in the art scene in the USA. She was in Kolkata recently for a memorial tribute to her mother, the gorgeous Nina Menon, whose beauty and personality would make heads turn, unfailingly, and put us in the shade.

Dressed in a traditional rich cream silk with a striking red-and-gold border, Malika was every inch a Kolkatan as she curated the service on a sun-filled Kolkata morning on the verdant lawns of a close relative. While this extended family is her sheet anchor, she traces her lineage back to Sir J.C. Bose and Ananda Mohan Bose. And grandfather Aloke Mitra, founding managing director of Mahindra & Mahindra.

'Bishnoi women': A painting by Malika

'Bishnoi women': A painting by Malika

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We saw her from an early age, an enthusiastic child who loved to dabble in art, some of which would be bought by her grandmother, Meera Mitra, with Malika donating the proceeds — small sums, emerging from a big heart — to Mother Teresa. But it is in the USA that her artistic sensibilities flourished. Going to Wesleyan on a full scholarship, she still meant doing odd jobs on campus as money could be tight and some of the paints actually ended up being bought by mother Nina from GC Laha and getting them sent over to her by friends.

Wesleyan taught her the basics, but she’s developed her own technique using a palette knife and her themes are largely rooted in the Indian oeuvre. Rajasthan holds a special fascination for her as do her flower studies, with the smallest of these in 12x12 selling like hot cakes for $350 each. Her colours are vibrant and joyous, using the strong primary shades to bring out the real India.

Deepak Chopra, Shashi Tharoor and Oprah Winfrey connect

‘The Great Indian Scribe’

‘The Great Indian Scribe’

It’s the larger canvases that have found favour, and how. When she worked with Deepak Chopra for the Akshaya Patra Foundation, one of her paintings was bought by Atlanta resident Satya Tiwari, who owns a rug company, for $50,000. Then there was the collaborative India on Canvas where she did her painting with Shashi Tharoor depicting Ganesha holding up Tharoor’s book The Great Indian Novel. It is a massive work, titled ‘The Great Indian Scribe’, which hangs in the Tharoor Delhi home next to a Husain. As for the Oprah Winfrey connect, she actually “met” Oprah on Twitter and then helped with some of her social media marketing, got on to her shows and even helped to launch Oprah Chai with Starbucks.

What is germane to Malika’s art is really the connection that she has made with the community, an inclusivity that has seen her getting other Indian artists in Georgia to mount their exhibitions. But more importantly, she is into art-related charities, in promoting Indian art in Georgia, teaching at universities and giving children a platform to learn. This is how her involvement with the Shashikala Foundation, based in Atlanta, where she is on the marketing and fundraising team, came about. To give back to society, by funding artists in India who can impart lessons to slum kids who are interested in art. To that end, she is raising funds to get art teachers to reach the less privileged and a start has been made in Maharashtra, which will then be replicated in Kolkata. The Foundation has as its vision the spreading of happiness through visual art and the mission is to provide scholarships for the underprivileged in the form of education, guidance and mentorship and also to celebrate cultural festivals through art.

La Martiniere to Calcutta South Club

She photographs extensively on annual journeys back to India, but back in the US, the concentration is to bring together artists of the Indian diaspora and spread goodwill and knowledge of Indian arts to the local communities. All this in addition to a job selling technology, watching in the wings as her 26-year-old son Miles acts in a movie Fantasy Football, where he plays himself as a sports reporter and waiting for 21-year-old Aalia to graduate in International Relations before a possible berth in law school. An active tennis player, who cut her teeth on the courts of the Calcutta South Club with Premjit Lall and Jaidip Mukerjea, Malika is also on the board of the Atlanta Innovation Council and her alma mater, too. Although La Martiniere will always be the school she is most attached to.

While the joie de vivre appears always on the up, it is the terrible troughs Malika has weathered, which have given her a special toughness and determination to face life squarely – translated into art and foundations that aim at upping the happiness quotient of the children of a lesser god.

Last updated on 01.12.22, 12:05 PM
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