Scenes from a colour­ful life

The Daily Telegraph - Review - - Film -

Af­ter vis­it­ing In­dia in 1964, Howard Hodgkin was smit­ten. He recorded his re­turn trips in paint – and in pri­vate di­aries, pub­lished here for the first time

gilded roofs. Clouds blow­ing around all the time like ir­reg­u­lar puffs of smoke. Got drunk in the evening and the por­ta­ble din­ner table had an oven un­der­neath.

April 24

Glimpse of Hi­malayas on wak­ing. Set off by car with ter­ri­fied driver to a high point to look at mountain. Soon he backs into a ditch and gets stuck, then again in the mud etc. We fill the mud with bro­ken bricks and straw, chil­dren ap­pear and help us push and fi­nally the ex­pe­di­tion is aban­doned.

We eat our pic­nic in a ho­tel room and then start walk­ing along the tiny paved paths be­tween the fields. It rains, we find larger paths and an­other val­ley and then sud­denly a ham­let un­der a tree with a tea house where we drink. Every­one re­turn­ing from the fields walks past and we fol­low them into the city.

Jan­uary 25

Delhi morn­ing. Get tick­ets for Ooty and be­yond, and then off to Qutb, now spelt Qutab. More beau­ti­ful than on pre­vi­ous vis­its, be­cause of the beau­ti­ful light and the happy at­mos­phere of Satur­day, with peo­ple, fam­i­lies and school par­ties. Rugs laid on the ground and pic­nics for 40. Very dull lunch and then din­ner with Tyeb Me­hta, the painter... Sparkling evening with much In­dian whiskey and lit­tle lovely food.

Jan­uary 26

Up at five to catch plane for Coim­bat­ore, the stop for Ooty, which is 55km fur­ther on. Out of the air­port, won­der­ful air, bright sunshine and com­pletely flat land to the hori­zon. Straight out of the edges of the plain came sil­hou­ettes of hills. Then the up­ward as­cent of 13 num­bered hair­pin bends, through val­leys filled with be­tel trees, blue gum, and as we went higher still, tea. Bril­liant Tech­ni­color light and then soft hill af­ter soft hill with con­tour line ter­rac­ing and af­ter sev­eral false alarms, such as Welling­ton (a town filled with churches in all styles, in­clud­ing what looked like Rus­sian), we ar­rive in Ooty. Stayed in Palace Ho­tel above the lake – half a bun­ga­low to my­self. A walk round the lake with the man­ager who wanted to em­i­grate, [then] a de­li­cious din­ner and some sleep.

Be­fore go­ing to bed, a visit to the club where I had a costly Scotch by a log fire in an enor­mous build­ing com­pletely de­serted. I was un­con­vinc­ingly as­sured that every­one was at din­ner.

Jan­uary 27

In­cred­i­ble morn­ing, walked to town and the Nil­giri li­brary, where I found they had been ex­pect­ing me the pre­vi­ous af­ter­noon, had re­ar­ranged the fur­ni­ture and waited till six. Af­ter a most im­pres­sive visit to Mr and Mrs Carter in their flower-cov­ered cot­tage (where the Ooty chess is made) and talk­ing to Mr C who is 85, arthritic and very bright, re­turned to the li­brary to meet the

1972-1973, be­low, fea­tures in a new ex­hi­bi­tion of Hodgkin’s art in­spired by In­dia

Ma­jor Sahib: Howard Hodgkin, left, made his fi­nal visit to In­dia shortly be­fore his death in March this year. Right, his Mrs Ac­ton in Delhi, 1967-1971

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