Scenes from a colourful life
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.
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.
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.
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.
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