Lesley refuted all my criticisms of her art posthumously. Tidying her effects, I found a series of pencil drawings tucked into folders and hidden under a bed in her studio. As long as I can remember, Lesley collected paper – cartridge, watercolour paper, papers with light textures for drawing – and these had accumulated in folders and drawers. At last she had found a use for them – paper now yellowed or blotched with age, slightly frayed at the edges from being moved, suitable for recording the old and infirm. There were ninety-six drawings and two reproductions of drawings when I assembled them all.* They were made at an outdoor eye clinic at the Dera Baba Jaimal Singh, and are mostly of patients, the elderly blind who had come to the clinic in large numbers for cataract removal operations.
These drawings avoided the pietism of her later paintings, they avoided the allegorical, and they avoided the cartoon-like abstractions that she developed for illustrating children’s books. They avoided technical skill, for although the exe-cution was skilful, their ease transcended it. They stood as a single great work, a document of suffering and compassion finally integrating her life and her art. In these pictures of lovingly-observed affliction, the hearts and eyes of the blind strain heavenward for the light, through the body’s frailty.
Fifteen years later, I write the following note to the Secretary of the Dera Baba Jaimal Singh, where the drawings now lie, unless they have been moved, lost or forgotten:
When Gurinder Singh Ji first came to Cape Town I showed him a collection of about a hundred drawings done by my mother, Lesley Luitingh, of patients at the Dera Eye Hospital during the 1980s. Shortly thereafter, my brother took the drawings to Beas and personally put them into Baba Ji’s hands. The intention, as I recall, was to use the drawings, which were of an extremely high quality, in a book on the eye camp, or to otherwise use them to the benefit of people.
I am currently engaged in writing a memoir of my mother and I am keen to revisit in some way the drawings. I wonder whether you have any record of these artworks, and whether there is any way that I could access reproductions of them, or even the originals. Any assistance or information in this regard would be received with gratitude.
After some months, the following reply arrives on the Radha Soami Satsang Beas letterhead:
The drawings of the patients at the Dera Eye Camp by your late mother are with us, they are 96 in number. You can certainly have them back. We request you to please depute someone coming to Dera to collect them from us for you. We would not like to risk sending them by mail for obvious reasons.
With kind regards.
With warm Radha Soami greetings,
T. K. Sethi
I set in motion the process of deputing the collection, and await the return of the drawings with a restless eagerness.
* More of these drawings can be seen here.