Jimmy said when he was six, his kidneys failed and the doctors told his parents that their son was as good as dead. But then something very odd, if not miraculous, happened, and happened on its own. His kidneys healed themselves, which is what makes Jimmy believe that he was saved for a purpose
The mystery is resolved, at least for me. The secret of Jimmy Engineer’s waistline is out. He walks, which is what everyone losing the battle of the bulge should do. The man in the long flowing kurta, a Taliban-style beard and a score of causes to sell was in Washington last week, where the embassy ensnared him — or perhaps it was the other way around — into mounting an exhibition of his prints.
Why prints, one might well ask because painters bring paintings to their exhibitions, not prints. Here is Jimmy Engineer’s answer: “My canvases are so large that they cannot be lugged around.” However, he offered any who were interested, provided the cause was a good one, a CD of his prints, which he said would be as good as his paintings. Or maybe he said the CD of his paintings would be as good as his prints.
This was my first sighting of Jimmy Engineer. So far I had only read about him and I wasn’t sure if he was for real. Am I sure now? I am not sure if I am sure. Jimmy Engineer is a Parsi and all Parsis are good people. Someone asked Jimmy if he was an engineer (trust a Pakistani to ask a smart question like this). “I am not an engineer but my father and grandfathers were. Among us Zorastrians, it was the custom to adopt the name of your profession as your family name,” he said, and he was right. Sohrab Junglewala or his ancestor thus, must have been a forester at one time. Then to avoid being asked if Jimmy was short for Jamshed (as in Jamshed Marker), he said Jimmy was the name he was given at birth, so it wasn’t short for anything. Jimmy was Jimmy. There were no further questions about his name from his audience, which was a relief.
Jimmy Engineer said he was born in Loralei, Balochistan seven years after Pakistan. Why wasn’t he living in Balochistan, asked another bright Pakistani? Jimmy replied that he was not of just one place. He wanted to be everywhere, and often was. Then someone else asked why he had gone to FC College in Lahore and not the other place, which now carries the mystifying suffix university, as if college wasn’t enough clue as to what it is. Jimmy replied that in class he was always drawing something or other. His teachers at FC College waited for three years before advising him to go to the National College of Arts, which he did but left after a couple of years as he felt that he was already artist enough to venture out on his own.
Jimmy said when he was six, his kidneys failed and the doctors told his parents that their son was as good as dead. But then something very odd, if not miraculous, happened, and happened on its own. His kidneys healed themselves, which is what makes Jimmy believe that he was saved for a purpose. “Since I had been given a second life, I decided that I would live it as a servant of Pakistan and its people, which is all I am,” he said. He added that he had never exhibited in a commercial gallery and his only sales were sales for charity.
And now about his walking. He said in 1994, he had decided to walk from one end of Pakistan to another to get to know the people and their sufferings. It had taken him a year and he had walked 4,700 kilometres, taking indirect, circuitous routes so as to see everything. Before another Pakistani could ask when he was going to become a Muslim, Jimmy Engineer said, “I accept all religions as my personal religions. Islam, Christianity, Buddhism.” He was careful not to mention Hinduism otherwise some warrior of the faith might have called for the expulsion of “this perfidious Injun”.
Jimmy said around 1974 when he was 20 years old, he began to dream of refugees crossing into Pakistan after abandoning their homes where overnight they had been turned into aliens. He would dream about their great ordeal and how hundreds of thousands of them had perished on their way to what they believed was the Promised Land. He was so troubled by his dreams, which were more nightmares than dreams, that he went to see Sufi Barkat Ali of Salarwala, truly a man of God, what he should do. “Get it out of your system or you will remain restless all your life,” he told Jimmy. And that is why he painted his 1947 murals. He added that he had painted them as they had come to him in his dreams.
Jimmy Engineer has painted 2,000 canvases and murals. He is no Sadequain, but at the very least he can be the poor man’s Sadequain. He has done scores of charity walks for every good cause there is. Some people have compared Jimmy Engineer to J Salik. Maybe the two have something in common. Perhaps it is their lack of self-absorption, their eccentricity and their interest in things other than their personal welfare. If Jimmy Engineer is a hoax and a mountebank, why are there not more Jimmy Engineers in Pakistan? Wouldn’t it be a better country if there were more Jimmy Engineers and fewer housing estate developers?