Different Dialogues : In conversation with Neena Singh – Painter. Commissioner of Income Tax in Mumbai-India.

Educational Background: B.A. from Lucknow University. M.A. MPhil in Sociology from Institute of Advanced Studies, Meerut University. PhD in Sociology from Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.


Professional Background: Qualified in Civil Services Examination – conducted by the UPSC. Joined Indian Revenue Service in 1988 in Income Tax Department. Presently, posted as Commissioner of Income Tax in Mumbai.


As Creative Artist – has held several solo shows of her paintings in many iconic galleries including Jehangir Art Gallery-Mumbai, Lalit Kala Akademi-New Delhi, Cymroza Art Gallery-Mumbai, Red Earth Gallery-Baroda and several others. She has won a number of awards and has also been invited to participate in prestigious group shows in India and abroad. Her art works were selected for The National Exhibition conducted by The Lalit Kala Akademi. Her paintings have been chosen for the Biannual Exhibitions of the American Juried Art Competition 2013 ‘Depicting Contemporary Life and the Urban Experience’ by the artquenchgallery.com. The gallery featured her in: Art Quench Magazine. Her solo exhibition Celestial Notations held at Lalit Kala Akademi featured in India Art Show by Press TV Iran.

When a painter shows a composition created by his perception, the light that shines on his face crowns his feelings for his creative production. From the point of perception, one of the most striking strokes come from Neena Singh's brushwork. And how!


As the profession goes – Neena Singh qualified for Civil Services Examinations conducted by the UPSC, and she joined Indian Revenue Service in the year 1988 in the Income Tax Department. During her career, she has handled various challenging assignments. Currently, she is posted as Commissioner of Income Tax in Mumbai.


As we talked about her life, sitting in a restaurant in Mumbai – in the Churchgate area: Neena described the details of her childhood days with a subdued vivacity. She explains, 'I knew, I would do something with my life! As a child, I thought of becoming a famous writer! Long hours were spent in the school library. My only friends were books – because of my conservative bringing up, I was not allowed to go out. This was a very small town, the town where my father was posted. So, the library's space got me interested where I was reading books of philosophy, literature, poetry, novels, many biographies. I was the only one who frequented the school library, hence, the librarians were fond of me.'


The loneliness that Neena felt in the small town in Biswan of Uttar Pradesh-India was filled up with her devotional hours in books and intense schooling: to top in the Board Examinations for the 10th Grade. The same loneliness, in her later years would give her the basis to be self-reliant and resolute.


Neena said, 'My father was an engineer in the Irrigation Department and we were always going to small towns...  those were not even towns! Where the canals had to be dug, that's where my father was required, and those places were backward and remote.'


I asked Neena what were her impressions about her childhood years. She replied, 'I am from such a small town. Now I feel my destiny is being guided by my Guru's guidance. It is so wonderful! As for the schools, where I studied – they were rudimentary. For example, in Sitapur District located in eastern U.P... this town of Biswan was really tiny and sleepy... so tiny that if I go there today, nothing much must have changed there since 1975 when we were there!'


She continued, 'I am grateful to God that I was able to pursue higher studies. I had some challenges to face while I pursued my studies, but I was determined! For college, my maternal grandfather took me to Agra where he lived as a retired person. By the time I arrived in Agra, the admissions were closed, we had been too late to plan my transition from Biswan. However, because of my mark-sheet I got into the 11th Grade.'


'Today, how do you balance your career and you passion for painting?' I asked her.
Neena Singh smiled and said, 'I am used to balancing both sides of my life since the last 15 years. It has been tough but having put 27 years in my service, I am adjusted to handling a reasonable balance.'


Our conversation streamed along the lines of Neena Singh's life experiences. On being a single parent, she explains with a sense of achievement how her two daughters are growing up.


'My daughters, Ashta and Akanksha have taught me a lot. They are so loving, they never let me feel 'down' for a minute. Their love is unconditional for me. You see, after the demise of my spouse, there was this vacuum. Books were not curing the emptiness, work was not curing, either.'


It seemed that with the pain of her circumstances, Neena Singh needed something to heal her soul… and painting became the balm!


She says, 'In those early days, I began to paint. Children were growing, studying late in the night. When they were up, I was up, and so I began to paint.' She remembers to mention that during her childhood she had participated in one painting competition where she had won. 'It is my mother's talent from where I have inherited,' she states with fondness. 'My mother was sensitive, refined and frail. Our difference in age was less than 18 years, so we were close in many ways. My memories of childhood are of her, and how I spent a lot of my time with Nature... sitting beneath trees.'


Going back to Neena's college days, I learnt that she excelled as a scholarship-holder to pursue further studies.  When she got selected in JNU – Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi, she did M.Phil. and PhD. in Sociology in 1983-84. Earlier to those years, she became a graduate in English Literature and Psychology from Lucknow University. She ranked 3rd in position.


Over time, Neena Singh became more and more focused. She says, 'There was a gender issue around my future, always. People were casual about my future, especially, when life showed me some very rough times in my personal life.' 


I could see her emotions in her voice.  It was also easy for me to observe and know the courageous streak in the person whom I happened to meet and become friends with over a chance meeting! Yes, I met Neena Singh by a freak chance! A good-freak chance!!


I asked her, 'And coming to your art, how is it going? Where is it going?'

My friend replies, 'It takes a long time for an artist to evolve and arrive at a language of his own. I have been lucky with the grace from God that in a relatively short span, I have been able to evolve with a language. I am blessed.'


She elaborates on the aspect of spirituality and says, 'I can connect those dots – now, I can see there when I look back. I realize there is a higher force guiding your destiny.'


'So, how are you evolving with your creative work?' I ask the artist in Neena Singh.

Her reply is almost instant. 'At the present stage, I am consciously trying to challenge myself to do something new and different... since I don't want to settle down in my comfort zone. I have seen many artists settling back – once they have got recognition. This should not happen because then the growth stops. My ascending voyage means I must experiment with newer things.'


As my interview came to a close, Neena Singh concluded, 'I always felt protected as if there was a "Presence" protecting me. She pauses and then continues, 'Painting is not a choice, it is an inner-compulsion. It enables me "to be", and "to become".


She explains, 'Often, I have been asked what was I thinking when I painted a particular painting. You know, I have realized that while painting I wasn't thinking! Those are the only times when I am not thinking... while I am experiencing and struggling to express. This process is beyond any words... for these are creations of solitude, complete solitude where I transcend....'


The evening crowd was building up in the restaurant as we moved towards our cars.   I folded the sheaf of papers containing my dialogue with Neena Singh.  The hours had flown quickly, and the interview by, itself, was an engrossing experience for me.  I think, for Neena Singh, too, our meeting had been more than a dry, clinical interview – because between those lines, we had shared a lot.


I was thinking: just as my artist-friend’s paintings create all possible shapes of her emotions – this interview had left an impression… a deep impression to stay on in me. 


As my car sped homewards – I continued to ponder on the fraternity belonging to painters, poets, writers.  They are all the same… sensitive and keenly sharp.  My vision revealed Neena Singh as someone who can feel and share in the best way through her colours and canvases. 


Q 1. What has been the turning point of your life?
A. As I belong to a conservative family with a patriarchal mindset, I realized that I had to be independent – not just financially but also have a job that was considered prestigious which would enable me to become my own person and live authentically. Qualifying civil services and joining IRS was a turning point in the sense that I was finally able to decide the direction of my life. The second turning point came the day I picked up a paint brush again, which was sort of a re-birth for me.


Q 2. If you could go back in time, what would you want to do?
A. If I could go back in time, I wouldn’t do things which I didn’t believe in.


Q 3. What are your future dreams?
A. I dream of a beautiful sea facing huge house, where natural light would filter in through large French windows, with plenty of books around me, music playing in the background and the best of paint and brushes, a meditation mat, a healthy me and grandchildren to spoil. Days when I will be free to paint whenever I have the urge to.


For more information on Neena Singh kindly click on: http://neenasingh.com