Wednesday, January 9, 2019






I vividly remember during my college days , I would keep looking at signboards and hoardings in the markets . By markets I mean Amira Kadal , Residency Road . Maisuma , Hari Singh High Street and some other places. It was surprising to find that most of these boards had a small note ‘SANTOKH BROS’ at bottom corner. If it was not ‘SANTOKH BROS’ it was ‘JIO PAINTERS’.


Strange is the story of this POK refugee boy who was barely 13 years old when the tragedy of partition struck his peace loving family in Bagh ( Poonch ) . He saw killings , bloodshed and destruction . For days , with nothing to eat , hiding and then resurfacing , his family dodged the killers , walked and walked nonstop to reach Jammu .And then life had to start from scratch. I post excerpts from my detailed interview with the pioneer of commercial art in J&K .

“ Santokh Singh Ji , Sat-Sri-Akaal. Do you recollect our last meeting ? You were busy that day . Can I come over right now ? ”

“ Yes . I was waiting for your call. Come right now. I am at my farmhouse . ”

“ Start . Say what you want . I am recording ”

“ Avtar ji , First I regret not being able to attend to you previously as I was busy. You see I am into many affairs mostly social service now. My father was a farmer from Bagh in POK. We had beautiful hills , valleys , fruits , snowfalls and Kashmir like scenery . I vividly remember that place . We were Brahmins before embracing Sikhism at the hands of revered Sixth Guru Sahib. Your friend Iqbal Singh’s family is also from same area. Agya Singh Ji’s son I mean . We are Soodan and they are Raina .

As boy , I moved to Delhi to live with my sister . They were allotted a house in Lajpat Nagar . I did my two year Diploma in Commercial Art from New Delhi . I got married in 1957. Jammu was hot and unbearable . I wanted to set up business at Srinagar . So I opened a shop at Red Cross Road behind KMDA Adda. Suraj Tikoo and G R Santosh were my close friends . Both were fantastic commercial painters apart from being seasoned in fine art . Suraj Tikoo could work on larger than life hoardings .I was frequently interacting with Mohan Raina and Bansi Parimu . Can’t recollect all names . See I am plus 87 .

I don’t take any pride in saying that at a point of time I had so much of work that I would pass on some to Jio Painter. Jio was owned by Jia Lal a good commercial artist from Jammu . I would bring junior commercial artists from Amritsar , Lucknow and Delhi and engage them on handsome remuneration for my work. My hoardings were on display right from Lakhanpur to Leh and then Akhnoor to Poonch or Batote to Kishtwar . In a way I had total monopoly because I paid my artists in advance and artistic perfection was my brand.I would pass on work to Gani -Akbar and Jeelani Painters ; two local commercial art firms from Kashmir. Many leading advertising firms dealing in promotion/ marketing of textiles . cigarettes , liquor , building material etc. would approach me for installation of product hoardings in the State . I was known as King of Kashmir in commercial art world. I didn’t face any issues from municipality.

My head office remained at Srinagar and I also opened a branch at Jammu ( 6 shops below Gumat ) .This business suffered a great set back with the arrival of Flex printing . I also stopped this activity sometime around 1988. Now I am in building material business. I have this farmhouse and I manage a dairy farm. Entire milk I sell to the residents of this locality at no profit no loss basis . I feed these animals myself. That is my satisfaction . I have worked very hard . This is all my sweat and blood. After providing for my immediate family, I plan to return whatever I have to this world only before I die. That is my mission . Keep coming . I like the way you listen silently . Rarely people allow others to talk these days .”


And Santokh Singh has donated 12 Kanals (Rs75 lakhs per Kanal is present rate of this prime land ) of land to cremation ground at Gole Gujral . A building ( for the caretaker and his family ) has also been constructed by him. The cremation ground has solved many problems of the residents of this area that has a sizeable population of Kashmiri Pandits .

And when I took leave of him, he came to the door to see me off. He had already raised the volume of his mobile phone that had a recording of hymns from Sri Guru Gobind Singh Ji’s Krishna-Avtar:-



“ Hey ravi hey shashi karunanidhi,

Meri vinati suun leejiye…

Aur na maangat hoon tum se kuchh

Chaahat ho chit mein soyi Deejiye..

Sastran sioon atti hi runn bheetar

Jhoojh maroon kahi saanch pateejiye…

Sant sahaai sada jag maahi

.Kripa kari shyaam ihee var deejiye ”




(O Provider of the light to the Sun!

O Provider of the light to the Moon!

O merciful Lord!

Listen to a request of mine,

I am not asking for anything else from you;

whatever I wish in my mind, by that with your grace ,

If I fall a martyr while fighting with my enemies

then alone I shall think that I have realised the truth.

O Sustainer of the Universe !

I may always help the saints in this world

and destroy the tyrants;

bestow this boon upon me.)


( Avtar Mota )


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