The son of a wealthy Parsi businessman, Kekoo was born in 1920 in his family’s sea-facing bungalow, Kekee Manzil, in Bandra. “As a child, my father was a bit of a goody-goody, but that changed as the years went on,” his daughter Shireen Gandhy told me about Kekoo’s transition from a privileged Parsi child to a young man deeply engaged in art and politics. After completing his school education in Bombay, he went to Cambridge in 1938, where he became secretary of the Indian students’ organisation Majlis, which was a forum for, among other things, vibrant political debates. In 1939, he came to Bombay to see his family, but could not return to Cambridge because of the outbreak of the Second World War. Two years later, when his father set up the Chemical Moulding Manufacturing Company, a factory that made picture frames, Kekoo began to help out with the business. This was the beginning of his contact with the world of art.
In Bombay, Kekoo’s Chemould Frames became the place where those interested in art were introduced to new work. Over the late 1940s and 1950s, the elegant wooden frames inside the small shop on Princess Street displayed a whole range of new art from India, including Husain’s galloping horses and Raza’s symmetrical whorls of colour. Since all the paintings couldn’t go on display at once, Kekoo would store several at the family’s factory in Andheri. Kekoo’s son, Adil Gandhy, remembers paintings by artists like Tyeb Mehta piled up in rooms on the upper floor of the factory. “I used to tell him, ‘Papa, what are you doing? These paintings are just collecting dust here,’” Adil, who now runs Chemould Frames, told me when I met him at the shop last October.
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