The passing away of Shireen Sabavala marks the end of a chapter in the city’s tony history. The graceful wife of late modernist Jehangir Sabavala had been ailing at the Parsee General Hospital for over two months. The 92-year-old, survived by daughter Aafreed, breathed her last on Saturday
evening. Always nattily dressed, the rather articulate doyenne was a fond chronicler of a sepia-tinted Bombay that is slowly fading away. She was replete with delightful anecdotes and stories from the gilded era she belonged to. Artist Meera Devidayal knew the Sabavalas for over four decades. She shares, “She was the perfect consort for Jehangir from every point of view. She took the charge of the other side of his art life, which most artists neglect.“ Gallerist Geetha Mehra, who represented Jehangir in the latter half of his career, concurs with Devidayal. “She was very much part of Jehangir’s career; he painted from home and she was part of the discussion of every painting. They were a wonderful team. She was completely committed to his work and archived it meticulously.“In fact, Sabavala even ensured that the last six canvases of her illustrious husband, including an unfinished work that he created between 2009 and 2010, found a home at the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya. She also bequeathed a substantial, but undisclosed, sum to the museum to pay for the upkeep of these paintings.
“The works would just be sitting here, wrapped up,“ she told the Mumbai Mirror in an interview two years ago. “We’d rather share it with the city.“
The Sabavalas’ home in Altamount Road echoed of this generous sentiment. The tasteful apartment was an open house for young art enthusiasts and poets. “She always gave time for people, especially the younger generation. It’s a rare quality to see nowadays. She was warm and extremely hospitable,“ says auctioneer Dadiba Pundole. “Though we were part of the same community, I got to know her a little late in life.She was a practical woman and a no-nonsense lady, which was a nice thing about her.“
A great follower and a teacher of the Bihar School of Yoga, Sabavala would spend a lot of time at the centre in Munger and remained committed to this way of life right till the end.“It was through the Bihar School of Yoga that she grew concern for the larger cosmic frame of belonging.
“She had an independent sense of the world. She was a student at the London School of Economics and survived World War II. She picked herself up and went on with life,“ says poet and cultural theorist Ranjit Hoskote. “She was a woman of great strength.“