The twenty first of April has come and gone with most news channels doling out morbidity and venom on one subject or the other without devoting any air time to a Pakistani legend, who left her earthly abode on this day two decades ago.
Professor Emeritus Anna Molka Ahmed was born to Eastern European parents in London, on the 13th of August 1917. She went on to study painting, sculpture and design at St. Martin School of Arts and converted to Islam in 1935, before marrying Sheikh Ahmed, a Pakistani in 1939. A year later the couple moved to Lahore. Anna Molka founded the Punjab University Fine Arts Department and was awarded Tamgha-i-Imtiaz, President’s Pride of Performance Award, Quaid-e-Azam Award and the Khadejatul Kubra Award for her services in the field of Fine Arts Education in Pakistan.
I first saw Anna , when she walked into our school arts class and was immediately captivated by her towering personality. Robustly built, Mrs. Ahmed, as she was known to us then, filled the room with her presence - a phenomenon which became more complete when she addressed us in her quaint European accented Urdu. Little did I know then, the influence this great woman would have on developing my understanding of form and beauty. As time went by, I moved into Anna’s family circle because of her younger daughter, who became my classmate and my father, who turned out to be an old friend of the family’s. This relationship was also lent strength by the fact that the house with the ‘Golden Shower Tree’ in the front lawn was only a small distance away from our residence on Queen’s Road.
Anna went on to become a national and global legend, but she always found time to pass her skills on to us. Her style of doing so was based on practical skill, wherein she would ask us to sketch subjects, paint, do papier-mâché and was always at hand to reprimand and correct erring individuals in her inimitable manner. I fondly remember being rapped on the knuckles quite a few times for using the eraser while sketching objects.
Much later, I took up a career, married and moved out of Lahore, but always maintained some form of contact with my mentor and her family. In the late 90s, I heard that Anna had badly hurt herself falling from the scaffolding she was standing on, while working on a mural in the National Arts Council. I drove to Lahore with my wife to visit her and saw this dynamo of a woman, confined to a wheel chair, but with her spirit intact. We talked of old times and she regaled my wife with the stories of my misdemeanors as a student. She was wistful about the fact that she could no longer paint large canvases and had therefore resorted to doing miniatures. I could see that she missed standing before an easel and boldly applying oil paints using her favorite palette knife. Suddenly she took my hands and studied the palms as if reading a book and then she revealed a metaphysical quality kept hidden even from an intimate family friend such as myself. She told me the route my life would take with its success and its failures and what she told me has so far, miraculously, come about.
I returned to my work and then one day heard that Anna had passed away. To my everlasting regret, I could not attend her funeral due to professional commitments, but I am told that she was laid to rest with hundreds of her former students and colleagues around her, just the way she would have wanted it. I have however, continued to maintain regular contact with Anna Molka’s daughter and my classmate, who favors me with an invitation every time an event is organized to honor her mother. To me however, the greatest privilege is to have known her on a personal level and to have had the honor of being her apprentice. I am told that the National Art Gallery at Islamabad now has a portion dedicated to Anna and her work, but the space that this unique woman occupies in the lives of all her students, is unlimited. This column is but a small tribute to one of Pakistan’s greatest legends and to the memory of an even greater human being, who left an everlasting effect on the lives of all she came in contact with.

The writer is a historian.