India’s Economic Times interviewed S.H. Raza on the occasion of his visit to his homeland. He tells the story of how he came to live in France:
The Progressive Artists’ Group was born out of an intense passion within us to create paintings independently without being influenced by what we learnt at art school. Which meant the realism of western art. For us, it was an perception of antar gyan (inner knowledge). For them, it was largely what you saw with the eyes. We staged our first exhibition in Bombay in 1948. […] Each of us was working in our own direction. And, we would meet sometimes to share thoughts. Things were getting internalised. Then, Souza left for London, while I chose to go to France.
I come from from a very modest family background and lived initially in Nagpur. We spoke Urdu at home, but my teachers in school were all Brahmins who spoke Hindi. Thus, I learnt to speak Hindi. In time, I moved to Bombay and took admission in the JJ School of Art. During my stay in Bombay, I began learning French. So, when this French art scholarship was announced, I applied for it and was called for an interview. There were 50-60 interviewees, but I was only applicant one who could speak French. As a result, instead of a one-year scholarship, I was offered a two-year one. I left for France in 1950. […] During my stint at Ecole (Ecole Nationale des Beaux-Arts), I was feverishly frequenting exhibitions and museums. I had time to come face to face with the paintings of Van Gogh, Gauguin, Soutine, Cezanne and others and understand the work that they did in France. Besides, I made a lot of foreigner friends. It was a very enriching experience.
I stayed on for 5-6 years and worked very hard in my apartment studio to churn out paintings. These were displayed at the Gallery Lara Vinci in Paris. Eighteen French art critics came to cover the show and were so impressed that they awarded me the Prix de la Critique. Next week, all the major French newspapers like Le Figaro, Le Monde, Information and others. I happened to be the first foreigner to get the award. This was in 1956. I realised then that quality was the most the important facet in any work. I also sold some works and rented another apartment on Rue Chaptal and started working silently in my studio. In step, I started showing my works in other galleries and venues like the Venice Biennale.
I’m Very Attached to Indian Culture: Syed Haider Raza (Economic Times)