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Last Updated: Friday, 12 September, 2003, 12:01 GMT 13:01 UK
A Bengali in Bohemia
By Ranvir Nayar in Paris

Struggling artists have long dreamt of making it big in bohemian Paris.

Madhu Basu's art has been exhibited across France

Madhu Mangal Basu was an exception.

Driving a taxi through the streets of Calcutta in India for a living, he never imagined he would one day be the toast of the Parisian art world.

Today, he is one of the best-known Indian artists working in France.

But the road to recognition has not been an easy one.

Madhu's father went to Calcutta in 1947, as a refugee from what was then East Pakistan - and is now Bangladesh.

"He settled in a refugee colony, and then got a job as a junior clerk with the government," Madhu recalls.

Taxing times

The family lived in a bamboo house, and the young Madhu was sent to a small school in the refugee encampment.

Arts and crafts attracted him from an early age.

A group of sculptors lived near his house. After finishing classes, Madhu would sit with them and learn to sculpt.

He started working from a young age to alleviate his family's financial difficulties.

Pepite Noire
Mr Basu hopes to set up a scholarship for Indian artists to come to Paris
"Sometimes I would distribute newspapers, sometimes I would make cards for weddings," he says.

Madhu left school before he had finished his studies, and in 1977, he started driving a taxi.

It was not long before he realised he could not spend his whole life doing that.

Mr Basu began to attend art college in the time he did not spend driving his taxi.

One day a friend asked him if he would take a Frenchwoman on a tour of Calcutta in his cab.

Madhu agreed - and that is how he met Giselle.

Love blossomed between the taxi driver and the Parisian, and before long, they were married.

After the wedding, Giselle went back to France, while Madhu stayed on in Calcutta to finish his studies.

Showcasing talent

When he finally graduated in 1988, Giselle asked him to join her in Paris.

Madhu said he would, despite feeling deeply uneasy at the prospect of going to a foreign city.

"I did not know anybody here, and I didn't know if the people would appreciate my art over here."

His doubts left him as he began to spend more time in Paris.

He was introduced to a professor at the Ecole Superieur des Beaux Arts, who took an immediate liking to his work and invited him to use the studio in the college.

Mr Basu never looked back after this.

Artist and wife
Madhu and his one-time passenger, Giselle

He is known in France as a leading Indian artist, and has had his work exhibited in numerous towns and cities.

Having risen up from poverty, Madhu now plans to give other struggling artists the same chance.

There is talk of an exhibition in Paris next year, to showcase the latest painting talent from India.

And he also hopes to set up a scholarship, which will pay for a promising Indian artist to spend a year studying in Paris.

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