Tuesday, November 11, 2008
About Spiritual Doctors and Indian Contemporary Art
In Delhi, I have an artist friend who forgets my name every time. He is a great astrologer. May be, he is a great numerologist because just by listening to your name he would tell you about the good and bad things happening in your life. Also he would tell you when things are going to change for good or bad. At times, he gives you some precautionary measures; he would ask you to wear a particular stone or suggest a color for the vehicle, which you are going to buy.
He forgets my name all the time and without any grudge I remind him of my name. I don’t have any grudge because this friend deals with a lot of names. He listens to your name and makes all the calculations out of it.
I never used to believe in this kind of stuff till I ran into some really bad times. Then I consulted my artist friend. As usual he asked my name and promptly I spelt it out the way a child does before the school teacher or a doctor. He looked into my eyes with a smile, and I should say his smile is quite soothing.
“Keep quite and keep doing what you are doing. But keep quite. You will have to handle a few people who have diversified aims. Keep away from the names that starts with….(he mentioned a few alphabets),” he said.
I was astonished because I was having problems with those people whose names started with the alphabets mentioned by him.
Being a contemporary, post-modern, logical, former ultra leftist person, I did not want to openly acknowledge that I believed in such ‘superstitious’ things. May be, for a while his advice soothed me beyond any doubt. I wanted to take these ‘consultations’ as a kind of ‘counseling’- that is a safe way of putting it as you could sound ‘contemporary, post-modern, logical…etc etc.’
Then once again I ran into some kind of trouble- a kind of trouble any married man would face as he reaches his forties. I fell in love with a woman. Despite our ‘liberal’ positioning back home and in public life, this transgression was not taken easily by my wife. I found an eviction notice signed by my wife, virtually pasted on the wall of our bedroom. Besides, she threatened me with a divorce suit and a huge amount as alimony. To pay that kind of amount I would have definitely forced to do some real works of art, which would sell in the art market.
So I consulted my friend. He asked my name again. Then he spelt out the first letter of the name of my love interest. It was matching perfectly.
“Don’t worry, things will fade off. And you will remain married to your current wife,” he said with a smile.
Later we (myself and my wife) consulted him together. Somehow he remembers my wife’s name always. He asked my name again.
“There is a water related problem in the eastern side of your home,” he said. “Rectify it. Things will be alright. You are going to flourish in your life together.”
Yes, ever since we moved to the new house, we have been having some seepage problems, predominantly at the eastern side walls. The artist friend had never visited our home!
Next day we got a plumber to work on the problem and rectified the issue. That night, my wife temporarily removed the eviction notice from the bedroom.
I am not ashamed of saying this because now I believe there are several things, which are beyond our grasp. In one of the Alien movies, a team of experts are brought in to capture the alien. An illiterate character, played by the Last King of Scotland fame Forest Whitaker, also is brought into the team. The other experts jeer at him and ask what made him to be a part of the team. He says, “I feel things intensely.” It is he who finally leads the experts to the elimination of the destructive alien.
In contemporary art scene, my artist friend is a hot property, though many people don’t publicly acknowledge their consultations with him. In one of the big openings in Delhi, I introduced a young artist couple to my friend. Till the end of the party, the couple did not allow my friend to move away from them!
Before the art market boom, most of my artist friends were consulting many spiritual experts. If someone was going to Noida to consult one of the most potent woman astrologer, someone else was going to meet South Delhi’s most magnetic astrologer. Most of the artists were wearing different colored stones in their fingers. If asked they would say, “My mother believes in all these things. Why disappoint her?” Poor mothers, without knowing all these were sitting in the remote corners of the country, while their sons consulted any available astrologer.
Still we don’t want to accept that we believe in this kind of spiritual counseling. Look, India is a pagan society, with a unified code of conduct for gods and goddesses. We have a tradition of worshipping all the natural elements. We have a tradition of consulting the planetary positions for fixing a marriage, starting a business, building a house or venturing into any enterprise. Even our scientists believe in ‘auspicious timings’ for sending a rocket into the outer space. Why sulk? It is our nature, tradition, habit and above all our belief. Why feel so ashamed of it?
Most of the artists are declared atheists. They just don’t believe in god. But I have found the images of gods and goddesses being worshipped in most of the artists’ studios. If look at that corner or worship, suddenly the artist would say, “My assistant boy does all those.” Come on, worshipping god is not a sin. Then why do they talk as if they were caught in sin.
Somewhere, we have developed this tendency to hide that we believe in certain ‘spiritual practices.’ May be it is a baggage from the modernist times. During the modernist period, with the hopes of a communist revolution around the corner, we used to think that anything that throws hurdles at progressive thinking is ‘retrogressive’, hence uncouth and pre-modern. However, we could not move much away from our tradition in this front. We shifted from dhotis to jeans, from un-stitched clothes to designer wears. But our society still believe in gods and goddesses, which is good as the presence of gods and goddesses prevent people from doing may atrocious things including public pissing and spitting, which have become almost national characteristic of India.
We should be proud of belonging to a pagan culture that worships all the natural elements. We have a tradition that asks permission from the birds and small animals living on a tree, before it is being cut. We have a tradition of giving sacrificial (symbolic) food to invisible beings. We have a tradition of appeasing all the invisible forces before we venture into an auspicious deed. If art is an auspicious thing, why artist shy away from being believers?
It is interesting to see that going to a Christian church in the Sunday best is preferred over going to a temple in simple loin clothes. Confessing before a priest looks more secular and preferable than going to consult an astrologer. I am not implicating Christianity. But the Christian church practice is preferred over pagan systems only because of our colonized mindset. We think that Christianity came from the white west so it should be better than the pagan east. What a pity!
Why don’t we acknowledge that we believe and we do consult spiritual counselors? With the recession in art market, there are several artists who actively consult their spiritual doctors. Do accept that we do it. By accepting it one does not become a religious fundamentalist. On the contrary one would become a humble person who believes that there are things beyond his capacity.
But it is not an organized call for doing yagyas and havans for the betterment of art market. It is just another hint at being human in the Indian way.
I do like those people who feed birds and ants. But I don’t like those people who feed ants in their bed.
It is all about discernment and discretion.
I call one of the top most artists in India. His sister picks up the phone and tells me, ‘He has gone to temple.’
Later I mention it to the artist. He shrugs and says, “What to do, my family wants me to perform these rituals…..”
Q: What do you read first in the Sunday newspaper?
Intellectual: What’s happening in the US administration and what’s happening in Bihar.
Ordinary human being: Horoscope for the week.