Wednesday, February 25, 2009
Bhopal- A Maze of Art Colleges
Bhopal- I cannot look at this city without a smile on my lips. There are two reasons for it: one, my wife, Mrinal Kulkarni belongs to this city. I have come here with her several times, though I don’t know the geography of the city well. I am a son-in-law here and they take care of my visits. I just need to be here. Two, the people of Bhopal are very straight. They express their feelings without any reserve.
We reach Bhopal city around midnight. We had driven a few kilometres extra as we were not only misguided by the people but also by the deceptive road signs.
The streets are quite alive even at midnight. Somu stops the car in a junction and looks out for some ‘responsible’ people around. ‘Responsible’ is his catchword. He asks for directions only to the responsible people. And at times responsible people turn out to be absolutely irresponsible. They will send you thirty kilo meters away from your prescribed direction.
“How do you get to Habibganj Railway station?” I ask someone.
He looks at me and then he peeps into the car and exclaims, “Woh to bahut dur hai!” (It is really very far!)
I burst into laughter. “Man, we need to go there and we have a car. Distance is not a problem for us,” I tell him.
“Go straight and ask someone else,” without moving his eyelids he tells me. Yes, that is an answer.
Our car drags itself to the next person, who seems to be responsible. I repeat the question.
“Poochke Poochke seedha Jao (go straight and keep asking),” he says sincerely.
Soon we are in a wrong road. Someone tells us that there is no way to Habibganj Station. That is a bit too much. But he adds that we could take another road a few kilo meters behind and go to our destination. Then a young boy approaches us. He is an enthusiast. He directs us properly out of a maze of winding alleys. I know he must be moving around in this part of the city like a Romeo. He seems to know each and every small alley here. But he is also of no help.
Then another person offers us help. He asks us to follow his motorbike. We follow him. Then I have this thought: if he gets into his own thoughts and forgets that we are following him what would we do? But after ten minutes he stops his bike and waits for us to pull up to him.
“Take the left turn and from the first junction take right and go straight,” he smiles with his eyes through his face covering helmet. We thank him and Somu steps on the gas. Again we miss a road and we find ourselves in a narrow road. Couple of boys are winding up their business in a makeshift shop. We ask him for the direction.
“Aap kyon ithar aaye?” (Why did you come here?), one of them asks innocently.
“We lost our way. That is why we are here,” I tell him. I cannot but smile at his innocence. He does not mean any harm. He is expressing his desperation on our foolishness.
The boy gives us the right direction and we reach the hotel reception. Halim, a friend of Mrinal’s sister-in-law had already booked accommodation for us. The person who mans the reception counter exclaims, “I was told that you would reach here by 9.30.”
“Traffic,” I dismiss him with one word. Bhopal’s innocence has already started getting into my nerves.
The room is big enough to make us feel in a crowd. But we sleep without counting lambs. Sleep jumps over the fence and embraces us before the lambs do.
At six in the morning we three are up and at our computers. We take a few hours to finish our work and uploading. We hit the road by 11 am. Our destination is Nutan College, almost a two kilometres away from where we stay. In Nutan College, they have a Department of Fine Arts. It is an all women’s college.
We don’t find any men around. We park our car and walk in. There is a security guard at the gate. Interestingly, he does not ask us why we are entering in a women’s college. We walk into a world of girls. At the office we ask for the fine arts department. The guy looks at his computer, searches for the fine arts department and tells us that it is somewhere behind the college.
I could make out the bureaucratic set up that rules the college. And I have a premonition that it is going to be the same story of Madhava College in Ujjain. At the fine arts department Dr.Rashmi Joshi, the department head receives us.
“Beta, the progress of the department depends totally upon the interest of the teachers,” Dr.Joshi tells us. She does not look that old. She calls us ‘sons’. We feel some kind of embarrassment.
Nutan College is one of the oldest colleges in Bhopal. It has three courses in fine arts. BA, BVA and MA. Like many other colleges in Madhya Pradesh, here too painting is one of the optional subjects. BVA is a full time graduate course and is approved by the University Grants Commission (UGC). There are post graduate courses for painting and sculpture. The department is affiliated to the Barkhathulla University, MP. There are around seventy girls studying in this course.
The courses sound great. But we find no facilities around. The students are not allowed to go for sketching expedition as the city is not ‘safe for girl students’. There are two permanent teachers and three guest lecturers. They say that they try their level best to educate the students. But they know there are a lot of hurdles before them.
The first problem Dr.Joshi cites is the step-motherly attitude that the college authorities take towards the fine arts department. “They don’t understand the value of this course. With a lot of difficulty we got the UGC affiliation. But we don’t know when they would withdraw its support thanks to non-performance,” she says. The other department in connivance with the head of the institution put a lot of hurdles for the smooth functioning of the department.
Intra departmental rivalry is one of the reasons that mar the spirit of the students here. Though Dr.Joshi says that there is a good library in the department, we don’t find one. Then we go to the general library and the librarian, a grand old lady dismisses me (as I go into her office to ask for the fine arts section in the library) instantly. “Go and ask the department head,” she tells me. She does not forget to ask me from where I come to her office. I walk out suppressing my animal instinct to tear her into pieces.
Dr.Joshi proudly displays the sketchbooks of the BVA students. They are not up to the mark. Somu starts an impromptu demonstration on drawing. He asks the students to practice drawing as much as they can. They nod in approval.
Students from this college do go to other big universities to take admission for higher studies. Interestingly, there are girls here who have come to study in this college from outstations. Some of the MA students commute between two neighbouring cities as they cannot find hostel accommodation here.
The department has an overhead projector, lap top and model study facilities. But the teachers seem to lack direction. The pass out students from this department either become housewives or they become teachers. There are a few students who go out of the city to pursue higher studies. Some of them join the art groups in Bhopal and participate in shows. Many of them run private art tuition centres.
“We don’t have the facilities here. We need to depend on Bharat Bhavan Library for reference. But we cannot go there everyday,” the girls say in unison. They don’t know the names of the contemporary Indian artists. Their teachers also do not know them. Dr.Joshi admits that there is lack of information. They have internet facilities at college. But they don’t know how to look for new information on art.
Rani Laxmi Bai college, where we go in the afternoon too has similar problems. May be one can make a stencil of problems and place it on these colleges, it will fit in perfectly. “We cannot purchase books for our library as the official asks for commissions from the purchase,” says Dr.Rekha Srivastava, who teaches the Drawing and Painting course, BA and MA at the department of fine arts in Rani Laxmi Bhai College, Bhopal.
At every level the officials are there to make money. So the funds are either lapsed or siphoned out to other departments. Result is the poor state of the library. No information is passed to the students. They actually do not know such information exists. Rekha Srivastava says that she surfs internet for information and her complaint is that several galleries do not update their websites! We tell her that it is an old story and she must be looking at some defunct galleries, which she obviously does not want to accept.
RLB College is autonomous and is attached to the Barkhathullah University. But nobody seems to care. It offers MA in Drawing and Painting. Girls do MA and as usual they become housewives, art teachers or ‘group’ artists. They hang out around Bharat Bhavan and get frustrated. However, the department head Dr.Anjali Pande says that there are several girls from this department who have made their marks in the art scene. She tells me the names and I don’t recognize their names. May be that is my ignorance.
“We do a government job and it is transferable. So we don’t know what exactly would happen in each passing year,” says Dr.Pande. I have heard this several times during this trip.
There are several colleges like this in Bhopal including Gitanjali College, Hamidia College and so on. The case is similar everywhere. There seems to be no end to their problems. May be only when we ask whether there are any problems they realize they have problems. They have complaints on the big city galleries. All of them think that the big city galleries do not give any damn to these small town colleges. That is true. But to get any damn from them one should present the talents from these respective colleges, which at this moment seems very difficult. Otherwise, these students should go out to some other reputed institutions to prove their worth.
By evening we go to Bharat Bhavan, one of the prime institutions in Bhopal. I have been to this place several times before. The permanent exhibition here looks seriously ‘permanent’. None has taken the initiative to re-present the works. The famous works of Raza, Swaminathan, Sudhir Patwardhan, Gulam Mohammed Sheikh, Bhupen Khakar and so on are exhibited here. I see several works done on oil crumbling and cracking.
The sad state of the historical works by Sudhir Patwardhan pains me a lot. I think of writing him a mail. May be once I finish this trip, I would write to him about this.
After Bharat Bhavan, I take the charge of the car. Halim is with us. He directs us to the famous ‘bada talab’ (the big lake). We spend almost an hour there. Somu does some on the spot sketching. Feroze is on phone. Clutching at the fences I look at the lake and the yellow light falling on it from the setting sun.
Memories of home come to me.