Wednesday, March 4, 2009
Nasik- Art and Religion
From Jalgaon to Nasik the distance is around 225 kilo meters. But we take a different route and travel southwards. The morning is beautiful and the state highway that winds through the plains is quite smooth. Unlike the national highways, most of the state highways that connect remote areas in India with the national highways are well maintained. At least in the central Indian region where we have been travelling for the last thirteen days, this is the case.
I drive the car for almost one hour, maintaining a speed of seventy kilometres per hour. Today we are completing ninety five per cent of our scheduled trip. We are in a light mood. On the way we touch Shirdi, the famous temple of Sai Baba and we make offerings there.
Many of you who read this piece may not be strong believers. You may not even believe in miracles. We have a peculiar situation now. Somu has been here in Shirdi before several times. He had a wish to take me there. Feroze does not believe in visiting shrines, irrespective of religions. I have never been to Shirdi. We decide to make an offering in the Sai Temple.
It is already noon and the atmosphere is quite hot. We need to reach Nasik Fine Arts College before evening. We have already contacted a lecturer, Amit Abhange, there. He is waiting for us. So we drive fast.
A few kilometres before Nasik, we are stopped by policeman. He comes near the car and asks for the papers. We do not own this car but the papers are correct and fool proof. We hand over the file to the policeman. He ask us to come out and we flatly refuse his command.
“If the papers are correct, please let us go as we have to attend a meeting in a while,” I tell the policeman without budging from the seat.
“Then come out and make an entry in the ledger,” he says.
“What entry?” We ask.
The constable is confused. He does not have an explanation. He wants to argue but he finds himself incapable of doing it. Hence he calls out for another senior officer to come over. The senior officer comes and his seniority is visible from the different cut of his uniform and cap.
“The papers are correct and the car belongs to a friend,” Somu tells the senior officer.
Actually, the officer is senior only in rank. He must be younger than us. He wears a pair of dark goggles. “If it is like that, where is your friend?” he asks.
We all laugh. We know what is going on. The policemen also laugh. I take out fifty rupees note from my wallet and give to him.
“No, no, hundred,” he demands with a friendly laugh.
“I don’t have change and I don’t have hundred rupees note either,” I tell him with the same hollow laughter.
“Two fifties will do,” he says.
I give him two fifty rupee notes and he is very happy. I think that he would salute us now. Feroze finds the whole exchange hilarious. He comes from a place where policemen who patrol the street are very strict and arrogant.
In Nasik, Amit Abhange receives us. We park the car near a ghat at the Godavari River. The city with its temples, mendicants, beggars, traditional bazaars, ghats, bell towers etc remind me of Banaras and Haridwar. The same ambience is palpable here.s
Nasik has four fine arts colleges; two exclusively for sculptures and two for paintings. We are at Nasik Kalaniketan Chitrakala Mahavidyalay. The car cannot go up to the building where the college is situated. So we walked down through the winding alleys.
There is a strange stench of time here. I try to define the smell. It is some kind of Ammonia smell (of urine), mixed with the aroma of sweets, fragrance of flowers and sandalwood agarbatis. I notice one more thing: these alleys have a lot of jewellers’ shops.
The college functions from a four floored narrow building. The rooms are crammed with paintings and photographs. There are some works that tell us that the students here experiment with modern and post modern art styles. Most of them are portraits and landscapes. That explains the ‘style’ of this particular school.
Interestingly, in this dingy building, there are two well maintained halls. In one of them there is a computer lab with around ten computers. They have internet facilities here. The other room is a permanent gallery, where the works of the senior artists, who had studied or visited the college ever since it was established. Also there are works, which are done by the faculty members. You feel like standing in an old section of a large museum.
The institute was started in 1940 by Vagu Kulkarni, one of the illustrious portraitists from Nasik region. Later it got recognition from the government and became a diploma college. Now it offers Government Diploma in Painting and Art Teaching Diploma.
The diploma course in painting is of five years; foundation, elementary, secondary and two years of specialization. The art teaching diploma is for two years. There are 175 students currently studying here.
As we have seen in the central India region, this college is also affiliated to Directorate of Art, Mumbai. Previously it used to follow the syllabus of Sir.J.J.School of Arts and the examinations were conducted in Mumbai. Now it has a modified syllabus though examinations are conducted by the Directorate of Art.
This college is the oldest institute in Nasik. In 1940 itself it had conducted a National Exhibition. The college regularly organises on the spot painting competitions, portrait competitions etc. The teachers also participate in national level competitions and exhibitions and this practice motivate the students.
Though the facilities are minimum, the students are in touch with the contemporary art scene. “Proximity with Mumbai makes all the difference. Students from here travel to Mumbai to see exhibitions and they make a lot of friends there,” says Abhange.
The students are compelled to do portraits and landscapes as the syllabus is devised in that fashion. But once their class works are over, they prefer to do site specific works, photography etc. “There are some students who experiments with land art,” Abhange says.
The institution has two buildings; the one we have already visited and the other one, which is on the shore of Godavari. It is a very old building and Abhange says that during the flood in 2008 the water came up to the first floor and the furniture of the college were washed away.
Abhange takes us to the building and we find small shrines at each and every corner of the way. Sadhus sit together in a mandap and chat animatedly. In the Baazar, people are busy bargaining and buying. From behind a temple we go to the old college building.
The pathway opens surprises for us. There are several small temples and houses within that congested space. From jharokas people look down to us. There is a strange calmness. If it is in Delhi or Mumbai we would find loving couple perched up in every nook and corner, kissing and petting. Here it is different. We find young women and men sitting silently and meditation. Some chant verses from religious books. Some women walk around the tulsi plant, which is placed on a raised platform smeared with saffron colours.
Together it looks like a perfect film set. We are intruders into their private world of meditation. The devotees do not even come to know about our presence. But the idols of gods and goddesses look at us curiously.
At the river ghaat, women wash their clothes and put for drying. The water looks really dirty. But it is a holy river. Once in every twelve years the Maha Kumbhmela happens here. Devotees, tourists and curious onlookers come here from all over the world. Then the whole place changes into something else. The next Maha Kumbh is going to happen in 2015. Abhange says that there is a temple on the other side of the river, which opens only for one year during the Maha Kumbh. Rest of the time it remains closed.
I see an old woman on the steps Godavari River. She looks so tired and she shakes her body as if she is in a trance. She behaves as if she has taken some drugs. She tries to look at us. But her eyes do not focus. She raises her hand for covering her breasts with her sari but she fails. We walk on.
On the pavement, another woman is selling small little things; sindoor, conch shells, flowers, rudrakshas, prayer beads, camphor, dhoop etc etc. Her sari has fallen from her chest exposing her huge cleavage. Feroze stands before her and trains his camera at something which is on the other side of the river. He is not aware of this woman.
But the woman is aware of his presence and his camera. She pulls her sari a bit more down and shows her booties to the world. She is so proud of herself and she confidently smiles at the camera.
Later I ask Feroze to show me the picture. But he has missed her pride. He was clicking some other scene on the other side of the river.
Across the river, there is an old building, which has a huge bronze bell hanging from a lintel. When the water level reaches to the bell during the flood, the bell would ring automatically due to the waves. It is a flood alarm from the old times.
We leave Nasik, the old Nasik where history, religion, art and daily chores of survival mingle together to make the ambience which is peculiar to this place.
Our car takes a turn and we are stopped by a police man. He comes to my side. I open the door. He grins.
Now we know what he wants. But we wait. I am on a phone call and he waits like an obedient servant. After a few minutes, I talk to him.
“You are going on a happy trip. Let me share the happiness,” he says with an innocent grin.
Now for the time being, our and his happiness means an exchange of fifty rupees.
We drive out of Nasik and imagine that anybody could explode India, if they are willing to pay fifty rupees to a Policeman on the road.